In Bahrain, a creative recovery of the past

In Bahrain, a creative recovery of the past

The cities of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula… An urban boom rivaled only by what is happening in the Far East

Monday – 13 Rabi’ al-Thani 1444 AH – 07 November 2022 AD Issue No. [

Saad Al-Bazai

I was recently in Bahrain to give a lecture at the Sheikh Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Heritage and Culture, but the lecture which dealt with what I called “the migration of concepts and transformations of culture” led to migration and transformations of a different kind, migration in time and transformations of place, through which I became aware of the characteristics of a vital cultural project that calls for The migration of the past to the present to attract the present with some of the achievements of the past. This project was led years ago by Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa, the former president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, and the current president of the center she founded in the name of her grandfather, Sheikh Ibrahim Al Khalifa, one of the pioneers of culture in Bahrain at a time when many did not realize the value of science and knowledge and the need to catch up with civilization. It was remarkable that the project was based on two pillars: the revival of old houses with their traditional architecture, and the provision of contemporary knowledge and creativity with the latest available technologies.
The revival of the inner cities is a phenomenon that many cities in the Arab world and abroad have known in recent decades. Essentially, it is a movement in harmony with the stream of what is known as postmodernism, the stream with which I will stop. soon Here I point out that the revival led by Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa in Bahrain, with remarkable and admirable skill, is different from other forms of revival: she does not just seek to restore old buildings or reconstruct dilapidated neighborhoods, but rather preserves buildings and residents together, so that dwellings remain places of residence, That is to say, inhabited by people, in which it achieved remarkable success, and which similar revitalization projects could not achieve in other cities in the region and abroad, areas whose people left and did not return to . Here a real or actual “revival” is effected in the sense of restoring life to the homes threatened with extinction by encouraging their people to stay or return through support that renews the homes and makes them suitable make for comfortable living. This is indeed what happened and what the visitor sees when he sees the houses full of their people, many of whom were about to move to modern villas outside the old city of Muharraq. The truth is that today’s visitor to Bahrain cannot hide his fascination with what is happening in the city of Manama, in terms of urbanization that is deeply modernized, and the new neighborhoods that are teeming with it, that are attractive for housing, that make it difficult make for many who are able to resist the temptations to move in search of the new and the comfort and luxury it promises. .
Today there is an urban boom in the cities of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula that is only matched by what is happening in the Far East, in China, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and others. In Dubai, Doha, Manama, Riyadh and Jeddah, there is an ambitious, some might call frantic race to cram the skyline with steel and glass buildings, impressive urban designs and dazzling lighting, fearing it will blind insights with its speed and race to the sky.
This upsurge is countered in most of those Arab cities by a movement against the revival of the old and dilapidated buildings to give them a chance to breathe, and the inhabitants of the cities see some of the history they are dealing with. see a tremendous speed disappear. In cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, an opposite and counter-movement seeks to preserve the once-beating heart of those cities, through ambitious and successful artificial respiration in some cases and moderately successful in others. But what is happening in Bahrain, and specifically in the town of Muharraq, which is basically one of Bahrain’s islands and one of the oldest, is different, as I said. The human element that is absent in other regeneration processes is present here, which attracts attention. In addition, the establishment of a cultural and creative activity in the heart of these neighborhoods, such as the one carried out by the Bahrain Cultural Authority under the leadership of Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa before she left work, contributes to the daily life of the residents. a dimension that makes the area attractive to visitors and therefore able to continue, especially if it has led to activity commercial companion.
This revival process is considered by some Western theorists to be one of the hallmarks of postmodernism. It is the restoration of some of the characteristics of a pre-modern period, at the urban level. It is a revision of the characteristics of modernity, a revision that involves the refutation of some of those characteristics. This is particularly evident in architecture in that the architecture of the sixties that spread in the Arab world was modern to the extent that it deviated from the old building style: villas and buildings of reinforced concrete with their triangular or circular shapes and rather directed outwards . from within. In that modernist boom there was a deliberate departure from the traditional houses and buildings stacked with their courtyards and their stone or mud architecture (just as happened in literary works whose modernity sought to break the stereotype of traditional writing, especially in poetry). In the postmodern period there was a regression to the pre-modern period, not a complete regression or a comprehensive recovery, but rather an imitation that did not derive from many of the elements acquired in the modern period . The interpretation of metaphysics lies in the rejection of what was immediately before it, but metaphysics involves a restoration of an older past: the muddy construction, the inward-looking courtyards, the dull corners.
What we find before us, not only in the cities of the Arabian Peninsula, but also in other cities of the world, is duality and sometimes pluralism: modernity and what preceded it are adjacent to what comes after, but the situation in the Arab region differs from others, especially from Europe or the West in general, in that The contrast is sharp and even intermittent between those stages. While the urban stages in the cities of the West follow a sequence governed by a homogeneous civilizational framework leading to each other, Arab cities live in a contradiction between the new and the old, especially the modern and pre-modern stages. The postmodern stage, which is characterized by the effort to restore the old, therefore seems closer to the restoration of the basic identity that modernity has confused and tried to erase. The architecture of modernity is far from being in harmony with the components of the environment and the data of culture, the components and data that become clear in the pre-stage and reappear in the post-stage. In all cases, what we see is the difficult challenge that Arab culture faces in the face of its difference from the others, that is, it is forced to keep up with the new instruments and manifestations of Western civilization and his desire to preserve an independent identity at the same time. That challenge was noted by one of Europe’s leading thinkers of the twentieth century. Paul Ricoeur (or Ricoeur), the famous French philosopher of hermeneutics, says in his book “History and Truth”: “Here is the paradox: How can you be modern and return to the sources: how to leave an ancient, dormant revive civilization and participate in a cosmic civilization.” The French thinker says within his lament about the situation of a world similar within one global civilization and “medium value” to the point of impoverishment: “We feel that this one global civilization is at the same time a kind of exhaustion or depletion at the expense of the cultural resources that made the great civilizations in the past ».
The preservation of those cultural resources is the goal that the projects scattered here and there attempt to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage, but without falling into the trap of unrealistic dreams, that is, with the awareness that such projects are economic and need cognitive elements that enable them. to continue, and that they also useful achievements Asr, which is what is happening in Bahrain and other regions. It is a movement against Western cultural globalization and contrary to the concept of progress popularized by the Enlightenment by saying that the future is necessarily better than the past, and that the movement of culture is forward and not through the past. restore or retain its data. . The postmodern tendency to denounce, or at least question, the progressiveness of modernity is manifested in qualitative revival and what I call “past innovation.”


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