The Emergence of the Arab Engineer: Saba George Shiber, Arab Consulting Engineers (ACE) and Dar al-Handasah
Keywords:Arab engineers, Oil boom, Planning-architecture, Architecture-Engineering, Shiber
The relationship between architects and consumers in the Gulf cities is a commercial and temporal bond rather than a cultural, dynamic, and interactive one. The dearth of historical and premodern architectural monuments and structures in the Arabian desert combined with the rapid oil construction boom of the second half of the 20th century only further challenged the evolution of the socio-cultural association with architecture. With every new ruler, top planning and architecture firms from around the world are commissioned to speculate on the question of the cultural identity of the Arab-Islamic nation and create its image anew through urban renewal and redevelopment schemes. While in constant pursuit of the national image of a modern Arab nation, Gulf cites are invested in master plans, lucrative structures, and monumental buildings that homogenize as abstracted jungles of concrete and glass.
The sociocultural structure of Arab Gulf states has indeed fostered rapid urbanization and hindered the evolution of an Arab discourse on architecture. The lack of professional autonomy for architecture as a practice and a discourse promoted a unique interdisciplinary approach to the building industry combining the fields of design, planning, and construction or what I call planning-engineering. Such a design approach blurs the line between the fields of architecture, city planning and engineering into one expert al-Muhandis, a term inclusive of all scientific and technical fields related to the built environment. In this paper, I trace the emergence of Arab engineering consultancies that shaped the urban scene of Gulf cities even today.
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