A cultural paradox and the double shift of the housing typologies in the Arabic Gulf area: Undergraduate research case studies in Abu Dhabi.
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Abu Dhabi’s transition from a fishing village to a contemporary capital city in less than 50 years is more than remarkable. Its rapid growth, fueled by oil revenues and combined with a real estate frenzy is reflected into its urban morphology. The origin and evolution of Abu Dhabi’s urban grid has swung between political pragmatism and modernist influences of Doxiadis’ master plans in the region. However, its architecture is highly diverse in terms of stylistic approaches, with little influence from the rich Arabic vernacular heritage. Especially when it comes to housing, Abu Dhabi and most of the neighboring cities in the GCC area have been monopolized by the presence of the “western villa” typology. This phenomenon is poorly analyzed in related literature. This paper will present the preliminary results of two ongoing parallel undergraduate research programs with regards to the cultural clash that perseveres in forging the urban scape: the western villa, its properties manifesting an absolute contrast to the prevailing Islamic values and daily patterns. It will also attempt to identify the underlying resonate. In addition to that, there will be an analysis with regards to an attempt from the urban planning authorities towards a second shift back to the neglected principles of the Arabic urbanism and traditional architecture, for achieving sustainable targets. Indeed, Culture was recently introduced as the fourth pillar to the local sustainability accreditation system (called “Estidama”), in a parallel attempt to reinstitute a national identity. To that direction, both research and academic studios’ work have already started producing a promising outcome that would definitely affect the urban environment and improve its spatial and social parameters.