Bahrain Is An Island Country Cultural Studies Essay
Bahrain is an island country in the Persian Gulf. Although Bahrain became an independent country in 1971, the history of these islands starts from ancient times. Bahrain's strategic location in the Persian Gulf has brought rule and influence from the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Portuguese, the Arabs, and the British.
Economy - overview: In well-to-do Bahrain, petroleum production and refining account for about 60% of export receipts, 60% of government revenues, and 30% of GDP. With its highly developed communication and transport facilities, Bahrain is home to numerous multinational firms with business in the Gulf. A large share of exports consists of petroleum products made from refining imported crude. Construction proceeds on several major industrial projects. Unemployment, especially among the young, and the depletion of oil and underground water resources are major long-term economic problems. In September 2004 Bahrain signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States - the first such agreement undertaken by a Gulf state. Both countries must ratify the FTA before it is enforced.
Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government control of many basic industries, including the important oil and aluminium industries. Between 1981 and 1993, Bahrain Government expenditures increased by 64%. During that same time, government revenues continued to be largely dependent on the oil industry and increased by only 4%. Bahrain has received significant budgetary support and project grants from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
Privatization could help Bahrain's economy. However, as of the spring 2001 the government of Bahrain still wholly owned the Bahrain Petroleum Company. Utilities, banks, financial services, and telecommunications have started though, to come under the control of the private sector.
The government has used its modest oil revenues to build an advanced infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications. Bahrain is a regional financial and business canter. Regional tourism also is a significant source of income. Bahrain benefited from the region's economic boom in the late 1970s and 1980s. During that time, the government emphasized infrastructure development and other projects to improve the standard of living; health, education, housing, electricity, water, and roads all received attention.
Petroleum and natural gas, the only significant natural resources in Bahrain, dominate the economy and provide about 60% of budget revenues. Bahrain was the first Arabian Gulf state to discover oil. Because of limited reserves, Bahrain has worked to diversify its economy over the past decade. Bahrain has stabilized its oil production at about 40,000 barrels per day (b/d), and reserves are expected to last 10-15 years. The Bahrain Oil Company refinery was built in 1935, has a capacity of about 250,000 b/d, and was the first in the Gulf. After selling 60% of the refinery to the state-owned Bahrain National Oil Company in 1980, Caltex, a U.S. company, now owns 40%. Saudi Arabia provides most of the crude for refinery operation via pipeline. Bahrain also receives a large portion of the net output and revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Safe offshore oilfield.
The Bahrain National Gas Company operates a gas liquefaction plant that utilizes gas piped directly from Bahrain's oilfields. Gas reserves should last about 50 years at present rates of consumption.
The Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company is a joint venture of the petrochemical industries of Kuwait, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, and the Government of Bahrain. The plant, completed in 1985, produces ammonia and methanol for export.
Bahrain's other industries include Aluminium Bahrain, which operates an aluminium smelter--the largest in the world with an annual production of about 525,000 metric tons (MT)--and related factories, such as the Aluminium Extrusion Company and the Gulf Aluminium Rolling Mill. Other plants include the Arab Iron and Steel Company's iron ore pelletizing plant (4 million tons annually) and a shipbuilding and repair yard.
Bahrain's development as a major financial canter has been the most widely heralded aspect of its diversification effort. International financial institutions operate in Bahrain, both offshore and onshore, without impediments. In 2001, Bahrain's central bank issued 15 new licenses. More than 100 offshore banking units and representative offices are located in Bahrain, as well as 65 American firms. Bahrain's international airport is one of busiest in the Gulf, serving 22 carriers. A modern, busy port offers direct and frequent cargo shipping connections to the U.S., Europe, and the Far East.
recently built. Owning a house is a cultural norm in Bahrain; this is clearly reflected in the fact that 73% of Bahrainis own their own homes (Urban Planning Affairs and Atkins, 2011). As a result, the real estate market has flourished and new cities have emerged along the northern shore of the island, varying from skyscrapers to artificial islands.
The boom that Bahrain has witnessed in its urban context has led to a struggle to reconcile the existing old fabric with the new modern forms. This process of development has had an impact on people’s perception of the values of Bahraini culture which are slowly diminishing behind the modern skyline of the island. Crucially, the new developments are being considered as products that need to be marketed, and attempts have been made to attract financial and investment headquarters as well as regional branches of international firms in addition to hosting ‘mega events’. Hence, they offer luxury housing, prestigious shopping malls, elegant cafés and restaurants and many other leisure facilities that target professionals and high income groups who can make these cities function and perform as global cities (Elsheshtawy, 2004).
Subsequently, the tremendous increase in the construction of buildings, settlements and highways resulted in an increase in demand for labour brought from various countries. These workers brought with them cultures, habits and practices which, no matter how small, have contributed to creating ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the social fabric, especially in the public sphere. Thus, the architecture of old and new, local and global has emerged (Dayaratne, 2008).
After discussing the various dimensions of the problem, it is worth illustrating the urbanization process of Arab oil cities starting from the oasis or port town Islamic city moving to the oil city towards the present structure of the post-oil city, by shedding light on Muharraq’s development and growth. With the increasing impact of globalization on cities, how can urban design and place identity principles promote social and cultural sustainability in new developments, focusing on the artificial islands of Bahrain?
The Place identity crisis in the global context
Place identity is deteriorating in contemporary cities as a result of the lack of attachment of its inhabitants (Ujang, NA). A weakening sense of place is assisted by economic globalization, standardized buildings and a generic urban environment which is disconnected from the local landscape, ecosystem, history, culture and community (Wheeler, 2004). Therefore, recent urban developments lack attachment to their context. Failure to secure distinctive place
qualities may have a negative impact on the current image of the city and its spatial harmony in addition to a sense of belonging among the people experiencing the space (Ujang, NA).
The variety of built forms of various cultures is considerably affected by social and family structures, inherited skills, diverse economies, environments and technologies (Oliver, 2006). These factors are reflected in shops, markets, mosques and many other types of buildings which are constructed to meet the specific needs of different ways of life. To varying degrees, these factors compose part of vernacular architecture traditions. Therefore, the forces that transformed Arab cities into modern global cities have realized the significance of local identity in the development process of cities. Therefore, the traditional urban fabric is considered to be a cultural expression that should be preserved and to inspire future developments (Khiati, NA).
In today’s global world, where spatial and temporal barriers are diminishing, the architecture, cultural heritage and their historic characteristics become dynamic values which combine local and global aspects. Beyond their physical importance, cities have psychological and social importance for their inhabitants. Therefore, historic traditional cities reflect the local socio-cultural values and psychological meanings of the city. For that reason, a holistic approach should be adopted to maintain the character of these valuable cities and move them forward in future developments to maintain social and cultural sustainability and help people to bind their lives with the past, present and future (Gur, Kirli and Cahantimur, 2010).
Perception, legibility and imageability
People perceive cities differently, each inhabitant has a long relationship with some part of his city and this image is drawn from memories, meanings and experiences (Lynch, 1960). People feel that they belong to the place if it is safe, familiar and distinct.
Social and family structure, life style and traditional practices
Social and family structure has a great influence on place identity. People’s desire to shape their built environment according to the community’s social norms relates to their own sense of identity. This desire varies from one context to another and evolved over time to meet specific needs and it is often a response to climate, traditions and resources. Therefore, these built forms accomplished beauty and unity and were passed on to generations of families (Oliver, 2003).
There is a direct relationship between the economy and settlement patterns. This can be clearly observed by tracing the economy of a community and relating the physical forms and spatial organization of the community to its economic prosperity. Therefore, livelihoods play a major role in shaping the urban form and reinforcing its identity.
Crafting a conceptual framework
The previous discussion shed light on some key aspects related to place identity. Traditional practices, livelihoods, social and family structures, religion and belief systems interweave to shape the built environment and evolve over time to satisfy the changing needs of communities. The complex continuity of these aspects over time ensures the viability of a meaningful culture that can be preserved and passed on to future generations, promoting social and cultural sustainability.
Therefore, the conceptual framework is formulated to tie these concepts together and create a basis for analysis which will be used to design the interview questions (figure 1).
Figure 1: Conceptual Framework (Sharif, 2011)
Morphological and cultural landscape analysis
Muharraq: Location and importance
Located in the north east of the main island of Bahrain, Muharraq is well connected to all parts of the Kingdom through three causeways. It is defined by unique island clusters and distinct historic communities. Muharraq is the portal to the world, housing the Bahrain International Airport and Khalifa Bin Salman Port. This governorate is emerging as a major industrial employment centre and a distinguished collection of high quality island neighborhoods.
Muharraq can be defined by its old core and the various historic coastal communities. The city plays a significant role in today’s global market. This strong global position comes from the fact that it has been a port city and a centre of trade and is currently growing as an important international gateway linking the East and the West.
It is important to highlight that Bahrain’s demography is quite unique. Bahrainis form 48% of the total population while expats form the remaining 52%. The percentage of Bahrainis is expected to drop to 40% while the expats’ population growth will increase to 60% by 2030. This is predicted due to the structural reforms and openness to the global market
One of the region’s least oil-dependent economies, it has a competitive tax regime and a sophisticated financial sector that facilitates the flow of capital, foreign investment and work forces (Bahrain Economic Development Board, 2011). The government has modernized the regulatory framework and continues to focus on diversifying the production base.
Hence, initiating various projects has increased the demand on labor which has significantly affected the demography of Bahrain. However, Muharraq maintains its local identity as most of its inhabitants are Bahrainis. They form 67% of the total population of Muharraq, while expats form 33%.
Muharraq forms one of the most important economic centres in the Kingdom. In addition to its historic role as the old capital city, it formed the old port of the pearl industry and trade. The city grew over time around the old port and economic activities were greatly influenced by its historical importance. Due to its geographical location and historical role, Muharraq is characterized by a diversified economy including industry, transportation and fishing.
Muharraq: the city of prosperity
Muharraq has a rich history. Several references acknowledged its outstanding pearls which were said to be beautiful and of magnificent high quality. The seashore of south Muharraq contains three oyster beds from where the finest pearls were produced and exported. The seashore today includes a port where the fishermen’s boats are lined up and it also includes Abu Maher defensive fort. From there, a route connects eighteen historic buildings located within the historic settlement of Muharraq. These buildings vary between residential, commercial and public buildings owned by people who played a significant role in the pearl economy at that time. It represents the diverse professions of the pearl industry and how the urban form reflects Muharraq’s economy and has intensively shaped its identity(Bahrain this month, 2011). Therefore, this route, including the oyster beds and its urban components, would be regenerated within a project called ‘Pearling Testimony of an Island Economy’ which is aiming for international recognition by UNESCO as a world heritage site of pearl heritage.
The organic pattern of the old core of Muharraq is clearly observed through the cadastral maps. The pattern gradually transforms into a geometric pattern moving from the central core towards the suburbs.
Blocks, plots & street patterns
Muharraq’s old core still maintains its fine-grain organic street pattern despite the new developments. Buildings are constructed on the edge of plots with no setbacks and the central public space of the old market ‘souq’ is still maintained. Market place activities have continued but the goods that are being sold and the patterns of occupation and social interaction have evolved over time (Dayartne, 2008). The plot structure is quite complicated. The collective urban form along with the architectural styles made it difficult to recognize the boundaries of each individual unit.
The city was divided into approximately nineteen zones, each named after a major tribal group (Yarwood, 2005). These names are still widely used by Bahrainis to refer to the zones, although some tribal families are no longer living there. The blocks grew organically and the whole structure is permeable through the several alleys from which users can choose to help navigate their way through. Moreover, mosques and their vertical minarets shape the townscape of the city and form significant landmarks in the area. Due to the prevalence of vehicles nowadays, these areas suffer from congestion, traffic jams and lack of car park spaces, especially during religious and traditional occasions in addition to weekends where families gather on a regular basis.
Muharraq: the spirit of Bahrain culture
In light of the dramatic impact of modernization and globalization on cities, Muharraq is experiencing a challenging identity crisis. Therefore, a careful assessment should be made of current and future urban approaches. Muharraq has always echoed the spirit of Bahraini culture, the glory of the past living in people’s memories, expressing their attitudes and patterns of life. Hence, this heritage shaped the identity of its inhabitants and acted as their source of inspiration and continuity. For that reason, this rich heritage should be sensitively respected and appreciated not only by conservation, rehabilitation, replacement or infill projects, but also as a source of inspiration and guidance for new developments to ensure its continuity (Yarwood, 2005).
Preserving the cultural identity of Muharraq
During the past decade, Muharraq has experienced tremendous economic, social and urban transformations. Due to the global impact on Bahrain’s economy, the real estate market boomed and several mega projects took place across the island. Subsequently, the Amwaj Islands emerged along Muharraq shorelines, introducing a new concept of living, a modern island neighborhood with diverse apartments, lofts, studios and villas. On the other hand, the city has witnessed significant preservation, rebuilding and restoration of several buildings, not only because of their physical character but also for their cultural and social values. Key monuments have been restored, are carefully managed and are open to public. These tend to be the most important historic buildings. These sites have been developed as visitor facilities and they are sometimes the venue of artistic events and cultural festivals. Examples of these projects are Abdullah Al Zayed House of Press Heritage, Mohammed Bin Fares music house and Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa for Culture and Research which initiated some related projects in partnership with interested individuals and investment banks (UN Habitat, 2006).
Muharraq: perceptions of place identity
The aim of this process was to gather community perceptions of place identity and to further understand social and cultural sustainability aspects related to Muharraq and the Amwaj islands. A qualitative approach was used to emphasize the ‘why’ rather than ‘how many’ or ‘how much’. The thirty participants involved were selected from several backgrounds and to further develop a holistic understanding, related stakeholders and decision makers such as planners and urban designers from the Urban Planning Authority were interviewed in addition to architects interested in similar fields. The rationale behind the questions was to understand the issues involved in the approval process of artificial islands’ master plans; aspects which needed to be addressed or included; and each interviewee’s perspective on the concepts highlighted within the conceptual framework. A set of questions were designed to relate to each element of the conceptual framework.
Several workshops were organized and run with families who live in the old traditional core of Muharraq, the new suburbs and Amwaj. During these workshops, open discussions reflected people’s perceptions of the new artificial islands and issues related to place identity and culture in Muharraq.
The limitations of this approach can be summarized as follows:
The Amwaj Islands are not fully developed. Therefore, it was very difficult to find interviewees, given the fact that most of the residents are expats and they were away from Bahrain for the summer holidays.
Due to the hot weather, it was very hard to take photographs of social events in the Amwaj islands. Therefore, visual data was used from previous documented events.
Due to the nature of the Amwaj Islands’ community, it was very difficult to meet people as most residents keep their distance. However, this contrasts with the people in Muharraq who open their doors for any guest and who were very welcoming and responded well.
Conclusions and findings based on the primary research
The interviewees were classified into three main groups, the planning authority officers (planners and urban designers), the residents of Amwaj and Muharraq (Bahrainis and expats) and the architects. These groups were selected in order to understand the different perspectives on place identity and the social and cultural sustainability of Muharraq. Planners and urban designers emphasized the role of the planning authority as a key regulator of artificial islands projects, while architects discussed issues related to culture, people and places. On the other hand, residents explained their relationship and emotional attachment to Muharraq and how they perceive the artificial islands emerging on Muharraq’s shoreline. Based on the responses to the questions, a number of conclusions were drawn.
Places, are they becoming alike?
Architects and planners think that places are becoming alike, but at the same time they are not. To further understand this view, it is worth looking at places at different levels. Globally, places are becoming alike, and on a smaller scale, some urban places are also becoming alike because of the similarities that have come about as a result of westernization, modernization and globalization.
Buildings have started to have the same language of expression dominated by the same materials (steel, concrete and glass). Mass production has ensured uniform products which together with globalized uniformity of systems are producing a kind of quality which is uniformly present everywhere. Therefore, many places are becoming alike, but at the same time, every place is in a particular location or context and the locational and contextual characteristics are always different. Hence, places have similarities but also differences.
On the other hand, for local residents of Muharraq, places are unique and each part of Muharraq has its own characteristics but what bonds them together is the ‘Muharraqi spirit’ while Amwaj residents think that places are becoming similar and have similar modern themes. However, in Bahrain’s context, the urban fabric is composed of old and new, traditional and modern and each of these forms has its unique characteristics although new developments are taking the form of global cities which are homogenous across the globe. This trend is increasing the risk of loss of place identity as the impact of globalization on economic, social and cultural aspects of life takes hold.
Things people like about their areas
People usually tend to enjoy the combination of vibrancy and quietness of their area. However, they tend to be emotionally attached to places they were raised in which generate life time memories. Therefore, most Muharraq inhabitants tend to remain within Muharraq territory. Another significant factor is the social coherence between people, considering the fact that most Muharraq inhabitants are Bahrainis, this offers better opportunities for maintaining traditional practices and enhancing social bonds. Additionally, people enjoy the proximity of their daily services (grocery, bakery,…) and how it bonds the neighborhood and brings it to life. However, Amwaj residents enjoy the modern, contemporary, quiet atmosphere, feeling comfortable surrounded by other expats which enhances their sense of belonging to the community.
The varying family structures in traditional areas and the artificial Islands
Architects and planners believe that social and family structures do not depend on the place where people live but on the families themselves. Traditional communities were based on extended families living in closer domestic spaces, if not in a single house, because there was a great deal of inter-dependency and clan attachment in these communities. However, those who choose to live in houses in artificial islands are single family-oriented rather than communal oriented. This has nothing to do with the artificial islands themselves, but the way in which the residential facilities in those islands have been developed. Hence, if communal facilities were incorporated into the artificial islands, the social structure of traditional neighborhoods would be maintained and preserved.
Proximity to family and relatives in traditional neighborhoods promotes a comprehensive degree of social interaction. Residents of artificial islands tend to spend less time socializing with family as they would have to travel for longer distances by car. However, it is important to note that residents of Amwaj are culturally diverse and mostly expats. One cannot deny the fact that a lot of Bahrainis own properties there. But most of these properties are either second home for weekends or purchased and leased to others. Hence, the remaining few Bahrainis are young single families.
Social interaction in artificial islands and traditional areas
Architects find that social interaction is maintained in the modern world not by physical proximity but by choice as people are able to choose who they want to interact with rather than being dictated to by the physical space and availability of residents nearby. However, social interaction does take place among those who live near to each other, but on a smaller scale. Therefore, a transformation from a family and relative-oriented interaction towards a modern form of interaction emerges in artificial islands which can be observed in the hosting of social and cultural events among the residents and which might include other communities. People tend to keep their distance and if they occasionally see their neighbors the interaction does not go beyond saying ‘hi’ or smiling. In that sense, neighbors are considered strangers in such communities.
On the other hand, Muharraq residents find that social interaction is a significant part of their daily lives, as neighbors visit each other on a regular basis and share food on many occasions. They also welcome new neighbors by sending them gifts and treats and arranging gatherings later on when they have settled in to introduce new members to the community. This form of interaction is maintained by women. However, men usually socialize in other ways. such as meeting before or after prayer in the mosques.
Additionally, most large families have a room within their house which is called ‘majlis’. The majilis is a traditional concept and was a major part of tribal families’ dwellings. In Majlises people meet, socialize, gather, debate and discuss various issues related to their lives. It is also a place where people come to ask for help and support from their family. It is trendy nowadays to have a majlis within modern houses. Although it was mainly an adult dominant concept, it has been transferred to the younger generations. Today, most boys have a majlis in their home. It is a cozy place where they gather, socialize, play, eat and celebrate especially during religious occasions such as Ramadan and Eid. Parents feel comfortable when they know that their children are in a safe place rather than spending their time playing outdoors.
This socially and culturally oriented built form evolved over time. Although some families of old Muharraq migrated to the suburbs, their Majlises remained in their original locations as they symbolized the family’s history and roots in its original location.
The impact of artificial islands on livelihoods
According to planners, the emergence of the manmade island of Amwaj had a crucial impact on the livelihoods of the villages on the periphery of Muharraq. Due to the considerable amount of reclamation work that covered around four square kilometers of the sea as well as the establishment of the highway connecting the new development with the main island, the fishing harbors were relocated. This relocation process had a significant impact on livelihoods and requires further research. Moreover, fishermen started to complain about the shortage of fishery storage in the regional waters and that the rapid sea reclamation was threatening their livelihoods.
On the other hand, architects believe that artificial islands are artificial places to live and that they do not offer many opportunities for people’s livelihoods. If and when there are supermarkets, hospitals, leisure centers etc. some people get the opportunity to work in them, but in the Bahraini context, these workers rarely come from the residential communities of the islands. To live in such luxury, one needs a livelihood far exceeding those offered in the workplaces of the islands themselves.
Lifestyle transformation in artificial islands
From the architects’ perspective, those who choose to live in these islands already have lifestyles for which the islands offer opportunities. At the same time, the opportunities available in the islands fashion the way in which they can live. Lifestyles are not entirely determined by places. They are determined by people and people modify places to suit their lifestyles if such changes are possible. If not, people will change the places. In Bahrain, wherever one lives, one lives mostly indoors because outside is inhospitable. However, the artificial islands offer opportunities for water sports, cycling and many other activities which can help life outdoors. However, this will not be the case once the Amwaj
Islands are entirely developed. The master plan of the Amwaj emphasizes providing privatized access to the beach by organizing the residential properties adjacent to the shoreline. This will reduce the provision of public spaces and subsequently social interaction. However, it has been observed that the vacant lands by the seashore in Amwaj are used informally as public beaches. Once these plots are fully developed, public access to the beach will be completely blocked.
Artificial islands foster a modern lifestyle that results from evolving the local culture into a global culture influenced by the diversified cultural context and inhabitants of the island. During several visits to Amwaj, one could easily see how Bahrainis’ behavior has changed from the old Muharraq community to Amwaj. A simple example is that Bahrainis walk their dogs in Amwaj, while this is considered western behavior and is not common in Bahrain and is considered alien to Muharraq. It is clearly observed that even outfits vary between Bahrainis in the two communities.
How do artificial islands affect people’s perceptions of Muharraq?
Architects and planners see that artificial islands do not have an impact on people’s perceptions of Muharraq. People perceive Muharraq positively because of its history, character and way of life and what happens there. Muharraq will always reflect the authenticity of Bahraini culture. However, some specialist professionals predict that the rapid growth of artificial island developments will influence people’s perceptions of Muharraq. As those new developments are forming the largest area against the existing old area of Muharraq which is condensed and has witnessed the migration of indigenous inhabitants to the suburbs searching for a better place to live.
Residents of Muharraq and Amwaj think that Muharraq is well protected and will continue to represent the cultural heritage of Bahrain for future generations whereas Amwaj is physically isolated and disconnected from Muharraq and so will never affect this image. On the other hand, others interpret this notion of development as a tool that increases awareness and encourages preservation of the architectural cultural heritage through the individual initiatives of interested stakeholders. Surprisingly, the real estate firms that are investing in artificial islands are also investing in preservation and restoration projects that will soon see the light of day. Therefore, these contradicting interests could be integrated and used to control future artificial island developments to maintain the local character of Muharraq and Bahrain in the global culture context.
Urban forms and traditional practices: the unseen links
Architects and planners think that urban forms and traditional practices have a reciprocal relationship. They affect each other. Urban forms are the outcome of traditional practices. In return, they sustain those traditional practices. Therefore, it is observed that the old core of Muharraq preserves its traditional practices and values although one might admit that these practices have evolved over time to suit current lifestyles and have been affected by economic, social and cultural transformations. It is overwhelming to see how Muharraq stands powerfully as a city of prosperity facing the increased impact of globalization.
One cannot ignore the fact that inhabitants of the old traditional Muharraq migrated to the suburbs, due to the condensation and degradation of the old core. However, those families transferred their traditions and values to the modernized urban context. Therefore, people are conscious and aware of the importance of their cultural heritage, traditions and social practices and believe that they should be sustained and transferred to future generations.
Traditional practices: Can they continue in artificial islands?
Architects think that there is no way that traditional practices can ‘continue’ in other places. To begin with, they do not currently exist there, so one cannot talk about continuity. People living in new areas are different from those who have lived in Muharraq and those who continue to live there.
In future, what people do in Muharraq itself will change, because the society is in a state of change. Traditions and customs are not static. They follow what happens around them and adapt to new circumstances. However, people will always go back to the old core to gather, socialize and celebrate. Hence, a number of families in Muharraq preserved their majlises in the old core even though they no longer live there. This reflects the fact that social bonds and traditions form an essential part of the Islamic culture. Therefore, those social bonds and inherited traditions are passed on from one generation to another and are powerfully linked and attached to those old areas of Muharraq.
Emotional attachment to Muharraq: Between traditional areas and artificial islands
The perception of people in these two areas about Muharraq will be different. First, people in Muharraq have come there so they have a stronger sense of belonging. To others, it is a place where people ‘value’ tradition and heritage, which they do not live in. To the people of Muharraq, it is their place so they have a stronger attachment to it emotionally. To others, they have an emotional attachment to it as the place which nurtures their sense of being. These are different ways of relating to Muharraq.
The transformation of the local culture into global culture in artificial islands
Local culture is produced by the local people. If the locals choose to live in their local ways in the artificial islands, they will then be produced there too. However, those who choose to live there are already looking for a different lifestyle and values. Only those local cultural practices that are ‘valued’ by people will be reproduced there and will be fused with global, cultural practices. It is hard to predict how they will be fused. Global cultural practices are very powerful and attractive. They are modern and people want to follow them. At the same time, people will want to retain those that they consider to define their being. This could be interpreted by the fact that, after Amwaj was conceived in 2001, freehold for expats was legalized for the first time in specific developments in Bahrain including Amwaj. This step forward influenced the cultural diversification of the manmade island and other globalized forms of development offering a blend of local and global cultures.
Artificial islands: Are they socially and culturally sustainable?
According to architects and planners, it is too early to predict whether artificial islands are socially and culturally sustainable but as some Bahrainis have decided to live there, a culture will emerge from the patterns of living that they adopt. This new culture is unlikely to be that of the original inhabitants of Bahrain, nor the one that prevails in the main island now. Eventually, a hybrid culture will emerge that is a cross between the Bahraini Islamic cultures and the global international ones.
Most inhabitants of Muharraq do not intend to leave Muharraq although they might migrate from the old core to the suburbs but remaining within Muharraq territory is a very demanding requirement. Therefore, the interest in artificial islands might be limited to owning a second home to spend the weekends in or as an asset to invest. The people of Muharraq do not consider these artificial islands to be part of Muharraq but rather separate isolated entities that do not belong to Muharraq or ‘Muharraq’is’.
The impact of artificial islands as new forms of development
Architects and planners predict that such developments will create isolated gated communities around Bahrain occupied by people who are not connected to the culture and society of Bahrain. This is perhaps the major impact. It will also create distinct class divisions; new ones that do not already exist there. In fact, these artificial islands will become countries by themselves although physically being part of the main island and politically administered. As it says, they are islands; surrounded and isolated entities. Additionally, the environmental impact of reclaiming vast areas of the sea should be examined and further researched to examine the impact of these manmade islands on the marine habitats, coral reefs and fishery storage.
Artificial island development might be economically viable, but further policies and guidelines should be developed to integrate those urban forms to the main island benefiting from the rich and distinct cultural heritage of Bahrain. On the other hand, the fact that these islands are designed and constructed by international developers and investors is a crucial issue that should be revised and evaluated. Local architects should contribute to such developments to maintain the connection between the old and new, traditional and modern, local and global to offer a sustainable urban form that can accommodate Bahrain’s unique demography.
Muharraq’s image in the global context
Planners and architects see that artificial islands have affected the image of Bahrain but not necessarily the image of Muharraq itself. People can separate their image of the islands from their image of Muharraq. The cultural image of old traditional Muharraq has been enhanced since the emergence of the artificial islands because there is now a competitive contrast. This makes people recognize how valuable Muharraq is as far as its cultural roots are concerned. Therefore, people’s attachment to the cultural image is enhanced and well protected.
‘Gated communities’ a new concept in Muharraq
Architects and residents of Amwaj think that the ‘gated communities’ concept enhances the safety and security of the islanders. Located in an isolated area, there are likely to be issues of security. The gating provides security because residents feel that someone is taking care of them. Moreover, the people living in the islands do not know each other and cannot come to know each other. This isolation increases fear, and the gating provides some sense of safety and security. However, planners think that the gating concept is used in artificial islands as a marketing tool to attract high class residents as well as expats who tend to keep their distance from others.
Muharraq is safe because people are very much familiar with the place and there is a closer affinity between the people and the city. People know each other and outsiders can be easily detected. Commonality of culture, tribal connections and connections to history ensure that the place is well known. It is as safe as it can get, except now there is a new fear that has resulted from unrest and divisions. The constant interaction between people has generated strong bonds among the inhabitants across Muharraq, therefore, people are willing to help and protect each other.
Drawing on the analysis of a traditional community, key urban design principles and qualities which have crafted Muharraq’s identity and maintained its cultural heritage are identified.
Urban design principles and qualities
Analysis of a traditional community in Muhrraq
After discussing and analyzing Muharraq in relation to various concepts of place identity, it is essential to take these results and relate them to urban design principles and qualities which can promote Muharraq’s social and cultural sustainability. From that process, positive qualities and principles will be defined to contribute to the development of future artificial islands in an attempt to maintain the identity of Muharraq and social and cultural sustainability in the modern globalized context.
To design an artificial island using positive place identity approaches, key references will be used to analyze the old Muharraq core such as ‘The Responsive Environment’ by Ian Bentley, ‘The Image of the City’ by Kevin Lynch and ‘Townscape’ by Gordon Cullen.
From this analysis, a generic set of qualities and principles can be drawn out, and will help to form better living places in future artificial islands (figure 2).
Figure 2: Urban Design Principles and Qualities of a Traditional Community (Sharif, 2011)
The Lagoon Area of the Awmaj Islands was chosen to be redesigned due to its central location and proximity to existing residential areas. Hence there is a great potential to integrate the Lagoon Area into the wider context of Muharraq by adopting urban design qualities and principles that promotes social and cultural sustainability in Muharraq’s historic core. Moreover, the concept of Muharraq as an old port city will be introduced to reflect on Muharraq’s prosperity and cultural heritage.
The current land uses are predominantly retail, offering a wide range of elegant cafes and restaurants due to its central location. Before the design rationale is explained, a SWOT analysis was performed for the site (The Lagoon). This helps to formulate major issues that need to be addressed in addition to other opportunities which could be looked into (figure 3).
Figure 3: SWOT Analysis (Sharif, 2011)
Towards sustainable artificial islands
Muharraq: the prosperity of a city in the developing world
Muharraq is in the process of shaping its future by being nominated as one of the best cities in the developing world. It has succeeded in prospering and creating wealth out of its cultural heritage as a basis for sustainable urban growth (Urban Planning Affairs, 2011). Muharraq symbolizes the spirit of Bahraini’s culture; therefore a great deal of preservation and restoration work has been undertaken in the past few years as a response to the increased globalization forces which increased the risk of place identity crisis and the homogenization of the built environment. The state has had to make some bold decisions concerning the rapid impact of urbanization on degrading the condition of the traditional communities of Muharraq. These decisions protected a great deal of the cultural heritage of Muharraq, which is reflected in the surviving built forms and fine grains which were shaped and influenced by a glorious era of the nation prosperity. Therefore, linking the values, beliefs and practices that were displayed in the physical forms of the past to the future urban environment, helps to tie people to the place and eventually meets their changing needs while maintaining their traditions and social patterns.
The first stage was to open up the shoreline by providing green spaces along its edges using palm trees to symbolize Muharraq’s cultural heritage. Doing so would create easier access to the beach and would increase social interaction. Part of the character of the traditional areas in Muharraq is the variety of uses and experiences provided in the neighborhood. Residential units are clustered in permeable blocks to provide users with alternatives and choices when navigate the built environment. The blocks combine residential uses with little local shops and a mosque which punctuates the neighborhood and animates the space with the sound of prayers. Alleys are significant in the urban pattern of old Muharraq. Therefore, this concept is adopted to reflect Muharraqi spirit. These alleys are twisted towards qebla direction to create a sense of drama and mystery. These alleys are multifunctional elements. In addition to their main function as circulation routes, they are used as recreational areas which provide residents with sitting areas in
which to meet and socialize. To tie into the local area of Muharraq, heights are kept at two storeys and an open square is created within the mosque in which to host religious celebrations. Moreover, car parking spaces are located along the streets so that residents can enjoy experiencing the sense of the traditional areas when they enjoy walking within the neighbourhood (figure 4).
Figure 4: Design Proposal (Sharif, 2011)
Design guideline recommendations for future artificial islands
Making the connection between people’s behavior and the physical forms is important when promoting social and cultural sustainability. Drawing on the principles and urban design qualities that maintained the identity of Muharraq, the following guidelines for future artificial islands will ensure the continuity of the social and cultural structure of Muharraq’s communities. These guidelines can be summarized as follows:
Maximizing public access to the shoreline can be achieved by providing a setback for blocks to be organized and located at a sufficient distance to provide pleasant open spaces for people to enjoy and in which they can socially interact.
Accommodating the needs of a mixed population is essential for maintaining the social structure of the community, considering the unique characteristics of Bahrain’s demography. This will contribute to overcoming the social exclusion phenomenon which is slowly emerging and which is alien to Bahrain.
Bahrain’s open physical, social and intellectual landscape has led to an extraordinary intermingling of people, cultures and ideas throughout history. People lived in a social coherent fashion regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
Local traditions, lifestyles and values can be maintained through the provision of a variety of land uses within the neighbourhood scale.
Religion and belief system are powerfully linked to every aspect of people’s lives. They have symbolic meanings which are reflected in the community structure and the spatial organization of the physical built forms. These spatial patterns could be transferred to new developments as religion continues to influence the community’s cultural identity. Mosques symbolize a great deal of these values and this affects the patterns of use.
Replicate the dramatic narrow alleys that enhance Muharraq’s identity and reduce the dominance of vehicles within the neighborhood. This concept can be implemented by providing car park spaces within a reasonable walking distance. Alleys in Muharraq enrich the built environment as they are significant elements that stimulate social interaction.
Reducing the dominance of vehicles within the community can positively maintain Muharraq’s identity by replicating the dramatic narrow alleys while providing parking spaces within a reasonable walking distance. This physical pattern has a significant impact on maintaining the social interaction along the alleys.
Vernacular architecture should be encouraged as a response to climate and social patterns and values.
Since building and owning house is a cultural norm in Bahrain, people should have the opportunity to contribute to the design and construction phase of their homes to strengthen their emotional attachment to their homes.
These guidelines pull the strings of place identity and tie them together, bearing in mind that these guidelines are inclusive rather than exclusive. They sensitively meet the needs of locals as well as expats and ensure the social coherence of the community overtime by breaking down the barriers that might isolate different groups and affect their ability to merge with others, to communicate and to socialize. Eventually, this will support the social and cultural sustainability.
Conclusions and findings
Through the exploration of elements of place identity, urban morphology, urban design principles and qualities related to the historic traditional areas of Muharraq, this research has developed a method for analyzing historic traditional areas that can guide the planning and urban design processes towards promoting social and cultural sustainability in future artificial islands in Bahrain.
The ability of such a framework is to combine and translate the qualities of the traditional areas into design actions that can be implemented in new artificial islands. This shows that there is a considerable potential for the development of similar transferable methods that can be applied to sensitive urban environments of the historic traditional areas.
As we are entering the second decade of the 21st century, global forces will continue to transform Bahrain economically, politically, environmentally and socially. This will subsequently change the urban fabric of cities. Therefore, it is important to relate contemporary developments to the historic city, through the scope of place identity, to discover how urban design can positively contribute towards the harmonious coexistence of past and present, old and new which will subsequently promote its social and cultural sustainability.
It is fascinating to see how globalization has increased Bahrainis’ awareness of the importance of their cultural heritage. Primary research has confirmed that Muharraqii’s have a great appreciation of the value of what is termed ‘intangible heritage’ which includes cultural traditions, songs, dances, narratives and traditional crafts.
Places in Muharraq have evolved over time around its inhabitants’ behavior. This reciprocal relationship between the built form and people’s behavior is clearly observed by understanding and comparing people’s behavior in historic traditional areas and artificial islands. The local culture transforms into a global culture when people move from a traditional area to an artificial island.
There is a strong relationship between traditional practices and urban forms. They affect each other. Urban forms are an outcome of traditional practices. In return, they sustain those traditional practices. Therefore, those qualities that maintained traditional practices in the old traditional areas should be transferred to the artificial islands to be reproduced there and to ensure their continuity.
It was clearly observed that traditional practices do not exist in the artificial islands, so one cannot talk about continuity. The people living in the new areas are different from those who have lived in Muharraq and who continue to live there. Some people predict that, in the future, what people do in Muharraq itself will change because the society is changing. Traditions and customs are not static. They follow what happens around them and adapt to new circumstances.
However, throughout the interviews, the majority perceived that the image of Muharraq is well protected due to the competitive contrast resulting from the emergence of artificial islands along the shores of Muharraq. According to the respondents, these artificial islands are separate entities that are socially and culturally excluded from Muharraq. Modernization is changing various aspects of life but this will not change people’s desire to maintain their traditions and cultural heritage and transfer them to future generations.
Due to the recent structural reforms in Bahrain, artificial islands have been adopted as a strategic method of growth and expansion. These artificial islands might be economically viable, but they promote social exclusion and spatial segregation in their sharpest forms. This will have a negative impact on the social pattern of Bahrain’s society. Such developments create isolated gated communities around Bahrain occupied by people who are not connected to the culture and society of Bahrain. It also creates distinct class divisions; divisions which does not already exist there. In fact, these islands will become countries by themselves despite physically being part of the main and politically administered. As it says, they are islands; surrounded and isolated entities.
The process of approving an artificial island project is a top to bottom approach. Investors submit their proposals which are usually designed by international firms that lack awareness and knowledge about the cultural and social context. This method has a negative impact on the social fabric of Bahrain, as it does not reflect the Bahrainis needs and aspirations. It also neglects local participation in the design process. Therefore, the final product of such developments targets specific groups and classes and ignores the increased demand of the majority for affordable housing. Hence, the outcomes of artificial islands are far removed from the reality of what local people need.
Moreover, artificial islands influence livelihoods in many ways. On the one hand, establishing a link between the main island of Bahrain and these artificial islands requires a significant amount of construction of roads and highways which will result in the need to relocate several existing fishing villages to clear up the coastline. On the other hand, fishermen have started to complain about the shortage of fishery storage due to the constant sea reclamation required to create the artificial islands and their required infrastructure. This process might change and affect the marine ecosystem of Bahrain and the entire region.
Since the coastline and marine resources of Bahrain are central to the lives of all Bahrainis, it is an environment of tremendous values in terms of its natural and human assets and is under pressure because of the demands of these resources. Management of this environment is a complex task, involving many organizations and individuals, and requiring action at local, national, regional and global levels. Therefore, there is an urgent need to introduce a process which goes beyond the traditional approach of planning and managing activities on an individual basis. There is a need to focus on the combined effects of all activities taking place along the coast to seek suitable environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes. Although the Urban Planning affairs departments are developing a marine and coastal management plan, this step still lacks consideration of the social and cultural factors which are key for Bahrain.
Moreover, the master plans of the artificial islands do not involve the residents in the design and construction process. Artificial islands are designed and constructed and eventually marketed as final products to individuals. This approach neglects the fact that Bahrainis see their first homes as the place where they will stay for the rest of their lives, and they like to contribute to the design and construction process. This is a cultural norm that increases the emotional value of the home to the family because they are involved in all phases starting from the design concept, through to the construction and furnishing.
The development process of the artificial islands in Bahrain is more likely to be a trial and error process considering the absence of design guidelines and implementation regulations. The planning authority started to propose a set of guidelines to be negotiated with the developers, mainly related to environmental issues such as hydrodynamic studies and traffic impact analysis. On the other hand, the planning authority is pushing investors to increase public access to the shore and provide residential units that suit all classes but there is no legal basis for such requests. Throughout the process of the research, two topics stood out as potential areas for future research. Firstly, it would be beneficial to further understand attitudes and perceptions related to place identity and social and cultural sustainability. It would be worth exploring the current perception of Bahrainis of these terms in comparison to the current theoretical literature. It would be interesting to trace the similarities and differences that come about due to the unique and rich characteristics of Bahrain.
The second topic which the project outlines and is worth exploring is how to utilize and collaborate the contradicting interests of real estate investment firms in promoting the concept of global cities on the one hand, and investing in cultural heritage on the other hand. The provision of physical evidence, reinforcing the memories of past achievements and the values and traditions of the people is currently achieved by preserving the important sites to maintain cultural identity. However, this methodology could inspire investors and related stakeholders to transfer this richness of cultural heritage to the new artificial islands by integrating their interests in old historic and contemporary modern investments.
This will ensure the continuity of Bahrain’s cultural heritage that will enrich the real estate market with products that are unique to Bahrain and would subsequently increase its values in the national, regional and global real estate market. The methodology of integrating the investor’s interests would be very interesting to explore and would ensure the social and cultural sustainability of Bahrain in light of the rapid modernization processes that are transforming its urban context.
The main challenge which Bahrain is facing today is maintaining its identity in regional and global contexts. Sustainable development is to be seen as the agenda for the long term, so that Bahrain can make the right choices to secure a future that is prosperous and fair for all, and where the nation can live within its environmental limits. Development, growth and prosperity are not necessarily in conflict with sustainable development. However, sustainable behavior and activity are achievable in the immediate short term, and Bahrain will succeed only if it moves forward in
partnership with individuals and businesses, and channels its creativity to deliver against the sustainable development challenges that it faces socially, culturally, economically and environmentally.