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The Story of Al-Bukairyah: The modernization and material progress of Saudi society in the past few decades has left behind old historic urban centers, denuding it of people and assets, condemning them to neglect and decay. The story of Al-Bukairyah has been played in most small towns in Saudi Arabia, all have witnessed a massive out-migration to the larger regional towns but mostly to the major metropolis, Riyadh. The dramatic economic, demographic and social transformation had introduced a desire for ‘modernity’ into Saudi psyche. Among other things, (technology, education, healthcare etc.) it also meant associating past with backwardness and condemning the totality without a critical measure. The buildings, the physical structure and the infra-structure were of course obsolete and retrograde, not in tune with modern demands but the urban built form may not necessarily be so. But both were dumped in favor of western style subdivision and suburbia, houses with setback. Old neighborhoods were bartered for an anti-thesis of the traditional form. The realization that this loosely built urban form is culturally alien and may not be sustainable, even for a resource-rich Saudi society, people did ‘en masse’ vote for this urban pattern by moving out to new suburbs in economically vibrant cities. The exodus meant not only abandonment of existing asset but also the low worth of such properties, a vicious cycle that inevitably condemned the whole historic core. The old urban fabric was compact, a tightly knit organization of spaces, intricate access system, courtyard and high wall are but the physical expression of social and cultural values. The built form also responded to climatic and micro-climatic considerations except for archaic construction material, serviceability and modern-day comforts. Al-Bukairyah suffered similar fate and while design cannot resolve the deeper social and cultural issues, this design exercise is an effort to chart a positive, responsive future for the urban core. The design goal is to revitalize the abandoned areas by inserting functions and infilling structures that not only reassert the primary commercial, recreational and residential role of the core but also respectful of the historic fabric, propose a development that is in harmony with the past in form and content. Also, by introducing modern facilities, civic and business in larger vacant lots, this area can offer modern amenities that would make them an attractive place to live. A detail study of Al-Bukairyah, its different components and neighborhoods was done to decipher the trend, identify the assets and opportunities and propose a design solution that will be physically attractive and sustainable, that will draw the people and commercial activities back to this area. In recent years, there is a marked demand for recreational facilities, a re-assertion of traditional family oriented life-style of the general Saudi population. Salient features in the design proposal: The design intervention is in the abandoned inner areas of the neighborhoods/wards. These vacant areas are viewed as opportunities for intervention as these areas have low land value and require no demolition. While the stating point of the design proposal is respectful of the traditional form, belief in its contemporary relevance, it is a modern interpretation of the essential and positive aspects of the traditional urban form. The scale of intervention is paramount; it must match the traditional urban fabric. In residential quarters in infill is shop/house typology that fits into small irregular parcels. The infill also creates a tight, well-articulated pedestrian street system that is supported by a controlled vehicular access. The proposed form is of ‘modern’ with current construction standards but employs forms derived from traditional ‘souks’ (market place) and ‘mohalle’ (neighborhood) that is in pedestrian scale. Small scale courtyards/street (‘sikka’) and awnings/ tent is employed for a climatically conducive environment. The large project is brought down to human scale, both physically and cognitively. Vehicular movement is widespread but controlled and secure pedestrian access system serves as the spine that holds and connects different parts of the project. The project inserts modern urban and commercial facilities into the center, (e.g. Date Market, Meat Market, Friday Mosque, etc) but designed context-specific to large vacant or empty lots. The development of the Civic and Cultural District, the Friday Mosque with the town plaza, modern Business District, etc. will offer contemporary services, economic opportunities and recreation spaces in the old district. Though the design proposal is extensive but it should be viewed as a plausible model of what is possible and achievable. The physical form proposed is to validate the core intellectual position that the traditional urban-form and the historic urban core can be re-interpreted in a contemporary urban context that responds to present-day needs of its citizen.


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