Future for an Old Desert Village

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Future for an Old Desert Village

NARRATIVE Introduction: This is a story of a small village in the Qassim region of Saudi Arabia, in the vicinity of the town of Unaizah, some 330 km. from Riyadh. The village has seen better days, the past 30 years has not been very kind. Most of the residents have moved to nearby towns and big cities abandoning their homesteads and farms. The last shop, a convenience store had closed even though over the past years the authorities had brought in electricity, piped water and sewer to this place. The physical conditions of structures is not bad, mostly concrete block building replacing the mud and rubble homes of earlier times, but the village has an air of abandonment and very few residents. The village of Al-Oshazyah has a historical and cultural importance in the creation of the present Saudi State and hence there is a folkloric appeal among the local people. A local elite family was among the companions of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the present Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the people of Unaizah derive much pride in this fact. The original homestead (‘Qasr’ in local term) had long disappeared as the family moved to the outskirt and finally dispersed. The old date-palm gardens had fallen into disrepair. The land is fertile, fed by aquifer and a large seasonal lake formed by the rain in far-off hills of Medina. A group of local people, led by an architect who was born and raised in Uniazah, got together to first, excavate the old ‘Qasr’ and second, to find possibilities that may offer a lease of life to this village. Though the future appeared bleak, few present-day trends were in their favor. Saudi society had witness a dramatic social transformation, mass migration from rural and small towns to vibrant large cities. But after decades of single-minded drive for ‘modernity’, Saudi’s, especially the generation that left the small desert towns and villages, are returning to their roots and eager to introduce it to their children. In winter, when the lake, fed by the rains in the mountains is brimming to the seams, thousands of big-city dwellers converge on this small village for month-long festivity and social bonding. This is, in essence to socialize the next generation to the unique cultural and social identity of people of Qassim region, the heartland of the modern state of Saudi Arabia. Project Proposal: With this purpose in mind, the old historic site was excavated systematically (preparation of measured drawings, inventory of items, etc.). Conceptually, this historic ruin is to serve as a focal point for the revitalization of the village. At the village level, it proposes a new circulation system with linkage to important sites in the vicinity, a traffic plan that restricts cars to the ring around the village, a pedestrian precinct extending the existing village square (‘baraha’) to include the new Friday Mosque, a new Pavilion for visitors, the excavated site and an archeologically accurate replica of the old ‘Qasr’. This will be the spine reorganizing the central space of the village. The economy generated by tourism will require more commercial spaces (shops and rental accommodation) that will built around the central spine, spatially delineating it. The 3 infills, e.g. the Excavation and replica Homestead, The Friday Mosque and the Visitors Pavilion are the anchors in the proposed revitalization plan and hopefully will regenerate the economy, necessary for meaningful future for Al-Oshazyah. ACTION AREA: Proposal Details: Here the Action Area is explained in detail. The presentation is primarily for the residents of the village and nearby town of Unaizah and relies on 3D views to explain the content and quality of physical development proposed. The 3 building components and their inter-relationship is highlighted thru street level views with the proposed structures superimposed on existing setting. This is to generate a competent popular discussion on the design proposals by the interested citizenry. The process is ongoing and few revisions are expected. After all, an enlightened citizenry is the best guarantor for historical artifacts and sites and their involvement is a prerequisite for the survival of old abandoned desert villages of Nejd.

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