Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bringing the Pilgrims to Qom

March 25, 2011 | Maryam Eskandari

featured in PBS|Frontline - Tehran Bureau

Islamic Republic's push to develop Shia holy city as a top Middle Eastern destination.

[ dispatch ] Since the early 16th century, during the Safavid dynasty, the holy city of Qom has been a significant center of Shia theological education and a locus of pilgrimage. Recently, its development has become a top priority for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the past eight years, Iran has been expanding Qom, not only as an "Islamic Education Center," in competition with other such cities such as Najaf, Iraq, but with the goal of making it one of the major destinations in the Middle East.

After the late 1700s, when the city flourished as a center of religious learning under Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, little attention was paid to its development for more than century. However, in 1915, when invading Russian forces entered the nearby city of Karaj, many residents of Tehran province moved to Qom, spurring its growth into one of the region's major metropolitan areas. Consideration was even given to shifting the Iranian capital from Tehran to Qom. Over the past six years, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vast amount of development money has been flowing into the city.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gender, Sexuality and Urban Spaces

This was a great, if in cohesive group of panelists. They’ve each done really interesting research on different architectural expressions of ‘women’s spaces’ in three different US institutions: contemporary Mosques, Gymnasiums at the turn of the century, and Settlement Houses in the early 1900′s.

Maryam Eskandari gave a very compelling presentation on the need to re-examine mosque typology and explore the gender hierarchy assumptions embedded in that typology. Essentially, her work has determined that mosques prioritize men’s space, making the front of the mosque inaccessible to women, and allocating the separate women’s prayer space as ½ to 1/5 the amount of space allocated to the men. She talked about radical activists in the US staging Rosa Parks-style interventions in this model. And, she advocated for the role of architects in changing the typology, making contemporary mosque design reflect the changing politics of the practice of Islam in the US where communities are more open to mixed gender prayer spaces.

read more @ Plural Titanium

follow the conference @ Gender, Sexuality and Urban Space

Libya’s Architecture on the Brink

March 7, 2011 | Maryam Eskandari

featured in NYC Elan magazine

In the past couple of years, Libya has been on the forefront on cutting edge architecture. Competing with other Middle Eastern countries, such as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, Libya has been able to keep up with the “architecture boom” that has been on the rise in that region. However, several days ago, when the Security Council of the United Nation slapped a 15-0 vote sanctions on Libya in hopes to send a strong message to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi; many of the architectural firms stepped up to support the United Nation decision. The international firms that have on-going projects have all vowed that they would never work in Libya, under Gaddafi’s regime and have suspended all projects.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space: Places: Design Observer

The Mubarak government extended a series of policies initiated under Anwar Sadat. The regime supported laws and actions that sharply limited Egyptians’ access to public space — to places where citizens could congregate, meet, talk, interact. It promoted the development of gated communities with private parks, golf courses and luxury shopping malls, and in doing so facilitated the exodus of Cairo’s middle and upper classes into the desert at the city's periphery. At the same time the government ignored the city's center; its ongoing mismanagement of housing development has resulted in the extensive zone of informal housing, mostly unfinished brick shanties, that rings Cairo. And Mubarek worked to effectively dismantle and depopulate Cairo’s much-admired public squares and parks, including not just Tahrir Square but also Ramses Square and Azbakiyya Gardens. For decades, in fact, public policy and urban planning, like most governmental matters, were filtered through the harsh lens of state security. Urban open spaces — anywhere citizens might congregate and stage political demonstrations — were systematically subdivided or fenced off or given over to vehicular traffic and flyovers, and thus made challenging and even scary for pedestrians. Collectively such policies have led not only to the decline of public space but also to the inexorable deterioration of cities and the erosion of civic pride.

Read more : Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space: Places: Design Observer