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Placemaking in the Forbidden Kingdom

How religion can can contribute to poor places and the different views between sexes - Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

King Fahd_Road_Riyadh_Kingdom_of_Saudi_ArabiaKing Fahd_Road_Riyadh_Kingdom_of_Saudi_Arabia

Image: King Fahd Road – traffic is always busy and the accident in the intersection is not unusual. A few photos below highlight the challenges involved. I apologise for the quality, photography is not encouraged and often prohibited - I had to take sneaky shots.

Posted by: Dave Jones*

David Engwicht suggests that men seek (and design) planned exchanges with every trip able of being measured. Women seek spontaneous exchanges which are harder to measure but the essence of placemaking. Dave Jones completed our online urban design and placemaking training course ().

I would like to share the Saudi perspective on what makes a good urban space.This week I had the pleasure of attending an American Institute of Architects conference in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi is rightly known as the Forbidden Kingdom. I was co-presenting a workshop on Sustainable Master Planning and focused on Placemaking.  From the Saudi religious establishment’s perspective place outcomes include:

  • Segregation between males and females
  • No music
  • No encouragement of gatherings
  • Only open areas around mosques

As such, it is a place that has no soul. The only emotions that are triggered are:

  • Fear
  • Revulsion
  • Pity
  • Anger

Riyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_ArabiaRiyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_ArabiaImage: Westerners live in compounds with high level security.  You have to drive through chicanes and at the end of this road are armed guards who search in and under your vehicle for bombs.  Machine guns are trained on your vehicle.

What was special about this conference was the attendance of women. A license was required to a) allow women to attend; and b) allow women to speak. And what fascinating speakers they were. I am not going to name names as they could get into a lot of trouble, but a frank discussion concluded the first day with the topic of ‘Women in Architecture’ being discussed. The first statement from one of the women was “We should not even be having this discussion”. Seeing the strength and resolve of these women in providing architectural services to the Kingdom, no matter how much prejudice they are experiencing was inspirational.

Riyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_Arabia_1Riyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_Arabia_1

Image: I know we encourage blurring the boundary between the pedestrian and vehicle realms but this guy takes it a bit too far!  Definitely a car dominated society.

The difference between the male Saudi perspective and the female Saudi perspective was striking. When asked “what makes a good urban space for you” the males talked a lot about landmark developments, statements rather than service. They were keen on segregation and had trouble conceptualizing the idea of providing multi-use, free flowing spaces. The women leapt at the task and really embraced Placemaking principles. Skyscrapers were frowned upon by the women, and they wanted more freedom to interact with a variety of social groups. Improved public transport was extremely important.

Riyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_Arabia_2Riyadh Kingdom_of_Saudi_Arabia_2Image: not really inviting. I took these photos at 6.30am to be safer as I was not really meant to be walking the streets.

Sustainability is now being discussed within the Kingdom and this was a hot topic at the conference. It was good to show how Placemaking and Sustainable Development go hand in hand.

Saudi has a long, long way to go before it becomes a welcoming city. A fundamental mindshift is required, something the current king is trying to create, however he has a constant battle with the religious establishment. 

Friday 4 May, 2012 (May the 4th be with you!)

Placefocus links: Urban Design + Placemaking 101

Related Place Blogs

Perfect Persia (Iran)

Should we copy local architecture? - Doha, Qatar

*Dave Jones is the Senior Urban Planner at KEO International Consultants, United Arab Emirates.

We consistently receive positive feedback about discussion among participants in our training courses in urban design and placemaking. While there are common qualities to the places we like, our own views matter. As suggested by participants, We have started this blog to continue this discussion on-line. The comments section of each blog provides the opportunity, so don't be bashful. Speak up! Particularly if you disagree with us. If you are reading this in our email then click on the hyperlink in the blog heading. This will take you to our website.

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