Architecture, Environment, Development: The United States and the Making of Modern Arabia, 1949-1961
Dalal Musaed Alsayer
Dalal Musaed Alsayer is a PhD Candidate in Architecture History and Theory at the University of Pennsylvania.
This dissertation examines the ways in which the architectures of U.S. development programs sought to transform the social, environmental, and urban fabric of the Arab World in the mid twentieth century. The period between the establishment of President Truman’s Point Four Program in 1949 and President Kennedy’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1961 saw the genesis of a distinct global form of development, rooted in projects that divided regions into “rural” and “urban.” By examining four different projects in four nations, this dissertation aims to document this critical discourse, placing environment and development within the field of architecture, and tracing within them the emergence of (and resistances to) rural and urban models of development.
This dissertation examines the confrontations between the U.S. one-size-fits-all aid-funded model of development, and the range of receptions it received when implemented. Four architectural case studies are explored. First, the oil-company town of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, provides evidence for how the American “good life” was transported to the Arabian desert for the benefit of U.S. workers, and what happened when locals demanded similar accommodation. Second, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) Pavilions at the Syria International Fairs show how the U.S. curated its self-representation with a focus on domesticity, consumerism, and rurality in places where direct aid was rejected. Third, community development projects and model homes in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan funded by U.S. aid programs like Point Four are shown to have reinforced domesticity and gender roles, while concurrent local programs, such as Musa Alami’s Arab Development Society (ADS), were targeted by anti-Western protesters when they received U.S. funding. Lastly, Nelson A. Rockefeller and Wallace K. Harrison’s experiments in mechanized housing in Baghdad, Iraq through the International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC) are examined, demonstrating how technological programs failed when they ignored local conditions.
Though the projects examined were not successful as models of development, their story bridges the gap between environmental and architectural histories by demonstrating how images of the environment shaped the architecture built, and how architecture was able to occlude social, spatial, and environmental differences.