Traditional vs modern Arabian morphologies

Roha W. Khalaf (School of Architecture, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Publication date: 25 May 2012



The purpose of this paper is to describe the component attributes of an Arabian city, caught between tradition and modernization, with focus on their reactions to climate and religion.


A platform of comparison between Old Kuwait Town and Kuwait City is provided while showing the effects of oil money on the city's urban morphology. The paper's first section describes the emergence of the Islamic city in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and identifies key concepts in city morphology. An Islamic School of Law, furthermore, is selected to explain who interprets religious text and how concepts in Islam, such as domestic privacy, are translated into design guidelines, which have influenced the Kuwaiti vernacular typology and street pattern. The transition is made to the second section, which compares Old Kuwait Town and Kuwait City based on knowledge gained in the preceding section. Finally, the third section of the paper recommends some architectural and planning specifications.


It is found that climate and religion have lost their authority at the expense of a paradigm shift in the 1950s.

Research limitations/implications

The paper focuses on, and is limited to, one case study.

Practical implications

A few architectural and planning specifications are recommended for application in practice to improve contemporary design and to promote a unified morphological outcome in Kuwait City.

Social implications

The message is to show readers that progress is about working with, and responding to, local determinants rather than applying Western thinking.


The author advocates a look at precedents, because learning from the past helps to design buildings and plan cities that are compatible with local environments and traditions.



Khalaf, R. (2012), "Traditional vs modern Arabian morphologies", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 27-43.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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