Rebuilding The Past or Building The Future?

17 October 2018

Inspired by "Munirah Al-Tamimi’s" Talk part of “TANWEEN”


Local Heritage Between Modernization and Authenticity

People have the tendency to favor the new, as well as to look forward to the future possibilities that are starting to happen with enthusiasm. At the same time, the faster progress happens; the more they feel nostalgic for the past, even though they are walking in a direction meant to destroy it. It is as if this nostalgia is a way to express their guilt. History is a shared need among different nations, not just for documentation purposes, but because progress is only measured when compared to the past. We have to measure how far we have come to evaluate the journey properly.        

Examples of this are witnessed in the increasing number of restaurants and coffee shops that adopt the folk-village style and design and are located in many Saudi cities and between their modern architecture. This proves people’s interest and yearning for their ancestors’ lifestyle. The question is how do we preserve this heritage? There are two suggestions. The first one is inclined to demolish the old buildings and rebuild them in a modern design that might take some inspiring decorative features from the past, but adopts the modern practical features. The second one suggests we preserve the old building and maintain it to remain the same, sacrificing some of the necessities of today. The believers in the first suggestion think holding on to the past as it is an obstacle in the way of progress. The problem is not in preserving the heritage, but in a mindset that refuses to let go of the past and its glory, and so misses a lot of chances.                 

Believers in the second opinion see the matter as more than mere nostalgia. The passage of time leaves its own aesthetic marks. Let’s look at historical Jeddah for example, which was marked by UNESCO as one of the world heritage places, imagine that it was demolished and rebuilt using modern techniques and materials, it’s certain that it wont be as amazing, as it will lose its most main attraction factor which is how it makes us feel that we see it exactly as it was 2000 years ago. By preserving and maintaining it, we preserve the authenticity factor that gives the buildings their value. We can even revive it by turning it into a museum. Preserving our heritage is a key factor in our image, as well as it attracts other nations curiosity and interest in knowing us. We have to protect our heritage that constitutes a large part of our country’s uniqueness in order to make it a tourist destination according to “Saudi Vision 2030.”

“Heart Catheterization” by the Saudi artist, Abdullah Al-Othman, is a representation of this contradiction. Al-Othman encased an old house in Khobar in tin with the goal of bringing attention to the treasure that is our architectural heritage, and the need to preserve it against demolition projects that destroy the old overlooking its aesthetics and historical worth. However, it is interesting and ironic to find people who found the work to be a way of mocking those who stand against modernization, and a call to replace the old -that defaces the city- with the new. According to this opinion, the anomalous appearance of tin is a reflection of this defacement or a representation of an attempt to cover a depressing appearance. Both opinions will keep colliding, and time only can decide who is on the right, as the time is not only a witness to history, but the best judge of it.