The Politics of Public Space in Islamic Societies

This document is a syllabus reflecting course content developed for "The Politics of Public Space in Islamic Societies," by Dr. Talinn Grigor for the Rhode Island School of Design, Department of Architecture.

Course Description

Primarily focusing on the architectural examples of the modern Middle East, the course raises concerns related to the political (mis/re)use of spaces, structures, and signs. By contextualzing each architectural case in its specific sociopolitical history, we will ask the following questions: How is architecture used as a site of power and resistance in politically charged societies? Why is architecture-as-representation so central to the making of coercive narratives about modern identities and civil order? How do these shifting uses of the landmark leave their imprint on architectural form, function, and meaning? Our aim will be to analyze how architecture both endorses political discourse and, by contrast, sustains social resistance. Above all, what can modern Muslim states and societies inform us about the politics of space and identity?

While the course will begin with selected examples of public spaces from Islamic history, it will rapidly enter the 19th century, where various colonial encounters and subsequent imperial discourses will be examined. The bulk of the course considers the use of urban ‘text’ as an ideological tool by the leaders of modern nation-states: the heaving-handed modernism and revivalism of the 1920s and 1930s, the native- ization of modernity in the 1950s and 1960s, and the urban revolution of Iran in 1979. The course will conclude with the current events in Afghanistan and Iraq bringing to the fore broader architectural question such as the destruction of monuments as political acts, the women’s veiling as a gendered space, and today’s architectural implication on politics and vise versa.


Reading ‘Islamic Space’
  • Grube, E. ‘What is Islamic Architecture?’, Architecture of the Islamic World, ed. Michell (NY, 1978) 11-14
Islam Manifested: “Islam: Empire of Faith” 
  • Bianca, S. ‘Basic Principles of Islam and their Social, Spatial and Artistic Implications’, Urban Form in the Arab World (London, 2000) 23-47
Performing Space: Formative & Classic Era of Islam
  • Dickie, J. ‘Allah and Eternity: Mosques, Madrasas and Tombs’, Architecture of the Islamic World, ed. Michell (NY, 1978) chapter 1
(Em)powering Space: Medieval & Gunpowder Empires
  • Grabar, O. ‘The Architecture of Power: Palaces, Citadels, and Fortifications’, Architecture of the Islamic World, ed. Michell (NY, 1978) chapter 2


Elsewhere Invented: The West, Orientalism, and the Muslim world
  • Said, E. ‘Introduction’, Orientalism (New York, 1978) 1-23
Colonizing Space: French North Africa
  • Beguin & Baudez. ‘Arabisances: Observations on French Colonial Architecture in North Africa between 1900-1950’, Lotus International 26 (1980) 41-52
Imperializing Space: British South Asia
  • Chakravarty, S. ‘Architecture and Politics in the Construction of New Delhi’, Architecture + Design 2/2 (January/February 1986) 76-92
Elsewhere Displayed: International Exhibitions in Europe
  • Mitchell, T. ‘Egypt at the Exhibition’, Colonising Egypt (Cambridge, 1988) chapter 1


High Modernism Imposed: Reza Shah’s Iran & Kemalist Turkey
  • Scott, J. ‘Authoritarian High Modernism’, Seeing like a State (New Haven, 1998) 87-132
  • Anderson, B. ‘Census, Map, Museum’, Imagined Communities (London, 1991) 163-185
  • Bozdogan, S. ‘The Predicament of Modernism in Turkish Architectural Culture’, Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey (Seattle, 1997) 133-154
Modernity ‘Gone Native’: Theorizing ‘Vernacular’ & ‘Spiritual’ Architecture
  • Al-Sayyad, N. ‘From Vernacularism to Globalism: the Temporal Reality of Traditional Settlements’, Traditional Dwellings & Settlements Review 7/1 (1995) 13-25
  • Fathy, Hassan. Architecture for the Poor (Chicago, 1973) 
  • Ardalan, Nader. The Sense of Unity (Chicago, 1973) 
Space of Modernity: Nehru’s Chandigarh & Dhaka’s National Assembly
  • Ksiazek, S. ‘Architectural Culture in the Fifties: Louis Kahn and the National Assembly Complex in Dhaka’, JSAH (December 1993) 416-435


Revolution in/of Space: “Live from Tehran” (ABC documentary, 1999)
  • Dabashi, H. & P. Chelkowski. ‘From the Myth of Revolution to the Art of Persuasion’, Staging a Revolution: The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran (London, 2000) 
Space Revolts: The Urban Revolution of Iran, 1978-79
  • Grigor, T. ‘Monument Performed, Space Claimed: from Shahyad to Azadi’, unpublished paper (Cambridge, 2000)
Space Claimed: Khomeini’s Iran and Resistance to an ‘Islamic’ Revolution
  • Adelkhah, F. ‘A New Public Space for Islam?’ Being Modern in Iran (New York, 2000) 18-29, 105-113
  • Grigor, T. ‘(Re)Claiming Space: the Use/Misuse of Propaganda Murals in Republican Tehran’, International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter 28. Amsterdam, (August 2002) 37
Cluttering Space: Asad’s Syria
  • Wedeen, L. ‘Killing Politics: Official Rhetoric and Permissible Speech’, Ambiguities of Domination (Chicago, 1999) 32-49
Battling the Same Space: Israeli/Palestinian struggle over al-Aqsa
  • Monk, D. ‘Introduction’, An Aesthetic Occupation: the Immediacy of Architecture and the Palestine Conflict (Durham, 2002) 1-13
  • Osman, M. ‘An Interview with Daniel Bertrand Monk’, Thresholds 25 (Cambridge, Fall 2002) 20-23
Spatial Megalomania: Saddam’s Iraq
  • Michalski, S. ‘Iraq in the 1980s’, Public Monuments: Art in Political Bondage (UK, 1998) 195-200
  • Al-Khalil, S. The Monument: Art, Vulgarity & Responsibility in Iraq (London, 1991) 68-77, 116-134


Veiled Space: Muslim Women in Public Space
  • Hadimioglu, C. ‘Black Tents’, Thresholds 22 (Cambridge, Spring 2001) 18-25
Towers & Buddhas: Taliban’s ‘Revenge’
  • Flood, F. B. ‘Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum’, Art Bulletin 134/2 (December 2002) 641-659
Destroying Architecture: Islamic Iconoclasm or Fundamentalism?
  • Gamboni, D. ‘Outside the First World’ & ‘Disqualification and Heritage’,The Destruction of Art (New Haven, 1997) 107-116, 329-336
 ‘Orient’ Talking: 
  • “The Children of Heaven” (director Majid Majidi, Tehran, 1997)
  • Salman Rushdie. ‘Imaginary Homelands’, Imaginary Homelands (NY, 1982) 9-21
Grigor, Talinn. "The Politics of Public Space in Islamic Societies." Syllabus, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, [date not provided.]
Talinn Grigor