Samarkand's Mahallas: History and Culture Shape in Living Urban Form
front matter

This study focuses on Samarkand's so-called residential districts or mahallas. These mahallas are characterized by densely built courtyard homes organized in an organic honeycomb along networks of narrow streets and blind alleys. Ms. Krugmeier’s fascination with the unique fingerprint of city plans in Central Asia was peaked in 1995 during a 5,000-kilometer overland journey along the Silk Road from East Turkestan (the Uyghur region of China) to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. She found Central Asia’s mahallas to be of equal interest to the grand architectural monuments of the region, but unlike the latter, literature on the residential districts was virtually non-existent in the West. Moreover, the systematic destruction of these so-called "substandard" living quarters underscored the urgency of documentation. 

When the opportunity arose to secure a research grant from the Professor Halasz Trust (one of her former professors of Architecture at M.I.T.), she crafted a project to return to Uzbekistan to realize her aspiration to learn more about the urban structure and make this information more widely available. This project sought to study the vernacular urban form of residential districts in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. After a scouting trip in 2011, she did fieldwork in 2012 with the collaboration of Gianmaria Zanderighi and Barbara West, and in 2015 returned to present a 200-page report to UNESCO, Tashkent and to representatives of Uzbekistan’s Department of Preservation of Cultural Resources in Tashkent and Samarkand. UNESCO recognizes both the monuments and urban fabric of Samarkand as World Heritage Sites, and graciously sponsored the visa for Ms. Krugmeier's study.

The five-part study involves mapping several of Samarkand's mahallas and identifies the unique characteristics of their urban form. Part I comprises a brief primer on urban form typologies to provide a framework within which Samarkand’s structure is presented. Part II outlines the Post-Genghis Khan history of the city plan and presents a number of historic maps reproduced from the archive in Tashkent. Part III illustrates the fundamental elements of Samarkand’s mahallas: the pond, mosque, teahouse, commercial enterprises and homes. Part IV, the bulk of the report, presents maps and drawings illustrating the intricate mahalla street network, and includes an exploration of cultural and social norms fundamental to the formation of urban fabric. Part V summarizes conclusions and observations. 

The publication linked to this record contains the front matter and introduction to the study. For Parts I - V, follow the links below to downloadable documents: 

Krugmeier, Paula. Samarkand's Mahallas: History and Culture Shape Living Urban Form. 2015 [revised 2017].
Child Publications
Paula Krugmeier
urban design
mahallas (residential districts)