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Changing communities and discarded landscapes. Strategies and methods towards new life cycles for Omani traditional oasis environments

XVI Conferenza Nazionale Società Italiana degli Urbanisti, Naples, 10.05.2013

The paper is a contribution to the 2013-16 PRIN "RE-CYCLE Italy. New Life Cycles for Architecture and Infrastructure of City and Landscape". Building on work commissioned by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of Oman towards the delivery of Heritage Management and Development Master Plans for the traditional oasis settlements of Harat Saybani (Barkat al-Mawz) and Harat al-Yemen (Izki), strategies and methods which introduce new life cycles are proposed. Drawing on an understanding of the socio-cultural rationale behind the desertion of Omani traditional settlements and the effects of change on society and the built environment, the paper puts forward a culturally and environmentally informed approach to the re-cycling of Saybani and Yemen, based on reformulation of functions, resignification of identities, reactivation of territories through social inclusion and functional diversity.

By envisaging public participation and responding to local communities' needs integrated heritage management provides an opportunity to rethink current development logics. Challenging current practice in Oman which, focusing on wholesale restoration and rebuilding, prove economically prohibitive, the paper suggests an alternative approach which, instead of occupying virgin land, makes abandoned oasis settlements drivers of sustainable local development by re-cycling parts of the urban fabric to adaptively accommodate modern uses. Methodology and approach experimented in Harat Saybani and Harat al-Yemen have future scope for implementation across Oman and the Middle East, with due adaptations, towards a new urban development model based on the Reduce / Re-use / Recycle paradigm.

Harat as-Saybani and Harat al-Yemen, Heritage Management and Development Master Plan
Heritage Management and Development Master Plans for Harat al-Yemen, Izki (left) and Harat as-Saybani, Barkat al-Mawz (right) . Images: ArCHIAM, 2013