GSD To Study Persian Gulf

Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Design recently launched a cross-disciplinary study of the Persian Gulf region to aid future sustainable urbanism in the area when various economies shed their dependence on gas and oil revenue.

The region’s importance in the world fossil fuel market renders it a crucial place to examine sustainable development, according to the researchers.

“If the Arab region consumes its plentiful resources in a way that makes life not sustainable, then it will not be good for the entire world,” said Design School Professor Spiro N. Pollalis, principal investigator for the project.

Nations in the Gulf region are currently building cities based on European and American models, but they are unsuitable for the particular locale, according to the project’s senior research associate Nader Ardalan, who initiated the study.

The project will study development in the region. The researchers are currently examining the first phase, which is defined from the earliest prehistory—when humans started building settlements in the region—up to the advent of oil income, which enabled the region to discard their traditional patterns and build new cities in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The [Arab states] have realized that the way they are growing is unsustainable,” Pollalis said. “This is where they called Harvard University to simply help them.”

The researchers believe that the project can be replicated in other parts of the world since the methodology—examining history, environment, economics, public health, and development through the lens of architecture and urban design—could be applicable elsewhere.

“This does not impact just the Gulf region,” Pollalis said. “By having the sensitivity and sensibility to look at these resources, [our project] offers services to the world in an area that is really crucial.”

The project will result in the creation and circulation of an encyclopedia called the “Gulf Encyclopedia for Sustainable Urbanism,” which will make the research findings widely accessible.

“These are challenging issues for the Middle East,” said Harvard School of Public Health Professor John D. Spengler, a co-investigator of the project. “[Fortunately] we have a wonderful pool of multi-disciplinary experts working on this.”

—Staff writer Zhanrui Kuang can be reached at


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