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Department of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, 40450 Shah Alam, Selangor, MALAYSIA
Introduction The paper tries to discuss the optimism of material improvements, comforts and luxuries within the Western civilization in the late 1800s as resulted from the proclamation of Friedrich Nietzsche “God is dead” and that it was the people who killed Him. What he was observing was that the values that give life’s meaning disappeared with the ‘abandonment’ of God in everyday life. Therefore, the paper tries to draw a parallel between that condition and what is occurring in contemporary architectural scene particularly questioning to whether God still have a place in the architectural production of modern society, or is God relevant only in projects such as mosques, Islamic educational institutions and such? In tackling this issue, the paper will delineate this issue in the context of the architect as an Insan Adabi. References on two relevant architectural contexts in contemporary society will be the main case studies for this paper, and outlines important works, ideas and thoughts that consequently detail the scope of thoughts that permeates contemporary architecture under the headings of Globality and Social Justice from the Development of Twentieth Century’s Architecture, and Ijtihad for Islamic Architecture. These two issues were selected in order for us to understand the overall architectural progress during the twentieth and the twenty first century which contributed to the development of civilization and its discontentment. This paper hopes to generate a discourse and will openly debate the issues, as we are experimenting with new design agendas in the improvisation of architecture progress, particularly in the Department of Architecture in Universiti Teknologi MARA, and generally in Malaysia in order to give birth for future generations of architects as Insan Adabi. Works, ideas, thoughts and writings of many important architects and thinkers will be the main references for the amalgamation of discussion in paper.
Globality and Social Justice from the Development of Twentieth Century’s Architecture
The twentieth century will be chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective. Arnold J. Toynbee, English historian (1889 – 1975) In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 11, 1957, former Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson quoted historian, Arnold Toynbee, author of the book A Study of History. The main thesis of Toynbee’s work is that the well being of a civilization depends on its ability to respond creatively to challenges, human and the environment. He was optimistic about the twentieth century. He believed that the cycle of rise and decline was not inevitable and that a civilization could choose and act wisely in the face of recurring hardships. However, civilization was proven to overcomes the dangerous aggressivity of the individual, by weakening him, disarming him and setting up an internal authority to watch over him, like a garrison in a conquered town 1. It is impossible to resist the impression that human beings commonly apply false standards and thoughts, such as Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) proclamation of “God is dead”2, seeking power, success and wealth for themselves and admiring them in others, while underrating what is truly valuable in life. “One of the most remarkable characteristics of human nature,” writes Hermann Lotze (1817 – 1881), a German philosopher, “is, alongside so much selfishness in specific instances, the freedom from envy which the present displays toward the future”3. Not since the age of invention have so many new products, processes, and services become available to the society. What we see over the last hundred years is that design (which include architecture) is changing its place in the order of things. Design is evolving from its position of relative insignificance, to become a tool in shaping a society, which in the words of Guy Debord (1931 - ), the Society of Spectacle. The concept of the spectacle brings together a wide range of phenomena4. Diversities and contrasts among such phenomena are the appearance of a social organization. This social organization is part of a class struggle, which according to Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), is a fight for social justice in the living
age of the modern society 5. Like modern society itself, is at once united and divided, struggles between forces. These struggles have been established for the purpose of running the similar socio-economic and political system. The globalization phenomena, which is more likely is the capitalism invasion towards the world had caused social justice being left at a dilapidated condition. This phenomenon does greatly affects the built environment and architecture, which automatically will affect the social system we live in. It is our interest to share our view from the local perspective of the development of twentieth century architecture towards the struggle for social justice. By the twentieth century, Southeast Asia, with the exception of Thailand, had already become states of western colonial powers. Political boundaries were set arbitrarily without regard for historical, cultural and ethnic considerations. During the colonial era, traditions and other Asian values were sometimes modified or distorted by the deliberate intervention of the colonial masters in order to satisfy their own utilitarianism, meaning or aesthetic expression6. It is therefore common that most Southeast Asian countries are still in the process of working out how to define their identity and modernity. Notwithstanding decades of rapid economic development, the majority of the populations in the Southeast Asian countries are still poor. At the same time, the controversy over Asian values continues. The economic success of the past decades in the Asian region and the increasing strife over trade protection, democracy and human rights have turned the Asian values debate into a highly charged political and social exercise. This debate leads to the development of individual initiative and creativity, which give birth to the generation of new ideas. In the built environment circle, physical expansion was an inevitable response to the urgent demand of rapid urbanization and migration flocks. This process leads to growing economic wealth. Economic development of the Asian region has certainly brought substantial benefits, better opportunities and some improvements in living standards. Free markets activities are becoming necessary tools for generating wealth. However, the successful application of the free-market instrument does not always ensure the appropriate delivery of basic human needs and the equitable distribution of development benefits. Here, social justice is still not successfully being empowered. Seeing this, most Asian leaders start to build dreams of having a fair and justice society by commencing ‘nation- building’ projects which are being seen as tools to echo the nations’ identity and modernity symbolism. Meanwhile in Europe, intellectual discourse on modern society and its architecture continued with great vigor. This practice has continued from the interwar years until the age of digital architecture and Frank Gehry is becoming
a household name. Socialist inspired utopianism informed the agenda of modernist urbanism and placed it within the framework of paternalistic ethics and controlled social justice. It was in this context that Modernism was introduced into colonial Malaysia in the fifties7. Influences, ideas and philosophies from the Modern Movement were brought back by the first generation of Malaysian architects, which were largely educated abroad in the 1950s and 1960s. The country’s demands for new buildings have been their testing ground to apply these ideas. In the late sixties, Post-Modernist Architecture consciously introduced historicism, localism and pluralism. These philosophies, which was largely influenced by the writings of Robert Venturi8 and the critical views of architecture and the city by Aldo Rossi9 start to challenge the dehumanizing and soulless International Style. It was during this period that Malaysian architects start to raise questions on national identity, which in our opinion, were brought about by three sources of influences, which are: 1. 2. 3. the Existentialism of Sartre10 and Post Modernist thinkers, from Derrida to Foucault, the racial riot of May 1969, and the establishment of the New Economic Policy
The nation undertook deliberate development of unprecedented speed and magnitude to modernize the urban center. Slums, squatters and urban fringes were demolished to provide land for new usages, particularly for housing and office spaces. Massive public housing projects embodied the dimension of social responsibility and ethics associated with the ideas of the Modern Movement. Notwithstanding the social benefits and environmental improvement for its occupants, public housing was veritably a part of a pragmatic economic agenda. However, these public housing estates (flats and terrace houses) were built in simplistic and rigid Modernist Style and lacking in excitement, character and identity. Fixed in repetitive, boring layouts, uninspiring architecture of the country reflects the contradiction of our rich cultural roots and evolving identity. This shows our country’s struggle between borrowed Modernity and Asian communitarianism. The role of the architect to serve humanity as an Insan Adabi was degraded when the politico-cultural ideology combined with lack of community participation in planning and building decisions means that there are fewer opportunities left for people to exteriorize their subjective opinions, cultural characteristics and religious thoughts in the spaces they inhabit. These
progression and development of the country’s architecture somehow reflects Nietzsche’s proclamation in which ‘abandonment’ of God and religion references can be seen at large, and such problem can be seen as a global one, resulting from and towards social injustice. 2. Ijtihad for Islamic Architecture In the previous century, Islamic Architecture has become a mere ‘attachment’ to the various discourses on Architecture on Post Modern Revivalism, Neo Vernacularism, Regionalism, Modernistic Structuralism, Abstractionism, Geometricism and the use of metaphors in Architecture. The sufistic-based iconographical allusions in traditional Islamic Architecture raise questions of validity from the perspective of Sunnah as adhered to by the majority of Muslims11. Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Rasdi Architecture critic, writer and teacher (1966 - ) The above quote was taken from the written work of Tajuddin Rasdi, who specializes in theory and history of architecture with emphasis on the ideas of Islamic architecture from the perspectives of the Prophet Muhammad’s (p.b.u.h) sunnah and the framework of early Western Modernist thoughts. From his writings, it is our interest not to discuss Islamic architecture from its symbolic transformations of built forms and geometries, but rather to come out with an ijtihad (agreed collective interpretation) for Islamic architecture that encompass the ontological qualities of practicing architecture as a Muslim and khalifah in this world. To achieve this standard and qualities, the Muslim architect must first and foremost understand the words of Allah, imbued in the Holy Quran. These words must be practiced in accordance with the sunnah of His Messengers in order for the architect serve as an Insan Adabi. It can be said that from the issues and references stated from the previous chapter, almost all issues are faced with a multitude of problems of social injustice. In simpler term, these problems have arisen from the failure of the human, specifically the architect, to understand the concept of syukur (thankfulness), which leads to the reduction of the Islamic conception of knowledge (‘ilm), from a sacred to a profane form of knowledge and eventually lead up to the loss of adab12. This negative transformation can be avoided if human beings understand and practice Islam as it is supposed to be practiced, and by releasing Muslims from the shackles of Western
secularization13. In this paper, we will try to understand the first word in the Holy Quran, which is Bismillahirrahmannirrahim (in the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy). By understanding this very important verse, it hoped that human generally, and architects specifically, can improve themselves in order to progress as an Insan Adabi. Most occurrences of the term ar-Rahman in the Quran are in the context of Him being mighty and majestic as well as merciful14. By this, it can be taken that He is the most knowledgeable (‘ilm). From His unprecedented knowledge, He has awarded human beings (khalifah) with the best gift, which is the Quran15. His might and majestic can be interpreted as Him being the ultimate creator 16, thus creating human beings17 to be placed on earth 18, which is the only source for livelihood (rezeki). This connection of Human - Earth - the Quran is literally to be understood as the fitrah (natural disposition) of life and is to be taken as agreement (aqad) between human to live on earth by using the Quran as its main guidance (hudan)19. By agreeing to this aqad, it will mark the aqidah of the human (i.e. the architect). By having a strong hold to aqidah, it will be much easier for the architect to practice in the right mannerism, which can reject the fallacy of progress brought about by the universal spirit of modern development, which is an integral component of Westernization and secularism20. In order to do this, it is important for the architect to be able to differentiate between the haq (sacred) and bathil (profane). By using the Quran as the main reference, it is a must for him to be able to understand and use the Holy Book as a tool for illumination, since Allah has awarded human with the Quran as a revelation (bayyinat) 21. These revelations must be intelligently used by humans to look, listen and think 22, thus being able to distinguish (furqan) between the above mentioned haq and bathil23. Once the human (architect) is able to be truly decisive in perceiving which is good and which is not, the spread of secularization and the reduction of the religious traditions (ad-din) can be reduced and stopped, thus reducing the negative impact of these two principles which was brought about in the name of Modernity and Westernization. This marks the importance of the architect to practice the principles of wisdom (hikmah), unity (tawhid) 24 and to use their God’s given intelligence in the form of the process of thinking (aql)25. Concluding all these processes, the architect will reflect back what was earlier mentioned, which is to understand the concept of syukur in becoming an Insan Adabi.
The diagram below (Figure 1) will clearly illustrate and define the whole process of becoming an architect, which practice this new concept of ijtihad in Islamic architecture.
Figure 1: Concept of Syukur in Becoming Insan Adabi By understanding the whole process illustrated above, the architect may venture into a higher realm of purifying oneself through the understanding of the principles of one’s inner self level of interior 26 (batin) (Figure 2). Further reading 27 on this subject is required to understand the spiritual and psychological states in becoming a person who can understand his actual relationship with the universe and his Creator and fulfill his trust, the function of viceregency that we human has accepted as khalifah. It is important for the architect to learn about it in order for him to bring back the long lost adab,
which have been the main contributing reason for the ‘abandonment’ of God and religion in everyday life.
Figure 2: Inner Self-Level of Interior28
Conclusion From the observation on today’s social injusticeness and how a Muslim architect can practice the principles of syukur and inner self purification to mend the problems, it can be concluded that the nature of Islam’s divine law will group the symbol of faith, and governed by God, determines the conception of law. In Islam, a person who has understand the above mentioned concept of syukur will submit to this law, which is, at the same time a social duty and a precept of faith. Juridical order and religion, law and morals, are the two aspects from which Muslim derives its existence and directions; every legal question is in itself a case of conscience, and jurisprudence points to theology as its ultimate base. The Quranic revelation on law itself is an act of mercy vouchsafed by God to mankind. Therefore, in today’s modern contemporary society, the architect must always obliged to this binding contract (aqad) to practiced what is imbued in the Quran in order to become an Insan Adabi. For instance, as a professional which carries the responsibility of social duties, the architect must always practice his professionalism, not only by compelling to the Code of Conduct, but also to perform at his level best in every process of practicing architecture. These include the duty of the architecture student to seek for knowledge, the teacher to deliver his knowledge and to teach students to perceive good architecture, and the designer/architect to design his building with full responsibilities towards the society, environment and God. By perceiving all of the above with the correct understanding on the words of God, a more synectics spirit of the human soul can always be achieved in giving birth for new generations of architects as Insan Adabi.
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Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power, (trans. Walter Kaufmann), Random House, New York, 1968.
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Surah al-Baqarah (2:185) and Surah Ar-Rahman (55:2) Surah al-Alaq (96:1) Surah ar-Rum (30:30) Surah al-A’raf (7:10) Surah al-Baqarah (2:185)
Zubir, Syed Sobri, Assoc. Prof., Ideals and Realities of Contemporary Islamic Architecture (Revue One), Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Surveying, UiTM Shah Alam, Malaysia, 2001.
Surah Yaasin (36:69) Surah an-Nahl (16:78) Surah at-Tariq (86:13)
Ardalan and Bakhtiar, Sense of Unity (other details unknown), see Zubir, Syed Sobri, Assoc. Prof., Ideals and Realities of Contemporary Islamic Architecture.
Surah an-Nahl (16:78)
al-Jilani, Abdul al-Qadir, The Secrets of Secrets – Revelation of Islamic Sufism and Mysticism (interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi), S. Abdul Majeed & Co., Kuala Lumpur, 1993.
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