Besim S. Hakim is a prominent architect who describes his career as built on “three pillars of professional activity in teaching, research, and practice in architecture, and urban design/planning.”1 He has become a prominent, internationally recognized expert on traditional and vernacular settlements and architecture, an interest that stems from “a conviction that the more we understand the experience of varied cultures across space and time, the more we are able to develop a viable and comprehensive theory of architecture and urbanism.” He argues that such an understanding “is also a prerequisite for developing intelligent alternative solutions to problems in contemporary architectural and urban planning practice.”2
Besim S. Hakim received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Liverpool University’s School of Architecture in 1962, and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University in 1971. From 1967 to 1980 he was on the faculty of the Technical University of Nova Scotia, now part of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. His teaching career has included stints at some of the most prestigious schools of Architecture in North America, North Africa, and the Middle East, including 8 years (1985-93) at the College of Architecture and Planning, King Faisal University (now a part of University of Dammam). In 1990 he received an Education Honors Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for "Teaching History by Searching for Emics & Etics," and in November 2010 he was among five international experts invited to review the proposed curriculum of the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies of Qatar University for a Master’s Degree in Islamic Urban Planning and Architecture.
His current research investigates the system of rules and customary law that structure traditional architecture in the Cyclades Islands (Greece), Spain, Italy and Northern Nigeria. Considering the findings of these investigations alongside his earlier research in North Africa and the Middle East, provides insight into how quality is maintained in the built environment of multiple, disparate geographic and cultural contexts. Hakim contends that the conclusions derived from research into vernacular architecture are applicable to contemporary urban planning, architecture, and design, “particularly in the areas of management, decision-making structures and code formulations for town planning purposes. The ultimate goal is the creation of the necessary legislative and technical mechanisms to ensure the achievement of high quality in the built environment of contemporary towns and suburbs, as well as the revitalization of historic and heritage districts.”3
Hakim has applied these lessons to his own professional practice to his work on urban planning projects in Canada, the Middle East, and the United States.
His research on the role of culture in the built environment, urban design and planning, and architecture have been published in many articles, reports, and books, including Mediterranean Urbanism: Historic Urban/Building Rules and Processes, published by Springer in 2014, and Arabic-Islamic Cities: Building and Planning Principles, published by Kegan Paul International in 1986, and recipient of a Citation for Research from Progressive Architecture in 1987. A Japanese translation was published in 1990, a Farsi translation in 2002, and an Arabic translation in 2015. In 2009 Emergent City Press published a revised version of Sidi Bou Sa'id, Tunisia: Structure and Form of a Mediterranean Village. This unique book was originally published in 1978. Most recently he published an English translation of Rules for Compact Urbanism: Ibn al-Rami's 14th Century Treatise (2017).
Professor Hakim is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and a Member of the American Institute of Architects. He resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he continues his scholarly research and his practice as a consultant in urban design and planning.
NOTES: 1 Besim Hakim Bio for AKDC@MIT. MS Word Document. August 2015. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid.
SOURCES: Caperna, Antonio. "Interview With Besim Hakim. Mediterranean Codes and Sociogenerative Design - Biourbanism.org." International Society of Biourbanism. May 19, 2014. Accessed September 04, 2015. http://www.biourbanism.org/interview-besim-hakim/.
Hakim, Besim. Besim Hakim Curriculum Vitae. August 2015. PDF.
Hakim, Besim. Besim Hakim Bio for AKDC@MIT. August 2015. PDF.
Besim, Hakim S. “The 'Urf' and its Role in Diversifying The Architecture of Traditional Islamic Cities.” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 11:4 (1994): 108-127.
The 'Urf', or customs, in various Muslim societies had a very important role in establishing a framework of accepted norms of behavior operational in its own terms at the level of the community. As a result, each region of the Muslim world, sometimes comprising a number of distinct communities, developed a local distinctiveness in the way certain societal activities are conducted, including building activity. A primary reason why local customs thrived was the recognition by Muslim legal scholars of the importance of the Urf as a mechanism of societal behavior, and was thus accepted as one of the sources for the law. This was a basis for its institutionalization in each community. This paper explains the Urf from the vantage point of Islamic jurisprudence, then discusses its implications on building practice. This is supported by illustrative examples to convey the impacts on architecture at the local level. It also attempts to put forward a theoretical basis for the phenomenon of unity and diversity prevalent in the architecture of traditional Muslim societies. The paper also addresses lessons from this insight for contemporary building and urban design, and suggests areas for further research associated with this topic.