Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, has grown more than 100 fold in less than half a century, expanding from 8 square kilometers in the early 1940s, to 845 square kilometers today. Consequently, its population has also increased almost 100 times during the same period, rising from 25 thousand to nearly 3 million. Despite its modern ascent, however, Riyadh is a city with deep historical roots. With natural water resources, Riyadh supported the development of early towns. When the Banu Hanifah settled in the Yamamah region about two centuries before the advent of Islam, the town of Hajar developed as a residence for its rulers, as well as a commercial centre. People looked to Hajar as a hub of economic activity, a place to settle judicial disputes, and as the seat of their tribal origins. The town of Hajar was decentralized in the sixteenth-century, scattering into small villages. At the beginning of the eighteenth-century, the name Riyadh was given to a number of these villages and their surrounding areas.
With the final expulsion of Ottoman forces in 1824, under the leadership of Imam Turki, Riyadh was adopted as the principle city of the Suad dynasty, and became a site of development. The original walls of the city were refortified and palatial works, like the Masmak Palace, now one of the oldest structures in Riyadh, and the Murabba and Shamsiya palaces, were added. Despite these additions, Riyadh remained a small town until the early twentieth century, with an architectural heritage rooted primarily in mud-brick construction.
In the 1930s, the landscape around the city began to change as suburbs began to form about the city, following the discovery oil deposits in the kingdom and Riyadh's official recognition of its capital. Nevertheless, the most significant changes of this decade occurred in the eastern region. Over the course of the twentieth century, much of the city's original architecture was replaced with modern structures, as concrete construction began to replace traditional modes of construction in the late 1940s, and Riyadh began to develop as a governmental administrative center. Beginning with King Suad's 1953 succession of the throne, Riyadh became a more targeted focal point of modernization efforts. In 1957, the first reinforced concrete buildings debuted on a new grid-plan in Riyadh with the completion of Annasriyyah, the royal residential district and Riyadh was integrated into the peninsula's transportation network, with the construction of a railway connecting to ad Dammam in 1953, and the King Khalid International Airport and facilities in 1984. New housing models were introduced to the city, including the villa style, as migration to the city increased, and new universities to accommodate them, like the King Suad University, were constructed.
Al-Naim, Mashary A. "Riyadh: a city of institutional architecture." In The Evolving Arab City: Tradition, Modernity and Urban Development, edited by Yasser Elsheshtawy, 118-148. London: Routledge, 2008.
Everett-Heath, John. The Concise Dictionary of World Place Names (third edition). Published Online : Oxford University Press, 2014.
The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Edited by Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair. Published Online : Oxford University Press, 2009.
Hakim, Besim S., and Peter G. Rowe. "The Representation of Values in Traditional and Contemporary Islamic Cities." Journal of Architectural Education 36, no. 4 (1983): 22-28.
Contemporary development in many Arab-Islamic cities, such as Cairo, Riyadh, Dammam, Damascus, Baghdad, and Tunis, presents a profound paradox and offers interesting insights into both the role of tradition in shaping settlements and the appropriateness of various mechanisms for transforming and assimilating foreign influences. On the one hand there is almost uniformly a deeply felt social need to continually re-affirm traditional values, cultural , and even national identities. On the other, there has been a wholesale commitment, even infatuation, with modern Western technology associated with participating in the geo-political economic order and in reckoning with the very real problems of rapid growth in urban population, largely occasioned by this participation. So far, public policy and private entrepreneurial investment has been weighted heavily in favor of new development, resulting, in most cases, in a transformation of the urban and architectural expression of the city towards norms that are largely devoid of traditional architectural values and conventions. Quite apart from the erosion of traditional building practices per se, the resulting commodification of habitat can often be alienating, particularly for those who are unaccustomed to the new conventions, or who are disenfranchised from the process of settlement itself.