From its origins as an outpost of the Achaemenid Empire, the repeated strengthening of the Citadel of Qala Ikhtyaruddin, and the setting out of a walled settlement by the Ghaznavids, the city of Herat has had a turbulent history. Situated at the crossroads of regional trade, in the midst of rich irrigated agriculture, the area has been a prize for successive invaders. The city became a centre for Islamic culture and learning during the reign of Timur, whose successors commissioned several monumental buildings, but it then fell into decline under the Mughals. Considered part of Persia during the Safavid era in the eighteenth century, it was not until 1863 that Herat was incorporated into the emerging Afghan state.
The distinctive rectilinear layout of the city of Herat was delineated by massive earth walls that protected the bazaars and residential quarters that lay within. This was the extent of the city until the middle of the twentieth century, when administrative buildings were constructed outside of the walls to the northeast.
Sawruk, Theodore. "Reconstructing Afghanistan: An Architecture Curriculum for a ‘New Way of Life’." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 2, Number 2 (pp. 371-395), edited by Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2013.
Afghanistan is a country rich in culture and history, but also one devastated by decades of war. The destruction extends beyond cities to include the social, economic and educational constructs of life. In 2008, the University of Hartford was awarded a $1.33 million grant to help re-establish the engineering facilities at Herat University. The grant mission also facilitated the creation of a new achitectural programme to address the growing needs of contemporary Afghanistan. Over the next three years, scholars worked to forge an innovative curriculum, one that melds the historic traditions of a centuries-old city with the contemporary needs of a western-style Islamic society. When the ideally conceived curriculum was finally taken to Herat University for approval and implementation, a new and harsher reality emerged. This article chronicles the events that reshaped the proposed curriculum. It relays how the current state of the profession, cultural traditions, gender bias and economic realities came to bear on the development of this new programme, and how western preconceptions were revised by local realities. Finally, it documents how the melding of these realities supplanted initial utopian agendas in the creation of a more viable, integrated curriculum that supports an evolving, unique and contemporary architectural identity.
Keywords: Afghan women; Afghanistan; University of Herat; architectural education; architecture curriculum; female architects