With their varied socio-physical, socio-economic, socio-cultural, and socio-political presence, cities have always been highly differentiated spaces expressive of heterogeneity, diversity of activities, entertainment, excitement, and pleasure. They have been (and still are) melting pots for the formulation of and experimentation with new philosophies and religious and social practices. Cities produce, reproduce, represent, and convey much of what counts today as culture, knowledge, and politics. While the Middle Eastern city is not and exception, characterised by some of these key elements, but it continues to witness various forms of struggles. It endures to experience a multitude of influences where its architecture and urbanism have experienced dramatic transformations that instigated critical questions about urban growth, sustainable design and planning, regenerating and retrofitting heritage and historic building stock, the quality of urban life, healthy neighbourhoods, urban liveability and identity, and multiculturalism, among others. Architecture and urban spectacles are developed in tandem with environmental degradation, civic and regional conflicts and mass displacements of refugees, political and economic instability, among other bare realities. In essence, this conveys a severe dichotomy that is emerging as a new field of research, discourse, and critique.
The body of knowledge on what constitutes 'urban' has fluctuated between two clearly defined intellects. The first is concomitant with the spatial intensity of a population and buildings on the basis of certain boundaries, dimension and density. The second is associated with the dissemination of the value system including attitudes, norms, and behaviours where the 'urban' is viewed as a place of encounter and assembly, and simultaneity and social interaction. Evidently, the first is about 'urban' form and second is about 'urban' culture or 'urban' life. 'Urban' form has been, and continues to be, the key domain of architects, and urban designs and planners, and 'urban' life has been the domain of social scientists. This has been the case throughout the 20th century. However, over the past two decades 'urban' life has gained substantial attention among architects and urban designers. Likewise, contemporary urban discourse has portrayed the 'urban' life dimension within two poles. The first is a set of positive qualities including diversity, tolerance, sophistication, cosmopolitanism, integration, social interaction, negotiation of differences. The second is a number of characteristics that represent undesired conditions including detachment, withdrawal, loneliness, social control, segregation, individualism, isolation, fear, and seclusion.
Framing the preceding standpoints, one should refer to a cycle of three main symbiotic pillars on the 'urban': the imagined, the measured, and the experienced, which contribute to the development of insights that elucidate various parameters for interrogating urban challenges in the Middle Eastern City. These three pillars stem from the Lefebvrian conjecture on the production of space, which postulates a triadic relationship of three different but related types of 'urban': the conceived (Imagined), the perceived (measured) and the lived (experienced).