Contexts - Methods - Themes


Research is undertaken across many contexts worldwide with emphasis on Gulf Cities, Egypt and certain countries in Africa. Yet, it has expanded to address contexts in Europe and the Balkans as well as other regional contexts. The five categories of contexts include:

  1. Gulf Cities with an emphasis on work relevant to knowledge economy and urban qualities, housing transformations and multiculturalism, and assessment of image-making practices, urban open spaces, and city developments.

  2. Architecture & Urbanism in Egypt with emphasis on architectural and urban discourse, sustainable design for ecolodges and sustainable facilities for tourism, and issues related to unplanned settlements and informal housing.

  3. All Africa (North/East/West) which captures some of the PhD research and some published works focusing on the Medina in North Africa, Lilongwe, Malawi, and Accra Ghana. The focus here is on housing transformations, quality of urban life, and inclusivity in the public realm.

  4. Europe & the Balkans which includes recent research work on a number of cities that include Belfast, Belgrade, Bosnia, Glasgow, Gothenburg, mainly in the area of urban space assessment, spaces of migrant communities, and interrogating various cultural practices.

  5. Wider Global Contexts, a section of the platform that engages with efforts undertaken in various contexts and reflects other context-free contributions, and regional or global categorisation including the Arab world, Middle East, Islamic world, and North America.

Gulf Cities


Europe & the Balkans

All Africa

Wider Contexts


Research adopts several lines of inquiry and engages with ethnographic methods, environmental psychology approaches, social science research tools, while implementing mechanisms for the trans-disciplinary co-production of knowledge. Since the key interest is to examine the reciprocal impacts of people and built environments, a spectrum of tools is employed for effective systematic examination of people-environment relationships. Tools utilised in previous projects range from applying spatial analysis tools such as space syntax to various environment-behaviour techniques including behavioural mapping, cognitive mapping, auto-photography, structured walking tours' assessment techniques, systematic observations and contemplating settings, focused interviews, and various group interaction mechanisms including charrettes, evidence-based assessment workshops, stakeholder meetings, and focus group discussions. Approaches and tools are appropriated and adapted to match the nature of investigation, contextual parameters, and correspond with the crux of the issues under investigation.

See the following articles which demonstrate some of the insights and approaches which have been adopted in earlier research:

Themes & Lines of Inquiry

Over a period of a little more than three decades, various themes have evolved to shape a portfolio of inquiry which demonstrates our capacity to navigate across a) diverse contexts in the East and the West, b) various dimensions of sustainability, c) theory, practice, and policy, as they relate to buildings, streets and public spaces, business districts, residential neighbourhoods, and city development. The themes cross the boundaries of disciplines including architecture, urban design, and planning, urban geography, environmental psychology, entrepreneurship, to name a few. Each line of inquiry is comprehensive in its key features but may integrate with other areas of focus. The lines of inquiry engage with the themes and are relevant to the contexts, and include: Theoretically Debated & Empirically Validated Frameworks; Lifestyle Trends & Housing Transformations; Socio-Spatial Practice of Migrant Communities; Knowledge Economy & Sustainable Urban Qualities; Cultural Identity & Image Making; Informality & Understanding Urban Traditions; User-Centred Assessment of Designed Environments; and Research-Based Technical Assessment & Consulting. A separate line of inquiry engages with research on architectural education, design studio teaching practices., and examines various of forms knowledge delivery, consumption production, and reproduction.

Outlines of these lines of inquiry and selected relevant publications are captured in the following summaries.

Theoretically Debated & Empirically Validated Frameworks

An integral part of research is the development of valid theories and frameworks for utilisation into inquiry and assessment. This is based on various disciplinary perspectives and engagement with social sciences, including human geography and environmental psychology. To this end, I have collaborated with colleagues and developed research frameworks that examined sustainable urbanism in the Gulf region (see: Knowledge economy and sustainable urbanism in emerging metropolises) and explored the reciprocal relationship between housing preferences and lifestyle patterns (see: Transdisciplinary knowledge for affordable housing). The implementation of these frameworks has resulted in a number of lines of inquiry that continue to generate research outputs which strive to enhance decision making toward effective place making and place management strategies. Recent work in this area is reflected in integrationist triadic agendas for city research and the associated perspectives on urban performance.

Lifestyle Trends & Housing Transformations

As part of our research conducted over the past few years, we are examining my earlier framework on lifestyle theories, which is resulting in new insights that offer in-depth understandings of human-environment interactions. Our research involves understanding the impact of cultural paradigmatic shifts on the evolution of courtyard houses in Cairo, the development of a socio-anthropological approach for exploring housing culture in contemporary Cairo, the evolution of housing typologies in Gulf cities, the role of mega projects in redefining housing development, and the impact of affordable housing on sustainability, the relationship between emerging housing patterns and urban fragmentation, and from a comparative perspective, an examination of housing dynamics in various cities is of vital importance.

Socio-Spatial Practice of Migrant Communities

Over the past 5 years I have collaborated with colleagues in developing approaches to explore urban dynamics as they relate to migrant communities. A perceptual approach for investigating urban space diversity has been developed and tested in the context of the city of Doha. Additionally, utilising cognitive mapping techniques our research has examined the inhabitants’ spatial experience in the city. Among the important issues we have examined is a response to the question of how urban liveability is perceived in the context of migration, and how housing conditions are perceived by migrant knowledge workers. Social restructuring and the relocation of migrant labourers is an important theme that our research has explored by developing in-depth insights into the understanding of the everyday urban environment of migrant labourers in Gulf cities. Recently, we have embarked on exploring opportunities for examining practices of migrant populations from the global south within contexts in the global north.

Knowledge Economy & Sustainable Urban Qualities

Since 2012 our research team has developed a framework for investigating urban qualities in emerging knowledge economies, which was an important base for developing subsequent studies and research outputs such as our internationally recognised books Demystifying Doha: on Architecture and Urbanism in an Emerging City and Building Migrant Cities in the Gulf: Urban Transformations in the Middle East, and our comprehensive study on knowledge economy and sustainable urbanism. Studies included uncovering the impact of economic transformations on urban structures, examining the production of urban qualities in emerging cities, exploring the notion of knowledge hubs, the resulting plurality and place typologies, and the way in which such a notion impacts urban development, unveiling sustainable urban qualities in emerging cities, and developing insights into the spatial development potentials of business districts.

Cultural Identity & Image Making

My research has earlier investigated the conundrum of identity and meaning in the context of Egyptian architecture with a closer look at the various trends emerged in the Nineties, attempting to offer a critical voice on contemporary Cairo. Critical and contextual approaches are an important part of my quest for understanding and interpreting visual voices from the Arab world. Building on the notion of global flows my work in this area aims to develop a discourse on how cultural identity manifests itself in the public face of architecture. The examination of the image of a city, its associated meanings, and how this is reflected in the printed media is an important endeavour. This is reflected in key publications that include manufacturing the image of Doha, interrogating the practice of image making, and the contribution to the pavilion of the Kingdom of Bahrain at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia (2014), entitled evolving Isms and multiple architectural identities in a growing region. Latest publications in this area engage with an examination of evolutionary interventions in search of national architectural identity. Theories and concepts related to cosmopolitanism, decolonialism, plurality, and multiple modernities are translated into recent discussions on Contemporary architecture of Cairo (1990–2020): mutational plurality of “ISMS”, decolonialism, and cosmopolitanism and our new book Architectural Excellence in Islamic Societies, where a series of decolonised narratives were developed to capture the quality of architecture and urbanism in these contexts.

Understanding Urban Traditions

While the examination of urban traditions may be perceived as overlapping with the area of socio-spatial practice of migrant communities, it is believed that the understanding of traditions and the vernacular is a unique area in its own. Key works included explorations of socio-spatial aspects of traditional souqs (marketplaces) in the context of Muscat, Oman. The study of contextual geo-cultural politics and their inferences on the shaping of architectural identity has resulted in advanced insights into urban traditions in the contemporary lived space of cities on the Arabian Peninsula. Issues relevant to legitimization, the modern state, and nationalist particularism were explored through an examination of levels of legitimizing architectural and urban traditions in four Gulf cities, which were categorised into chronological, representational, and interventional.

User-Centred Assessment of Designed Environments

The effort continues to place emphasis on examining the perceived quality and the measured characteristics of the designed environment at both architectural and urban scales. Earlier works included the utilization of structured methods for assessing the learning environment from user perspective in the context of North Carolina, United States, user-centred workplace pre-design research in the context of the state of Minnesota, United States, assessing outdoor spaces of campus environments in Qatar, the examination of users' reactions of Al Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt, the impact of the spatial qualities of the workplace on architects' job satisfaction in Belfast, Northern Ireland. More recent work focuses on experiential assessment and examining attributes of urban open spaces which involved a spectrum of effective tools that have also have been validated in the context of Glasgow city centre including the development of a multi-layered investigation of St Enoch Square and characterisation and systematic assessment of urban open spaces in Glasgow centre. An examination of the perceived and measured quality in architecture is being undertaken utilising the Riverside/Transportation Museum as a case study on Clyde's river front.

Research-Based Technical Assessment & Consulting

An inclusive research approach that demonstrates the impact of various variables is amenable to attract practice and industry. My consulting work engages with practice including different institutions, real-estate development companies, and consulting and governments agencies. Examples of engagements with industry include various on-site technical review assignments for assessing housing projects in El Oued, Algeria, Social housing in Wilad Djallal, Algeria, Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre, Rome, Italy. Examples also include action planning for the redevelopment of the historic core of the city of Quseir, Egypt, and a decision support scenario for real estate development projects in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My research into sustainable tourism or ecotourism and the development of ecolodges is coupled with developing charrette processes for designing ecolodges in the Red Sea region, Egypt. This was based on earlier studies centred on developing guidelines and best practices for ecotourism and ecolodge development. See eco-tourism and the Egyptian context, eco-friendly lodges in Egyptian settings, and requirements for ecolodge design.

Research on Architectural Pedagogy and Design Studio Teaching Practices

Research and publication record in the field of architectural education and design studio teaching practices has been widely acknowledged and well recognised as evident in the recently awarded 2017 UIA Jean Tschumi Prize for excellence in Architectural Education and Criticism. My earlier work has focused on understanding various trends in architectural education as they relate to design studio teaching typologies, developing an edited collection on cross-cultural perspectives relevant to architectural education at the beginning of the millennium, exploring horizons for the future of studio pedagogy, traditional, revolutionary, and virtual design studio teaching models, and collaborating with colleagues in establishing prospects for a better built environment through effective design pedagogy. More recently efforts involves developing two special issues of Charrette: Journal of the UK Association of Architectural Educators: Shaping the Future of Architectural Education in Scotland (W/ A. Agapiou) and From the Global South: Pedagogical Encounters in Architecture.

My studies into architectural design pedagogy have evolved into a theory for knowledge integration in architectural design education, and incorporating transformative pedagogy in architecture and urbanism. My recent book Spatial Design Education: New Directions for Pedagogy in Architecture and Beyond encapsulates my efforts, since the early 1990s, in examining architectural design pedagogy as a paradigm whose evolutionary processes, underpinning theories, contents, methods, tools, are questioned and critically examined. My recent work aims at understanding and articulating the potential of research-led teaching in a responsive knowledge construction process. This includes integrating appreciative inquiry into architectural pedagogy and cultivating a culture of an inquiry-based and a process centred pedagogy. Latest effort engages with architectural pedagogies of the global south.