The changing identity of the built environment in Tripoli City, Libya
The main aim of this study is to analyse and evaluate the changing identity of the built environment in Tripoli. In search of a definition for identity, the research found that identity is a combination of similarity and difference, creating a sense of uniqueness with which individuals, groups and societies identify with each other but distinguish themselves from others. Identity is, therefore, dynamic, always defined in relation to others rather than in isolation, and is created through continued existence through time and space, through memory and continuity. Three inter-related types of identity (individual, group and social identity) create a balance between individual creativity and the sense of community. A major component of the sense of identity for individuals, groups and societies is their physical environment. In particular, some elements of the physical environment appear to make a strong contribution to the sense of place and identity. These are the natural environment, such as the countryside and the sea that surrounded the city, as well as the city's homes, streets, open spaces, markets and mosques. These physical elements are created according to people's cultural and social values, principles and beliefs. A major change in these elements can be considered a change in the identity of the city. To evaluate this change of identity, the study used a historical and social analysis. The historical analysis showed how these elements were transformed during the course of the twentieth century. It identified three stages of transformation: traditional, colonial and modern (or postcolonial). The social analysis found a number of variables that link people with their physical environment and shape the sense of identity of the place: safety and privacy, attachment and commitment, self-expression, memory and continuity. The research then combined the historical and social analysis by interviewing 300 residents in three areas of the city, each representing one stage of identity transformation. These residents, as well as some academics, architects and planners, were asked to evaluate these environments. The findings of this study illustrated the changing characteristics of the built environment as well as the underlining forces and circumstances forming the identity of each area. The examination illustrated the lack of physical and cultural continuity where each area developed and changed in response to different circumstances (socio-cultural, economic and political). An appraisal of the architecture and urban characters of the three areas demonstrated the lack of design continuity leading to the fragmentation of the urban structure. Associated with this fragmentation, there has been a gap between the development of the built environment and the needs, principles and values of Tripoli society. These gaps and discontinuities have created tensions and shortcomings in the life and identity of the city. The three main historical periods have each left a mark on the city, creating a city of multiple identities. The traditional city still is valued highly by Tripoli residents for its architectural features and its conforming with traditional social values. It is, however, not popular with the younger people, who are the future of the city, for its inability to accommodate modern lifestyles. The colonial city is an alien creation that has particular architectural values, such as its arcades and open spaces. It is not however, suitable for the Libyan family size and lifestyle. The modern neighbourhoods are not often successful in their architecture. They are more suitable in general for Libyan families, but remain unsuccessful from a number of aspects, especially in satisfying the older people. In comparison, the findings indicated a higher level of satisfaction among the respondents in the traditional area regarding their physical environment. This was partly due to the design concepts that were in line with local social, cultural, political, economic and climatic conditions. However, later developments and changes have not been related to the local conditions to the same extent and have negatively affected the process of city formation. The three areas that reflect the history of the city have their own strengths and weakness. The future of the city grows out of this diversity of identities. There is much that can be learnt from the lessons of each area, as well as of the co-existence of old and new that characterises the identity of the built environment in Tripoli. A major lesson is that the success of built environment largely depends on how far it relates to the local physical and social conditions.