Dalal Musaed Alsayer: The U.S. Suburb in the Desert: Aramco, Dharhan, Saudi Arabia, c. 1950

As part of the 2020 Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lectures, Dalal Musaed Alsayer will discuss the creation of company towns for American oil workers such as Aramco, which created "an architecture and urbanism that was all at once everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere."

October 19
Register here for the lecture.


"In 1933, the Standard Oil of California (SoCal) was granted an exploratory concession for Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Provinces and three years later, they discovered one of the world’s largest oil fields. In encountering the desert, SoCal’s employees did not attempt to understand it but instead projected onto it an environmental imaginary, envisioned how it came about, and immediately wanted to overcome, tame, and order it. While the first inhabitants were mainly single men who were originally housed in barracks-style dormitories, they were soon joined by their wives and children, and prefabricated homes were imported to house them. A fence was erected around their homes and by 1945, Dhahran began to look like its U.S. suburban counterpart, with a neat cul-de-sac and lawn-lined streets with a complex network of people, animals, and infrastructure to support it. Anywhere, U.S.A. was born and the Arabian American Company (Aramco) was established. The company devised a housing strategy that segregated the population along marital and racial lines. While U.S. families lived in the fenced suburb, Saudi men were kept outside living in makeshifts houses, Italians construction workers lived in a barrack-style compound, and non-Saudi Arabs and South East laborers lived in separate dormitories.

"By 1943, this spatial, racial, and ethic segregation resulted in riots from those excluded from living inside the fenced suburb. To address this, Aramco devised the Home Ownership Program (HOP) to house its Saudi employees outside of the Dhahran district in newly designed suburban tracts. Through a close reading of the architecture built, the story of Aramco’s Dhahran reveals the environmental and urban ramifications of the world’s largest petrochemical conglomerate and the suburb that restructured society and urbanism. Embodied as Anywhere, U.S.A., company towns such as Aramco created an architecture and urbanism that was all at once everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere."

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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