Hiba Bou Akar is an Assistant Professor in the Urban Planning program at Columbia GSAPP. Her research focuses on planning in conflict and post-conflict cities, the question of urban security and violence, and the role of religious political organizations in the making of cities. Bou Akar’s book, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontiers, published by Stanford University Press in 2018, examines how Beirut’s post-civil war peripheries have been transformed through multiple planning exercises into contested frontiers that are mired in new forms of conflict. It contributes to planning thought by studying planning practice within a framework of past and anticipated violence. The book won the 2019 Nikki Keddie Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association, and the 2019 Anthony Leeds Prize from American Anthropological Association’s Society for Urban, National, and Transnational / Global Anthropology (SUNTA) section. Currently, Bou Akar is working on a new project entitled “Sedimentary Urbanization,” for which she received the the 2019 Rockefeller Foundation Academic Writing fellowship.
Her first co-edited book, Narrating Beirut from its Borderlines, published by Heinrich Böll in 2011, incorporated ethnographic and archival research with art installations, architecture, graphic design, and photography to explore Beirut’s segregated geographies. Bou Akar’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Wenner- Gren Foundation, and the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS).
Bou Akar is leading the newly-established Post-Conflict Cities Lab at GSAPP. The Lab will focus on post-conflict urban planning and will engage in research on the ways in which planning practice in contested cities has been simultaneously a tool of pacification, conflict, and development. The Post-Conflict Cities Lab’s inaugural project is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation that Professor Bou Akar received to study “Urban Research and Practice in Post Conflict Settings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bou Akar worked with PhD and masters student enrolled in her spring 2020 courses on “Advanced Planning Theory” and “Planning and Spatial Exclusion,” to develop an open source annotated reading list on the pandemic as it relates to urbanism, urban planning, architecture, and the built environment. Conceived as a living document, "Pandemic Urbanism: Praxis in the time of COVID-19,” has been developed through a method of collaborative co-writing bringing together in one document materials that students, scholars, practitioners and activists would find useful to think about the pandemic as it relates to cities, spatial inequalities, and social change.
Bou Akar received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Master in Urban Studies and Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Before joining Columbia GSAPP, Bou Akar taught at Hampshire College and the American University of Beirut and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center. She has also worked as an architect and planner and as a research consultant with local NGOs and international UN organizations in the Middle East. She is the co-editor of Jadaliyya Cities, an online electronic journal addressing urban issues in the Middle East region.