Vernacular architecture of a country is based on the country’s culture ad heritage. According to Abu Hantash (2016), “Traditional architecture is the outcome of how humans read their place (Genius Loci)” (p. 320). It also allows us to understand the development of a country. For example, the architecture in the United Arab Emirates was different than it is now because of the discovery of oil, which was in 1966. As a case in point, “During the 1970s, just as Dubai’s fortunes changed completely with the sudden massive financial boost that the discovery of oil brought, so did the architecture of the emirate” (Dubai Design ; Architecture, n.d., para. 7). Before the discovery, the citizens of the UAE lived a simple lifestyle with date crops and fishing as their main source of income, with palm trunks dwelling that is suitable for the hot and harsh natural climate condition. However, after the discovery, the economy of the UAE increased radically, which impacted the urban environment in order to meet the new ambitions. The natural ventilation and local building materials were replaced by concrete, steel, glass, and air-conditioning. Consequently, this rapid change disrupted the cultural continuity between the old and new generations. Leech stated “During the rapid modernization that accompanied the oil boom, a new, imported generation of building types, technologies and construction techniques swept the older, traditional generation away as individuals, clients and developers turned to an architecture that better symbolized the dreams and aspirations of the new UAE. Buildings offering a higher quality of life and the trappings of modernity replaced ones that were actually highly efficient, but unacceptably old-fashioned and irrevocably connected with the past” (2011, para. 2). However, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, may he rest in peace, stressed upon the importance of recognizing the present and the future as a confirmation of the past. This made all levels of society realize that they unconsciously abandoned the cultural and traditional values because of modernity. According to Leech (2011), “If it has taken almost 40 years to realize the wider costs of the architectural mistakes of recent decades, it has taken a similar length of time for contemporary designers to appreciate the inherent wisdom of traditional building techniques” (para. 4).
Types of Houses
The tent (Al- ?hayma)
The tent was the shelter of the Nomads, Bedouins, especially during winter season. This portable shelter, which was made of animal skin and hair, was easily folded, unfolded, and moved around during travelling. The men’s tent was separated from the women and children’s tent. All tents were surrounding the Sheikh’s, head of the tribe, tent as it could be easily recognized by the guests.
Al-Areesh was the dwelling of the Bedouins during summer season, which was made out of palm trees. Its was considered their second shelter after the tent.
Because most the permanent houses were along the coast, the primary materials were coral stones and shell stones. These permanent houses were the shelter of the fisher men and their families.
Building construction of the permanent houses
The vernacular building construction mainly consists of palm trunks, chandal joist, and mud blocks, with a slanted roof for the drainage system.
Features of the Vernacular Architecture of UAE
The features of UAE’s vernacular architecture are similar to the Gulf countries. It is mainly because they all share the same religion, beliefs, and culture. The vernacular architecture of the Gulf countries has responded to the hot and harsh climate condition with innovative solutions. The main features of UAE’s vernacular architecture are the following:
Until today, privacy has been one of the most important features of UAE’s architecture. In an interview with X-Architects, they stated “We designed a Villa for Four Ladies that was planned on the fundamental cultural elements from Emirati life. The villa provided a level of separation required between men and women in Arab society. Planned for a mother and her three daughters, the women had a control of the level of privacy between the private and public spaces” (Nag, 2018, para. 6). For example, male reception (Majlis) is separated from the female’s reception and attains its own entrance from the outside. Consequently, this feature is present in almost all houses today.
(2) Courtyard (Al-Hawi)
The courtyard, or Al-Hawi, is an important feature of UAE’s architecture that survived till today. The courtyard is considered the heart or hearth of the building with all the other spaces adjacent to it. The entrance is off axis from the courtyard to prevent visual contact to the courtyard because It is only restricted for the family, which allowed women to practice their daily activities in freedom. Also, the courtyard was an important environmental feature during summer. It allowed for air ventilation across the spaces and light to enter.
(3) Wind-tower (Barjeel)
Another important feature of UAE’s vernacular architecture is the wind-tower. The wind-tower was a suitable and innovative solution for the hot and harsh natural climate, which allowed for air ventilation. The absence of the wind-tower today is mainly because of the emergence of the air-conditioning technology. However, some buildings in the UAE, today, have the wind-tower that attain no function, but for its aesthetic design.
(4) Alleyways (Sikka)
The alleyways, or sikka, are an imperative and positive feature that response to the hot climate condition. They are long and narrow paths that separates buildings from each other that allow for circulation. Because of the tall fence on the sides. They provide shade and allows for fresh wind from the north to circulate.?
Abu Hantash, T. (2016). BUILDING A ZERO ENERGY HOUSE FOR UAE: TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE REVISITED (PDF File). Retrieved from https://aurak.ac.ae/publications/Building-A-Zero-Energy-House-for-UAE-Traditional-Architecture-Revisited.pdf
Bukhash, R. M. (2003). Architectural Heritage of Dubai. Retrieved from http://www.sesam-uae.com/sustainablematerials/presentations/03_rashad bukhesh.pdf
Dubai Design & Architecture – The Evolution. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.visitdubai.com/en/articles/dubai-architecture
Leech, N. (2011, September 17). Lessons to be learnt from buildings of the past. Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/lessons-to-be-learnt-from-buildings-of-the-past-1.378120
Nag, E. (2018, July 20). Preserving the UAE’s past. Retrieved from https://fridaymagazine.ae/life-culture/people-profiles/preserving-the-uae-s-past-1.2252055