|AL FAHIDI FORT|
Dubai was a transit point for caravans on the trade route from Iraq to Oman, and for dhows between India, East Africa and the Northern Gulf. This eventually led to the city's establishment as an international centre of commerce where many cultures and traditions mixed. Dubai's traditional architecture reflects this blend of nationalities and cultures. Whilst clearly Arabic in style, it is also influenced by Asian and European ideas.
A report from M. Houghton of the Royal Navy in 1822, described Dubai as a collection of mud huts "surrounded by a low mud wall in which are several breaches, & defended by 3 round towers, and a square castellated building, with a tower at one angle …and having only 3 or 4 guns mounted ...The Western tower, which stands on a small cliff over the creek, has also 3 or 4 guns, and is in moderate repair."1
Dubai's oldest building, Al Fahidi fort, was built in 1799, and is probably the "square, castellated building" of which Houghton wrote. It was used as the residence of the ruler as well as a shelter for people in case of attack. It now houses the Dubai Museum.
The traditional vernacular style of architecture in Dubai is the result of a mixture of three dominant factors: the climate (hot and humid), the religion and customs of its people, and the locally available building materials.
|EXAMPLES OF DUBAI'S TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE|
To reduce the heat as much as possible, houses were constructed close to each other, with narrow alleys (sikkas) running in between from North to South, ending at the creek. For most of the day, these alleys were shaded by the high walls of the houses and allowed the fresh North wind to circulate freely.
The need for some form of cooling system was a central feature of the houses themselves. The living quarters usually opened onto an interior courtyard that would generate some wind circulation around the rooms.
The effect of religion and custom on the vernacular architecture of Dubai is another reason why the rooms of the house generally opened into the courtyard, leaving the exterior walls with very few, if any, openings, except some ventilation holes high up in the wall, as Islamic teaching promotes privacy and modesty. Often, a wall would be placed immediately behind the entrance gate, meaning that visitors would have to take a sharp turn before continuing into the grounds and ensuring that people outside the gate could not see in, thus ensuring the privacy of the inhabitants.
The gates themselves were often ornately carved, as were the doors of many houses. This decorative element was an Indian influence.
Local building materials were simple yet well adapted to the demands of the harsh climate and lifestyle. There were several types of housing. The nomadic Bedouins had no use for permanent housing. The traditional tents they lived in during the winter were made of animal hair and skin. During summer, they lived in small shelters called Al Arish, made of palm leaves.
In 1894, Deira was ravaged by a fire, which led to a new phase of development. The richer people began constructing their habitations from coral stone and gypsum, while the lower income inhabitants still lived in huts (barastis) constructed from palm fronds.
The windtowers (barajils) were the most distinctive architectural element of the houses in the early twentieth century. They had been used by Arabs for many years. Windtowers have four open sides, each of which is hollowed into a concave v-shape, which deflects the wind down, cooling the rooms below. Water thrown on the floor beneath the tower cools the house as the water evaporates. When cool air is not necessary, the vents can be closed.
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, built in 1896, is a typical example of the architecture at the time. It was the residence of the former ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, until his death in 1958.
The living quarters were laid out around the courtyard. Teak doors, wooden lattice screens and balustrades were used and the house boasted four windtowers. It has now been carefully restored and houses a museum of photography. Another good example of Dubai's vernacular architecture that has been recently restored is the Majlis Al Ghuraifa, originally built in 1955, which served as a summer retreat for Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
At the beginning of the 20th century, as trade flourished, many mosques were constructed in residential and commercial areas so that people would be able to perform their daily prayers easily. Muslims gathered for Friday prayers at the grand mosque on the Dubai side of the creek. With its minaret and 52 domes, it was the most elegant building in town.
With the discovery of oil, Dubai witnessed an unprecedented population explosion. During the 1970s, the emphasis was on accommodating more people in less space, and Dubai's skyline began to rise, as the Western concept of apartment buildings began to appear alongside the traditional houses.
Much of Dubai's infrastructure was established in this decade (roads, housing, drainage, office buildings, etc.). The most famous building constructed at this time was the 39-storey Dubai World Trade Centre.
The 1980s saw architectural projects being developed more in relation with local culture, as many local architects graduated at this time. A shaded courtyard and water pools were added to the Dubai Municipality building, and traditional arches graced the Al Wasl Hospital.
The 1990s saw Dubai architecture mature, with still greater importance given to culture and heritage. Renovation projects were initiated all over the city, while public gardens were created in many areas.
|THE SHEIKH ZAYED ROAD SKYLINE|
The new materials and technologies now available are enabling more adventurous designs. Dubai now has some truly spectacular buildings, such as the Bur Juman shopping centre, office buildings like Emirates Towers and hotels such as Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach, all of which combine state of the art architectural design and technique with a traditional Arabic flavour.
1. Records of Dubai 1761-1960, Archive Editions, 2000, Vol.1, pg. 3.
Dubai – Gateway to the Gulf, edited by Ian Fairservice, Motivate Publishing, 1986
Architectural Heritage of the Gulf, Shirley Kay and Dariush Zandi, Motivate Publishing, 1991
Land of the Emirates, Shirley Kay, Motivate Publishing, 1999
The UAE and Oman, 2 Pearls of Arabia, Walter M. Weiss and Kurt-Michael Westermann, Motivate Publishing, 1996
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