No place like home
Traditional homes were practical and were built keeping sustainability in mind
Our forefathers loved the desert and the sea and built habitations from materials gathered from the area they lived in. They were earthy, hard-working and loved nature. They created their unique brand of architecture which lives on today in modern Emirati houses.
Early buildings in the country were models of sustainability. They were environment-friendly and were built keeping in mind the harsh weather, local customs, traditions and social values.
Construction styles also varied from region to region with differences in buildings in coastal areas, desert and mountainous zones. Structures in the good old days were built keeping in mind the harsh weather. The summer buildings had windows on all four sides for cross ventilation. There were two types: the first were homes built from plaster and pebbles, even sea shells. The second used palm fronds for roofs - arish in Arabic.
Bedouin, who were nomads, lived in animal-hide tents during the winter, and arish shelters during the summer months. These shelters allowed for ventilation; they were either square or rectangular with flat roofs, or triangular tent-like structures.
Palm fronds were used extensively by people living in fishing, pearling and trading settlements along the coast. Arish houses, which were also known as Barasti, were built by first constructing wooden frames of mangrove poles, split-palm trunks or any other wood that was available. The palm fronds were then used as straight poles with the leaves stripped off which was good for creating a screen, and with the leaves still on as roof thatch.
Houses inland were built from stone gus -a mud mixture made into blocks or stones. Stone blocks or stones were used to strengthen the buildings and guard against erosion. Sarooj - a red clay and manure mixture bound the structure.
Mud and milk were among the oldest building materials used in those days for construction in rural buildings. Water and hay were added to increase strength. They were then placed in wooden molds. East Africa was the source for mangroves which were used extensively in the construction of houses made from coral and coral rag limestone composed of ancient coral material. These were common in houses built by rich merchants on the coast from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A lime mixture made from sea-shells was usually used as mortar, as well as plaster. Mangrove poles were not only used to strengthen the walls, but also as roof beams. Some of these poles were as long as 3.5 metres and these gave a rigid geometry. Ceilings resting on the mangrove poles were usually made of planks cut from date palms, while the roofs were flat and thatched with palm fronds.
In the mountains areas, no mortar were used, but the walls inside of houses were plastered with mud. Most roofs were flat and they were covered with palm fronds, wood or mountain bushes. Sometimes gravel was used. These buildings did not stand out but were part of the landscape of the region.
Emirati houses promoted modesty and privacy. Courtyards were at the centre and the living quarters opened into the main court-yard. This was a closed area which shielded activity from outside eyes. Such courtyards promoted wind circulation and the walls had small openings.
The exterior walls only had very small openings at the top to aid ventilation. It also gave the house privacy. The interiors were shielded from the harsh sunlight. Thick walls made it cosy and comfortable.
The family used the central courtyard for cooking and for social activities. In the majlis, male members often gathered to meet and to entertain their male guests. Women had special enclosures which ensured their privacy. - Translated by Alaa Ali
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