Table of content
Learn about the key factors that helped shape what is known to be today’s Saudi Arabic architecture.
This segment explains all about the architecture in the region in the past, and how it developed into the modern architecture of today.
Architecture in Saudi Arabia has taken everybodys’ breath! Learn the rules behind those buildings and what makes modern architecture what it is today.
When we think of Saudi Arabia, I bet oil is what comes to your mind first, that precious black liquid formed after millions of years of intense pressure over large quantities of dead organisms is what made the country how it looks like today, vibrant, lavish, luxurious and undoubtedly technologically advanced.
But life was not the same back then for this part of the Arabian peninsula as it is now,
The shape and form of it were extremely different, and the architectural styles reflected different ideologies and gave meaning to the diverse needs Arabs in the country had back then.
To understand the way architecture developed in this country, one must understand the history behind it, as Makkah and Al Madina are a path of travel and a holy location, foreign architecture often influenced these areas, the same goes for Jeddah, so How did architecture develop in Saudi Arabia? Where did it start?
Let us take you back a thousand years ago! and walk together through history, culture, life, and evolution.
Architectural styles in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian architectural styles reflect the ideologies of the past civilizations and variation.
Let us start by understanding the elements that affected the contrasting architecture of Saudi Arabia, what affected those designs directly?
- Religion and culture.
- The harsh climate.
- The regional importance Saudi Arabia plays to other middle eastern countries.
- The influence of western cultures had a small part on the architectural development in earlier stages, and a significant role to play later on.
Let us dive in together starting from the oldest architectural styles in Saudi Arabia till we learn about the cool modernism that was plastered over the country in recent decades.
Vernacular architecture of Hejaz
Strong remnants of vernacular architecture can be seen all over Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, and Taif which had strong, distinctive features that characterize Al Hijaz architecture, let’s get to know them together:
- The rectilinear form that indicates easy construction.
- Multi-story buildings, that are distinguished by their functions, the ground floor is for either commercial or public guest area whereas the second floor is used for residential purposes.
- Almost all windows were covered with (Mashrabiya) which is a projection over the window using a lattice screen that serves as both an aesthetic and functional purpose where it reduces the amount of direct sunlight coming in.
- The roof level was always used as an extra living space that families would spend time in and sleep on the roof in summer to enjoy the cooler air.
- Buildings were heavily ornamented with geometrical patterns and Arabic calligraphy as well as abstract plant forms.
- Doors were articulated as they were a welcoming element to visitors and pilgrims.
- All materials used were 90% local, such as coral stone, clay, and palm wood.
Vernacular building practices help tell the story of places and peoples and contain valuable knowledge accumulated over many generations.
Famous Hijazi style buildings around Saudi Arabia
Hijazi style buildings can be seen in the old Souk of Jeddah (Jeddah’s old market), and they are a landmark of the city, with the linearity of the designs and rectilinear forms.
Al Najd architecture
If you want to understand the Najd architecture completely, then you should start by getting to know the region first, in this area smaller towns and villages were extended alongside valleys and water sources to create a humanitarian habitat for citizens back then, therefore the architecture was mainly influenced by the hot and dry climatic conditions, as well as the strict social-cultural hierarchical traditions and the Islamic religion, so let us get to know al Najd architecture better, what were the main elements? What are buildings in Saudi Arabia that stand alive and tall till our day as proof that this sort of architecture once existed?
- Dwellings are clustered and only separated by narrow roads; to make sure that no direct sunlight hits anyone walking.
- Almost all houses are made of two floors with a central opening called “courtyard” where a fountain is put for ventilation and cooling purposes.
- The main building materials are Mudbrick, stone, lime plaster, and timber.
- The urban planning of Al Najd region was compacted, windowless facades, little exposure to any solar heat or rays as well as an emphasis on the visibility of the sky.
Mud houses for a huge amount of time represented the wisdom and spirituality of people in the Saudi Arabian region, specifically the desert region, where earth architecture is very unique in style and culture.
The architectural industry along the years has evolved enormously, as you have noticed before that traditional architecture was full of ornaments and aesthetic values, but modern architecture offers a perfect blend of functionality and design all while cutting edge cost, the turning point for modernism in architecture came to surface when the rule “less is more” as architect Mies van der rohe once mentioned was followed thoroughly and defined modernism in buildings.
So what is so different? What defines a modern building?
The golden rule (Form Follows Function)
The first and the clearest rule that was made was form follow function, yes you have not read that wrong, the aesthetic of the building is not supposed to be the main element that your design is focused on but rather the last piece of the designing process.
Lack of ornaments
All overly decorative moldings and elaborative trims were eliminated or reduced and simplified to give a clean aesthetic, where the material of a building meets well-executed joints.
Clean, clear, and sharp aesthetics! Minimalism architecture defies the old methods and patterns of architecture, showing simple geometrical forms, sharp linear elements are what characterizes the modernism in a building.
Emphasis on open spaces
Open spaces have never been as important as they are now! There used to be a transitional point where designs were very similar rigid and stacked rectangles on top of each other, after the impact that did on both nature and human beings mentality and well being, therefore the integration of nature with buildings through open flowing interior spaces became more relevant in newer years.
Sun and shadow role in buildings
The study of sun and shadow in the buildings play a huge role in the design, as the poor direction of both means terrible heat during the summer and extreme loss of warmness during the cold seasons.
The muddy walls fired bricks and straws are no longer in style! Modern buildings have seen a jump in the use of materials such as steel, glass, and other elements.
New designs focus on the use of concrete and steel and glass, Concrete blocks are what is used as a finishing material, sometimes instead of hiding columns they are exposed, also concrete floors might be stained and exposed.
- Generous Use of Glass and Natural Light
- exposed, and long-span steel trusses permit open column-free spaces.
In the past, architecture was used as a method of having shelter and safety for human beings. Still, as human beings developed gradually, their personal needs shifted from being physical to psychological, buildings started to hold new meanings, often explaining the political situations leading the country, which is why the architect in the old Egyptian society for example was always the consultant for the pharaoh.
But in the present architecture either represents an entire history of evolution or serves as a form that is equal to forms from other countries (global designs) to remind human beings that we are all the same as unity and equality is the shape that our future should take.
I hope you enjoyed our article about the evolution of architectural patterns and styles in Saudi Arabia and got to learn more about them in-depth! If you liked that part you can look more into our other articles about home decor and the magic colors play into it all in Bayut KSA blog!