THE COURTYARD HOUSE
Urban planning in the Arabian Peninsula began with a simple, streamlined horizontal city with flat-roofed buildings, constructed from sun-dried mud bricks. Traditional building methods evolved as a blend of several core elements: the climate - hot and humid - tradition, locally available materials and the tools of the time. Buildings were packed close together to reduce the impact of the scorching desert heat, with a labyrinth of narrow streets or sukak (Arabic for alleyways), running in between the dwellings. The high walls surrounding houses offered a double shelter from the direct sunlight, creating a tunnel effect, which enhanced the concentration of prevailing winds. The harsh geography of the region dictated the design of other ventilation shafts inside homes. This resulted in the emergence of wind towers or barajils, which later became a distinctive architectural feature, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. Generally, the living quarters are designed to open on to a paved courtyard, sometimes adorned with a fountain or cascading pool called bahrah. The impact of culture on the vernacular architecture is why the rooms of the house usually opened onto the courtyard. This way, the exterior walls were left with very few openings - except ventilation holes at elevated levels - as culture promoted modesty. Sometimes, the courtyard is planted with fruit trees, rose bushes and climbing vine leaves which are often brought alive by birds. A wall is usually placed behind the entrance gate, further screening the house from the dust and noise of the outside world.