UAE Architecture

December 13, 2009
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The United Arab Emirates has a diverse and multicultural society. Emirati culture mainly revolves around the religion of Islam and traditional Arab, and Bedouin culture. Being a highly cosmopolitan society, the UAE has a diverse and vibrant culture. Traditional Architecture in UAE is mainly in the form of vernacular style. The structure which has locally existing resources or/and traditions ideas to address the construction is called Vernacular architecture. This kind of architecture show the environmental, cultural and historical context of the building in which it exists. It is usually fundamental and simple, but some has a valuable design.

Some criticize UAE architecture because of the wonderful modern buildings that are recently build in the country. They say that the country has lack of identity and that it is influence by other cultures specially the west. An example of people who say that is Germaine Greer, she visit Dubai for couple of days then wrote a negative article on it. In her article she said: “Dubai is a city with neither charm nor character”  (Greer, 2009). Another aggressive comment was from a prominent landscape architect in Dubai and manager of Harradine Golf, Peter Harradine. he said: “They have no oil, no culture, no history,” (Greenfield, 2009) as Lauren Greenfield quoted in his article. But that is not true for two reasons; first the UAE is a new country that started in 1971, and before that it was generally only desert, so we cannot say that it have to stay as a desert to remain a traditional country. And because it is a rich country it has faster modernizing movements that grabs all the world attention. It also give them an idea that we want to change our country from sand to skyscrapers. For this reason some say that the new projects have no UAE identity, and they explain that by the country overview that it has so many tall modernize buildings. Here an important question must be asked to these people, UAE did not have buildings in its history, how would they want these projects to have UAE style and identity? UAE buildings have their unique identity but I mean there is nothing that we compare buildings with to say that we are coping others! And because UAE did not have any tall buildings before does not mean it cannot have know! Second, they say that our buildings have many influence, its normal because as I mention we are a  multicultural society! But this also do not mean that we do not have our unique traditional design and Islamic architecture. The influence of Islamic and Arab culture on the country architecture is very prominent. In this Blog, I will try to show pictures of constructions in the UAE that has a traditional or/and an Islamic design, but I will focus more on Abu-Dhabi and Dubai cities because both cities receives most of the criticize


 Emirates Palace Hotel

A beautiful picture of Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu-Dhabi. This picture was taken from the sky and it shows the true palace architecture beauty.



(Dubai’s amazing skyline)

Above image shows Dubai amazing skyline with the Burj Dubai, one of the world’s most expensive hotels, towering over the city.


The traditional architecture of UAE is basically the result of two main factors: the hot and humid climate and people’s social lives and religion. I will mention two most known elements to retain this hot climate. The first architectural elements for a constructions in the country to sustain and maintain its hot weather is the traditional architectural wind-towers, called in Arabic barajils. Houses used this in the early twentieth century as simple air condition. Wind-towers 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. The need of  Wind-towers is not necessary nowadays because of technology, but yet you can find old wind-towers design in new houses just for its beautiful design.



The Image above is from a beautifully restored and maintained Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum house in Dubai. Its traditional design has inspired some of the modern architecture.




An old picture of Dubai houses that shows the wind tower as a significant element of the house structure.



(Al Qasr Hotel)

This picture show the  Al Qasr Hotel, a modern articecture that has the traditional design elements specially the wind towers.



(Mina A’Salam)

The above picture view the wonderful tradition wind towers design, this is Mina A’Salam in Dubai (near Burj Alarab).



A modern house in (Bain Al-jsrain) Abu-Dhabi with wind tower as part of its design.


The second tradition elements for the hot weather is that buildings were constructed close to each other and have narrow alleys between them, called in Arabic sikkas. These alleys are shaded during the day because of the walls of the houses or the tall buildings. People benefit from these narrow alleys because they assist the fresh winds from the north to pass to circulate freely, and it also create an easier transportation between these buildings.



an old alleys between a house and its neighbor house, this picture was taken in Al-Ain city.



 (old Khalidyah from the sky)

This picture shows how houses used to be organized in Khalidyah (located near Cornish street) in Abu-Dhabi.



Alleys still exist in UAE, this picture was taken from Al-Buteen town in Abu-Dhabi.



(Khalidyah from Google earth)

This picture shows how houses are organized in UAE, specially in khalidyah town. The narrow alleyways are clear in this image.


The second part of the tradition elements is the effect people’s social lives and Islamic religion on the vernacular architecture of the country. This effect concluded the reason why the rooms of the home generally faces the courtyard. The exterior walls of these houses have with a small amount of windows or some ventilation holes high up in the wall. This is because of  modesty and privacy that  people’s social lives and their religion advance. (Architecture)


(Al Jahili fort)

The Al Jahili Fort was built in 1898 by Sheikh Zayed the Great in Al-ain city. It shows the ventilation holes high up in the wall.



(Old Town in the Heritage District)

This image was taken in Sharjah, it is the Heritage District. It shows a traditional plan wall with small windows on top.



The above picture is a house in Bain Al-Jsrain in Abu-Dhabi. It has an attractive  traditional design with all its windows opened in the house courtyard.


Islamic architecture has covered a wide range of both secular and religious styles from the foundation of Islam by the prophet Mohamed to our present day. It has influenced the design and construction of buildings and structures inside the Islamic culture. The standard architectural types of Islamic architecture are; the Tomb, the Mosque, the Fort and the Palace. There is never one type of decoration for one type of building or object; on the contrary, there are decorative principles that are pan-Islamic and applicable to all types of buildings and objects at all times.(Islamic Art). Islamic architecture elements of decoration are Calligraphy, Geometry, Floral patterns, and water.
Calligraphy is considered one of the most important of the Islamic arts, its words may be a quote from the Qur’an, lines of poetry, or names and dates.



 (New Islamic Calligraphy)

The above image shows some examples of Islamic Calligraphy



(elegant mosque)

This elegant mosque in Sharjah city has a wonderful Islamic calligraphy as part of its design.



A house in Sas Al-Nakeel in Abu-Dhabi that has a simple Islamic calligraphy design on top of it.



A modern house designed as tradition UAE houses and have some Islamic calligraphy, this house is located in (Bain Al-Jsrain) Abu-Dhabi.



This picture shows a part of a mosque designed like Al-Aqsa mosque in Palestine. It have brilliant Islamic calligraphy, it is located in Sas Al-Nakeel / Abu-Dhabi.


Another Islamic architecture element is geometric patterns, it is to an extend complex and sophistic. These patterns demonstrate the Islamic “interest in repetition, symmetry and continuous generation of pattern”.  (The Concept Of Decoration in Islamic architecture)


This picture shows part of a modern mosque with geometric patterns; this picture was taken in Sas Al-Nakeel in Abu-Dhabi.



This is a side picture of a house in Al-Bateen / Abu-Dhabi; this house windows is designed with nice simple geometric patterns.



The above image shows a Islamic geometric patterns design on the top of the windows of a house. This house is located in Al-Bateen in Abu-Dhabi.



In this image there is simple but also fancy geometric patterns on the mosque tombs. This picture was taken in (Bain al-jsrain) in Abu-Dhabi city.


In addition to the above elements, the floral patterns is also an Islamic architectures element. It represent nature, such as flowers, leaves, and trees. They are used as the motifs for the decoration of textiles, objects and buildings.


This mosque figure shows modern floral patterns design. This was taken in Bain Al-jsrain in Abu Dhabi city.

(sheikh Zayed mosque)

Zayed mosque with wonderful Islamic floral patterns design that shows leaves design on the top and small flowers under. There is also big leaves drown on the floor.


Last but not least is the water element, it reflect architecture and multiply the decorative themes and emphasizing the visual axes. It is usually in hot Islamic climates, water is found in courtyard pools and fountains cools as it decorates.

I will conclude my blog with modern, new, and famous architecture in the UAE that have unique modern design that is inspired from UAE tradition, culture, and religion.

The first project I will mention is the world’s tallest building, Burj Dubai. It is located in the heart of Dubai city downtown. Its design is motivated by “the indigenous desert flowers that often appear as decorative patterns in Islamic architecture, but it also has an engineering purpose: The swirl shape ensures that the mass of the structure lessens as it reaches the top, making the structure steadier”.  (Dubai Life Style and Dubai Economics, 2008)



(Dubai Architecture: Burj Dubai)

This picture show Burj Dubai unique design that was inspired from desert flowers.


     The second is the Palm island which in also located in Dubai. It is one of the world largest human-made islands and is built on the coast of the Dubai emirate. Its shape is designed as a date palm tree and every branch has its individual name. Each branch of the island has a name of date kind, which gives others a chance to know their kinds and names. The island have luxurious hotels, residential villas, apartments, ports, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, etc.


(Nakheel Development)

this photo released by Nakheel Development, construction goes on at Jumeira Palm Island in Dubai. It present the palm design from sky view.


Another project that I will point out is the most expensive hotel ever built, the Emirates Palace. It is located in the Cornish street in the emirate of Abu-Dhabi. This hotel is full of luxury, even its design! It was designed in a modern tradition design that shows the tradition elements in its exterior look. In addition to that it has some beautiful Islamic architecture elements, as the tombs, patterns, and windows design.


(Emirates Palace Hotel)

Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, this picture shows its luxury architecture design that have some traditional elements.


     The forth project is Burj Al-Arab five star hotel, it was built in the shape of a traditional dhow. The British architect who designed it is Tom Wright, he said about it design: “The client wanted a building that would become an iconic or symbolic statement for Dubai; this is very similar to Sydney with its Opera House, or Paris with the Eiffel Tower. It needed to be a building that would become synonymous with the name of the country.” (Construction). I think Tom Wright did what was asked from him, Burj Al-Arab now is a synonymous of Dubai city. Its is also in all dubai car number plates.


(Burj Al Arab at sunset)

A beautiful picture of Burj Al-Arab at sunset time that really show the Burj as a traditional dhow.



My last modern and famous project is Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu-Dhabi. The mosque is named after the first president and founder of the UAE, who was buried at the Mosque site after his death on 03 November 2004. However the officially open of the mosque was in the Islamic month of Ramadan in 2007. The mosque is also called the Grand Mosque because of its huge size of the mosque. The designer is a Syrian architect called Yusef Abdelki (Yousef Abdelky). The design was inspired by Mughal and Moorish mosque architecture and its minarets classically Arab. (Sheikh Zayed Mosque“Grand Mosque”)

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