The architectural transformation of housing patterns in the City of Sana'a, Yemen

Al-Sabahi, Hatim Mohammed (1995). The architectural transformation of housing patterns in the City of Sana'a, Yemen. PhD thesis The Open University.



This research deals with the conflict between tradition and modernity in Yemeni architecture. The main focus is on the transformation of housing patterns in the city of Sana'a, through a comparative examination of the traditional and the modem housing cluster, and an evaluation of the changes which have taken place in the context of the emerging urban fabric.

The traditional housing cluster contains a broad mix of social classes, and is gathered in a way that creates two main urban spaces. The first is the urban garden al-Bustan, a semiprivate space that gives the city tenants privacy, and opportunities for social contact with neighbours. The second, the social square al-Sarhah, provides the space for interaction where people gather on public occasions. As a result of the development of the contemporary environment in Sana' a, certain physical patterns and social characteristics have changed, creating two problems for the modern housing cluster. On the physical level, the grid has been adopted as a street pattern, and the villa as a dwelling type, this has resulted in a reduction of urban spaces. On the social level, these changes have encouraged the segregation of the city's inhabitants into rich and poor areas. The core of this research is an analysis of the physical and social features of two case study areas where both traditional and modern architecture can be found. The research depends on site investigation; a comparative study of housing patterns between the two case study areas; interviews with Yemeni master builders and architects; and the canvassing of opinion of the householders in the study areas. The three central issues are the social characteristics of households, the functional needs of users, and future architectural aspirations.

The findings of the study indicate that the design principles of the traditional housing cluster of Sana'a, are valid and useful for contemporary housing practices, but are in danger of declining in importance. To deal with the urgency of this problem, proposals are offered for the restoration of Sanani architecture, in which the architectural and the social heritage of the past can be refurbished to meet the challenge of contemporary housing need.

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