A trip between Downtown and the Creek in Dubai, and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is enough to highlight the varied and contrasting architectural styles of the UAE.
When we look at Burj Khalifa it is hard to imagine that just 50 years ago, most buildings in the country were only one level high and made of mud and palm fronds.
Here are 8 cool facts about architecture in the UAE that you probably didn't know:
1. It’s all about positioning
Emiratis figured out a long time ago the importance of angles and rotation. For example, by turning the rotation of the building in a certain angle, they could minimize sunlight coming into the building but maximize light. This simple twist allows for saving air conditioning and also electricity by keeping the lights off for as long as possible.
2. Artificial wind
If you ever visited the Historic Fahidi district in Dubai you would have noticed the narrow streets and how close to each other the buildings are. This was done on purpose because placing buildings closer together and separating them by tight alleys (or Sikka) creates wind tunnels that cool down the streets and provides shade and shelter especially in the hot months of the year. Clever!
3. Recourses and resourcefulness
Older generations in the UAE were very resourceful in using what nature provided them with. Palm fronds were used for roofs, while fossilized coral, animal manure and seashells were mashed up together to create building clay. But the most fascinating fact about these materials is that they all have very low thermal conductivity, which makes them ideally suited for the hot climate.
4. Privacy is everything
Due to cultural and religious reasons, the windows in old Emirati houses were high on the walls of the rooms to maintain the privacy of the people who live there. However, all the rooms faced the open and airy central interior courtyard. Also, the entrance of the house had a zigzag path to provide privacy and prevent people outside from seeing what’s inside.
5. Natural air condition
The traditional wind tower or Barjeel is Emiratis’ clever equivalent to the modern day AC. It has 4 open sides which diverts the wind down to the rooms to cool them down. In hotter days, water used to be spilled on the floor directly underneath the tower to cool down the house as the water evaporated.
6. Sustainable architecture
Did you know that Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is the world’s greenest and most sustainable city? The city is built using traditional Emirati/Arabic architecture combined with state of the art technology. In this futuristic city, you will see once more the ancient narrow alleys and the wind towers which make the temperature in Masdar City 10 degrees cooler than elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.
7. Smallpox and Deira
Who knew that an epidemic could affect architectural growth? The people of Dubai did! Back in 1841 smallpox spread out in the Bur Dubai side of the creek and as a result people moved to Deira side and started to build houses and markets. Consequently, Deira became larger than Bur Dubai and more architecturally developed.
8. Burj Khalifa is actually a flower
Or built after one! The base design of the world’s tallest building is modelled after the Hymenocallis flower, a native desert flower.