Lessons from the Najd – How to Live in a Sandstorm

Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Sa'ud's Farm

As we are the middle of a sandstorm, I changed my theory.  I think walls around Middle Eastern houses help to keep the desert from taking over the front yard.

Living in an older section of the island, our compound is surrounded by a wall.  Inside we hardly notice the sandstorms.  But many of my friends have moved out to the new golf development in the middle of the desert.  Designed to appeal to westerners, neither the houses nor the development have perimeter walls.  My friends are complaining the sand is piling up in mini-dunes around their homes and they cannot open their windows with all the swirling sand.

Several years ago Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Sa’ud invited Mojo to his renovated, al-Udhaibat farm outside of Riyadh.  The farm retained its traditional Najdi architecture which enabled people to live in the desert before electricity.

One key aspect was to surround the house with palm trees.  The palms acted as natural barriers against the sand.  The air was cooled as it swept through the shaded areas under the palms.  Upon reaching the garden, walls kept any remaining dust and sand from entering the house.

Courtyard and airflow

Besides surrounding the house with walls, central courtyards are a key feature of these mud houses.  The wind passing over creates a low-pressure zone in the courtyard.  This sucks in eddies but the low-pressure is counteracted by well-placed apertures in the rooms into the courtyard.

During the night, the courtyard and roof act as a cool air sink.

During the day, the sun heats the courtyard.  Warm air rises creating a chimney effect and pulls breeze through the rooms.

In the evening, the courtyard and buildings retain heat then give it off as the night air cools.

As I think about our impact on the desert whether as an eco-tourist or a westerner living in the desert, I find William Facey’s BACK TO EARTH: ADOBE BUILDING IN SAUDI ARABIA to be a very enlightening study of traditional Arab architecture and its effect on the environment.

All photos and images are from this book.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah F.
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 20:35:08

    Fascinating! I experienced a similar use of architecture in Iran. Very inventive and practical.


  2. Trackback: Touring Oman: Sixth Stop Jabreen Castle « Tales of Dragons, Rabbits and Roosters

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