Conservation of Earthen Architecture in Saudi Arabia
Finding comprehensive sources was a challenge during this study. This difficulty was due to the inadequate number of research studies that have been carried out on the ideal conservation and restoration methods suitable for historical earth buildings in Saudi Arabia. The study has employed two procedures. In 2013, the investigator travelled to Saudi Arabia and carried out an exhaustive research on the remaining earthen architecture. He looked at the general status of the buildings (dilapidation, corrosion, and decay), the construction materials and techniques as well as the architectural styles and decorations. In addition, laboratory tests were done to determine the composition of different earthen blocks used in the construction of traditional houses in Saudi Arabia as well as other countries such as Morocco and Yemen.
In many nations, earth constructions are mainly historical. Saudi Arabian earthen structures are unique in architectural characteristics, culture, building technique, and adobe. For instance, Ibrahim Palace in Al-Houfuf has distinctive architectural features in regards to structure, building technology, and materials (Cetin, 2011, 9). These features are determined by the social fabric, culture, and climate in this area. It is, therefore, hard to find recent buildings with the same earth materials and architectural structure used in historical Saudi Arabian buildings. After a long and intensive investigation, the researcher found two cities with similar earthen buildings i.e. Mhamid AL Gozlan in Morrocco and Hadramout in Yemen.
Hadramout City, also known as Shibam, has recent earthen buildings that resemble the architectural properties and culture of Saudi Arabia closely. Here, builders had the pleasure of using adobe in their construction. The utilization of adobe turned out to be perfect for them. Most of the buildings in this town are constructed using mud bricks. Many of the structures have five to eleven stories. Shibam is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The earthen architecture of Yemen has been studied many times. This study looks at construction and conservation techniques. It focuses on the general history of traditional adobe buildings as well as the preservation efforts in these constructions.
Mhamid Al Guslan is found on the South Eastern side of Morocco. This area has many earth constructions. Most of these buildings have been constructed using rammed earth and adobe or a mixture of both. This area is of great value in investigating the strength of rammed earth and the flexibility of adobe. To inspect and study the earthen architecture and construction, the investigator visited Morocco and Yemen in 2014. This tour took place from April to August.
Data was gathered through personal observation and interviews with artisans, old building masters, and other participants in the construction of traditional houses. The interviewees were asked to give their opinions about conventional and modern earth architecture, and the effects of culture, the climate, economy, and technology on construction techniques. The interviews also aimed at gathering information on the attitudes and views concerning the ongoing conservation and restoration efforts of earthen architecture. Additionally, a survey was carried out to obtain a general understanding of the building materials and construction techniques used in the construction of traditional houses. The survey included a visual examination into the leading causes of corrosion in earth buildings such as floods and decay. A photographic documentation of these observations was maintained. The researcher also gathered samples and sun-dried specimen from various building sites in both countries. At an earlier stage in the study, these samples were analyzed with an aim of understanding the fundamental properties of different soils in the kingdom.
The research process also involved a desk study where online library catalogues, electronic indexes, and internet search engines were used to find additional information sources. A comparison was made between ancient and modern architectural characteristics of earth buildings. The researcher carried out a database review in Riyadh Municipal City, King Saud University, Library, the Archeology and Tourism Department, Ministry, and Spanish libraries. In addition, interviews were conducted with experts who have knowledge on the conservation of earthen buildings.
The interviews involved issues concerning the various restoration techniques and their effectiveness in conserving the buildings as well as the Arabic heritage. Interviewees were asked for their opinion on the use of modern materials such as cement, gypsum and plastic pipes in the restoration of historical earth buildings. They were also asked about the cultural and physical challenges that are associated with the recovery interventions of earthen architecture in Saudi Arabia.
These interview questions were based on the apparent disregard of traditional construction materials and technique in the restoration process. Although the intentions of the rehabilitation are to conserve history and culture, neglecting traditional artisanship results in heritage loss due to the use of modern replicas (Cetin, 2010, 11). In the rehabilitation of Qasr Ibrahim, for example, the traditional materials such as wood, mud, straw, and palm tree gutters have been replaced with steel, cement, gypsum, and plastic pipes (Cetin, 2010, 10). Little attention is being given to the historic and cultural value of materials and techniques. The restoration efforts are more inclined to restructuring the appearance of earth structures akin to skin cosmetics.
Artificial soil that resembles the sandy soils in the kingdom has been used to make stabilized earth blocks. Modern architectural techniques and styles are often not compatible with the Arabic environment and culture. Mostly, they involve the use of foreign materials, labour, and methods that are expensive. For this reason, it is important for the Arabic population to adopt some aspects of ancient earth construction into the modern architecture that align with their culture and environment. The above laboratory procedures aim to look at the best composition of soil blocks to be used in the construction and restoration of earthen architecture that is suitable for the Saudi people and environments. Changing lifestyles make adopting all the aspects of traditional design impractical. However, the Saudi people can obtain valuable lessons from ancient master builders. The incorporation of both modern and traditional knowledge and techniques will assist in maintaining the cultural heritage of the Arabs. Consequently, people will build structures that are better in quality and strength while respecting their culture and environment.
Cetin, M., 2010. Cultural versus material; Conservation issues regarding earth architecture in Saudi Arabia: the case of an Ottoman fort: Ibrahim Palace in Al-Houfuf. International Journal of Civil & Environmental Engineering, 10(4), pp.8-14.