Bedouin population usually lived in tents made of animal skins, usually close to wherever their camels could also graze. But when the summer arrived they use to construct houses made of palm fronds as shelter from the heat. These houses were called Bait Areesh or Barasti, and were very simple and built with the intention of staying cool, thanks to the ingenious way there were designed. They were the ideal well ventilated homes for the summer months.
These houses were often built on a higher surface so more wind could pass through. They had wooden frames which were made of split-palm trunks, mangrove poles or any other locally available natural materials. The fronds of the palm would be stripped off to create screens and the full fronds were used to covering the roofs, which were often watered slightly to cool down the temperature of the house, especially during the warmer hours.
The traditional houses in Dubai have evolved over time. In the early 1900 more materials were added to the mix, including limestone, coral, sea stone, mud and mortar derived from seashells. These houses made of coral and limestone were called Bait Morjan and were very well insulated from the heat because of the layering technique used.
The use of mud and clay as building materials keep the cool air trapped inside these desert homes and helped to maintain an optimum temperature.
The reason for transitioning from the Areesh homes to the Morjan was attributed to the need for a more fire resistant material. This also encouraged people to settling down instead of continuing to a nomadic lifestyle.
At the end of the 19th century a new engineering technique, borrowed from Iran, was introduced. In Old Dubai wind towers or Barajils started to be built, and were destined to the elite. The wind towers were used to direct the flow of the wind so that air could be recirculated as a home cooling technique.
In the early 20th century the design of traditional houses started to change, but the wind towers continued to be a feature of them. Homes became more elegant with well defended living quarters opening out into a central courtyard which allowed for better air circulation. The higher walls prevented these houses from the harsh sunlight, and the intricate structures took care of insulation. The rooms are arranged around the courtyard, the most important being the majlis (meeting room).
Houses were also built close to one another, partly for security, and also to provide shade in the narrow alleyways in-between. Although most houses look austere, the overall effect of plainness is relieved by richly carved wooden doors and veranda screens, and by floral and geometrical designs around doorways, windows and arches, fashioned from gypsum and coloured with charcoal powder.
Traditional homes in the UAE desert stayed cool without air conditioning, thanks to the ancient architectural concepts which contributed to keep cool the venues.
People also covered their head and wore loose fitting clothes to stay cool in the heat.
United Arab Emirates is nowadays a modern country with huge developed metropolitan areas with the world’s tallest buildings. If you visit Old Dubai, you will be taken to the past and you will better understand the cultural heritage of the Emirates and its old culture.