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The Emirati Sha‘bī House: On Transformations, Adaptation and Modernist Imaginaries

La maison sha‘bī émirienne : transformations, adaptations et imaginaires modernistes
البيت الشعبي الإماراتي: عن التحولات والتكيف والخيالات الحداثية
Yasser Elsheshtawy

Résumés

Les maisons sha‘bī — une initiative de logement public aux Émirats arabes unis — offrent un contre‑récit qui s’oppose à la vision officielle d’une société dont la modernité et le progressisme seraient exprimés exclusivement à travers une architecture spectaculaire. Par son approche incrémentale de la construction de logement, et le langage architectural informel qui en résulte, ce projet développe un imaginaire urbain alternatif. Un imaginaire dans lequel les résidents prennent les choses en main et rejettent, de multiples manières, le modèle proposé par l’État. Ce processus peut aussi être compris comme faisant partie d’une stratégie plus large adoptée par les citadins dans divers contextes urbains. Dans le contexte hautement restrictif du Golfe, ces initiatives peuvent être interprétées comme une forme d’adaptation et, dans une certaine mesure, de résistance ; une tentative d’établir un ancrage, une appartenance, au sein d’une société en transition et subissant des changements très rapides.

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Texte intégral

“What are cities built,
without the wisdom of its people”
Bertolt Brecht (German poet), 1953

  • 3 Research for the Sha‘bī house was supported through the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation in (...)

1The Emirati Sha‘bī House3 was introduced by the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, in the late 1960s. It was meant to house a largely Bedouin population by resettling them in urbanized areas thus tying them to the land. This sedentarization was seen as an essential condition for the establishment of a modern state. Headlines at the time proclaimed that these houses were “Zayed’s Gift to the People.” The word people is ‘sha‘b’ in Arabic, hence the house came to be known as Sha‘bī. A collection in a neighborhood would be referred to as Sha‘bīya. This housing type is characterized by its modernist interpretation of Bedouin living habits. Houses were constructed in the form of compounds whose living spaces were deemed to accommodate the prevailing life style at the time. The specific forms were uncompromisingly modern, largely comprised of cubist concrete boxes with minimum ornamentation. Yet it is precisely this sparseness that was initially sought, seen as it were as an expression of a modern and progressive life style which was also evident in the functional distribution of spaces.

2Given the speed with which these residences were constructed and the top‑down approach utilized in the design, many problems appeared after people moved in. Some were related to utilitarian issues, location of bathrooms and kitchens for instance; others pertained to their specific image with some noting that they lacked a specific local visual identity. Incompatibility with local traditions was an area of concern, particularly in relation to notions of privacy such as low fence height, or proximity of private and public spaces of the house. Authorities responded by changing subsequent types, but for the most part residents took matters into their own hands. Houses were transformed significantly and were localized, in effect contradicting and subverting the modernist image imposed by the state. Inhabitants thus played an active part in shaping their built environment, thereby laying claim to their city.

  • 4 E.g. Malzahn, 2014.
  • 5 E.g. Huyssen, 2003.
  • 6 Rudofsky, 1964; Rapoport, 1969; Turner, 1976; Hamdi, 1991.
  • 7 El‑Aswad, 2016.

3Sha‘bī houses are therefore a perfect vehicle through which it is possible to explore and unpack issues related to identity, encounters with modernism and practices of self‑reliance vis‑à‑vis the state. In this examination, the house is not just approached as a physical artefact but as an outcome of processes involving numerous stakeholders — rulers, municipality officials, architects and residents. It is thus firmly grounded in the socio‑cultural context of Emirati society and as such offers insights into its culture and lifestyle. Furthermore, the case will be assessed by looking at how the current valorization of this model caters to a certain nostalgia and longing for a ‘lost’ age.4 It is important to point out that such struggles are not unique to the UAE or the Gulf. Indeed attempts to reconcile with modernism and its legacy occurs to varying degrees in different parts of the world resulting in the “politicization of memory.”5 In a similar manner, from an architectural perspective the case of the Sha‘bī House is placed squarely within the discourse of informal and incremental housing, relying on the work of a series of authors who have hailed the work of ordinary people in constructing their own environment.6 The paper also draws on the 2016 UAE National Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale curated by the author, whose theme was based on the Emirati National (Sha‘bī) house.7

4The paper adopts a multi‑method approach using archival data, a survey and case studies, and ethnographic depictions. This is predicated on the author’s disciplinary background, grounded in the interdisciplinary field of Environment‑Behavior Studies (EBS) examining processes pertaining to the built environment and human behavior. To understand the historical origins of the Emirati Sha‘bī house a variety of sources and archives were consulted, among them: the National Archive in Abu Dhabi, where newspaper records dating from 1970 were analyzed; the pictorial archive of the Abu Dhabi Onshore Oil Company (ADCO) for visual records of early Sha‘bī houses and the urban environment of Abu Dhabi. Similarly, the British Petroleum archive (BP) at the University of Warwick, UK, was also searched for historical visual material; Huntley Archives in the UK contained rare footage of a film depicting the Sha‘bī house under construction; and finally the Ministry of Public Works, UAE (MPW) made available their records concerning national house types developed over the years starting in 1973. Complementing this material, empirical research and the collection of primary material was done through a survey of Sha‘bīya areas in the UAE, as well as detailed case studies. Ethnographic accounts enabled an understanding of the lived experience of residents in the various neighborhoods studied, by listening and recording their reactions and memories. Photography of living habitats provided another set of information about space usage and transformations.

5The paper is structured in two main sections. I first look at the history and development of the Sha‘bī house; specific emphasis is placed on its early origins and architectural characteristics. The second section explores the evolution of the housing type and the degree to which modernity was ‘subverted’, i.e. how it was adapted to fit with residents’ needs; and subsequently the degree to which it has been valorized and idealized in Emirati society. In the conclusion I discuss how the Sha‘bī house fits within the vernacular architecture paradigm, specifically the notion of ‘architecture without architects.’ I also point out the significance of examining such building typologies as they deal with Emirati residents who are typically excluded from any architectural and urban development debates which tend to focus on expatriates.

History & Development

  • 8 Heard‑Bey, 1982; Al‑Mansoori, 1997.

6Sha‘bīya neighborhoods were introduced in 1966 to accommodate what was then a largely transient population living in traditional houses constructed using Arish (palm leaves) and tents made from camel hair.8 Bedouin lives were indeed characterized by constant movement within certain circumscribed areas in search for food. A photograph by Wilfred Thesiger, taken in the 1940s in the desert landscape of the Western Region, shows Bedouins posing in front of these early settlements (Fig. 1). At the same time, residents in urbanized areas such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai lived in compounds that were fairly permanent and built from more durable materials. With the formation of the Union in 1971, one of the first tasks of the new state was to urbanize the nomadic population and also to upgrade living conditions for city inhabitants. This section looks at the way in which this was implemented and how the Sha‘bī came to proliferate as a building type.

Figure 1: Bedouins at the entrance of an enclosure constructed from palm fronds. Līwā, Western Region, 1948.

Figure 1: Bedouins at the entrance of an enclosure constructed from palm fronds. Līwā, Western Region, 1948.

Source: Wilfred Thesiger, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Laying Claim to the Land: Settling the Bedouin

  • 9 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “All the services are for the Bedouin,” Jan. 30.
  • 10 Al‑Ittiād (1977), “Nostalgia for tents,” March 2.

7A major feature published in the national newspaper Al‑Ittiād in 1973 described the process for constructing villages along the Al Ain‑Abu Dhabi road. According to the article, based on an interview with Egyptian town planner and architect ‘Abd al‑Raḥman Makhlūf, Director of Town Planning Department, Abu Dhabi Municipality at the time, the location of the villages to be constructed was determined by Sheikh Zayed who instructed that they be separated by 20‑25km.9 Additionally, in close proximity to the houses, land provisions ensured that each resident had a plot to be used for agricultural purposes. Such a policy was formulated as a result of recognizing the various categories of people living in the newly formed union. This was further elaborated in an interesting article from 1977 titled “Nostalgia for the Tents.”10 People were either residing in palm leaf homes or they were in “tin houses” also known as Shinko, having not been able to secure a more permanent residence. The last category were those who resided in “permanent public housing in which the sons of the desert will begin to practice a normal life, and which represent the first step on the path of civilization.” The article also alluded to some difficulties pertaining to Bedouins ‘clinging’ to their old way of life and attempts to preserve some aspects of their former living habitats. This would include movable tents which were being used in the open space of the house.

  • 11 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Citizens of Jarn Yafor await Social Housing,” March 8.

8Throughout the UAE there was great anticipation for these new social houses. For many, their temporary living quarters were a source of embarrassment, as they were too small given the large number of family members living in them. According to one female member of a household in the village of Jarn Yāfūr in the Abu Dhabi emirate, who had received Emirati nationality five years prior to moving to a temporary house (1980): “We are always stressed and we feel ashamed of this life, especially when we have guests.”11 Moreover the situation was further exacerbated by long waiting periods, prominently highlighted by another village resident who submitted an application to the municipality in 1972, which was then renewed without success in 1974.

  • 12 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Why are villages scattered far apart in remote areas? Part 1,” Sept. 5.
  • 13 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Why are villages scattered far apart in remote areas? Part 2,” Sept. 6.

9Many times, houses were allocated irrespective of where people previously lived, thus disrupting family situations due to relocation. In order to mitigate this, settlements were planned in their place of residence but this resulted in scattered and dispersed habitats. Provision of proper infrastructure in the form of roads, water distribution and sewerage networks proved to be a challenge. But as media reports cheerfully noted, for residents in these remote locations this was worth the trouble.12 Indeed remaining in their original places was an issue on which they refused to compromise, “even if they were offered palaces in other areas rather than social housing.”13 Authorities were also keen to highlight that they had to build settlements in such a “scattered manner” because the Bedouins more or less would refuse to move to cities; so they had no choice but to fulfil their wishes or would be left with abandoned houses. Moreover, it was envisioned that some form of urban agglomeration would form through a road network connecting these fragmented settlements together. This has certainly been the case in villages such as Falaj al‑Mu‘allā in the emirate of Umm al‑Qūwayn. Others nearby such as Biyāta remain isolated with many of its houses abandoned and reduced to a stop along the highway (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: An abandoned Sha‘bī House in Biyāta.

Figure 2: An abandoned Sha‘bī House in Biyāta.

Source: Author, 2016.

  • 14 Al‑Ittiād(1973), “1720 Public housing units to be constructed this year,” Feb. 17.
  • 15 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Houses for the People,” July 15; & Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s Gift to the Peo (...)
  • 16 Al‑Ittiād (1976), “Musaffah a housing experience that needs to be studied,” June 6.
  • 17 Al‑Ittiād (1974), “Ministerial Decree No. 1 of 1974, the Executive Regulations of the Federal Law (...)
  • 18 Emirates Today, June 12 2011; http://www.emaratalyoum.com/life/life‑style/2011‑06‑12‑1.402628.

10The success of these housing programs represented an important stake for the new state and its rulers. In these early days of the Union, the ruler was always depicted as a caring person personally involved in the welfare of his people, to the extent of donating from his own funds to construct public housing units.14 As previously noted a large headline in 1973 proclaimed these houses as “Zayed’s Gift to the People.”15 Photographs on front pages of newspapers showed him personally inspecting construction sites with news items highlighting his specific instructions. Select residents indicated their gratitude: “I own this house and thanks to God first who has given us Zayed and second thanks to Zayed, who gave us comfort and happiness.”16 Policies were put in place allowing people to exchange houses among themselves “with a view to reuniting relatives from one area” as the ministerial decree no. 1, 1974 stated.17 Thus social harmony and assuring people that they can maintain their relations was an important factor in further enticing them to move into these new houses ‑ especially so since such policies help portray the state and the ruler as protectors of the local population. One consequence was that rulers could appear as almost mythical figures, literally descending from the sky to spread happiness among their denizens. In a 2011 feature in an Arabic language newspaper a longtime resident of the Biyāta Sha‘bīya — mentioned above — was interviewed. She recounted a visit by the rulers, Sheikhs Zayed and Rāshid (of Dubai), who in the beginning of the seventies arrived by helicopter, inspected the area, and promptly ordered the construction of the Sha‘bī house.18

  • 19 Harvey, 2006.
  • 20 Lieto, 2015; she recounted her experience as a consultant for a project in Saudi Arabia; the clien (...)

11Such stories are important as they suggest a kind of founding myth necessary for the legitimacy of the newly established state and its continuous functioning, as David Harvey argued in his depiction of revolutionary France and the reconstruction of Paris.19 Or consider the role of myths in a Middle Eastern context as presented by Italian urban designer Laura Lieto.20 One aspect of this is a complete erasure of the past, and the creation of a ‘new beginning’ that stands in direct opposition to what occurred before. Certainly in the case of the Sha‘bī house — while gestures were made towards Bedouin habits and culture — its very architecture and physical structure constituted a radical departure from previous modes of living and necessitated an adjustment that was not always forthcoming.

Building the Sha‘bī House: Early Origins

  • 21 Al‑Ittiād (1972), “43 important projects implemented by the Federal Ministry of Works this year, (...)

12The specific architecture of these early houses was at the face of it inspired by the particular way in which the Bedouins lived. The notion of privacy was an important consideration by enabling a strict separation between female members of the household and the public. Configured as a kind of compound, all rooms faced an open courtyard and the entire complex was surrounded by a wall. Such an arrangement was based on housing units that were in existence on Abu Dhabi island in the 1960s, as can be seen from aerial photographs taken at the time. Yet the house constituted a substantive change from existing norms, in terms of materials used, amenities, functional distribution as well as overall layout. In one of the earliest references to the national house an article describes its basic design. The courtyard (hūwī) is featured as a main element that caters to the traditions of residents at the time. Moreover “each house consists of two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, shower and a spacious courtyard where children can play and enjoy the sun in the winter and spend their evenings in summer in the backyard where housewives can also raise poultry” (Fig. 3a, b).21

Figure 3a: Reconstruction of the Halcrow Sha‘bī housing model floorplan.

Figure 3a: Reconstruction of the Halcrow Sha‘bī housing model floorplan.

Source: ADCO image and still from a Huntley Archive Video.

Figure 3b: Image from the late 1960s in Abu Dhabi showing the final stages of constructing a Sha‘bī house.

Figure 3b: Image from the late 1960s in Abu Dhabi showing the final stages of constructing a Sha‘bī house.

Source: ADCO.

  • 22 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “All the services… are for the Bedouins,” Jan. 30; Al‑Ittiād (1973), “How is t (...)
  • 23 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s gift to the People,” July 17.

13Several news articles and features described this early design in meticulous detail allowing for a reconstruction of the original plan. Of interest was its modesty (compared to current standards) with the overall area not exceeding 100 sqm and the existence of a staircase (for some types) leading to the roof. Furthermore, the notion of adaptability and changing requirements was taken into consideration. Thus land was left empty around the rooms, with the building occupying 40% of the plot, which allowed for cultivation of gardens and “adding more rooms in the future.”22 Aesthetic aspects were not ignored: one of the main features of the Sha‘bī house, the brick claustra openings in the various walls and enclosures, was present from the very beginning, described as a “dotted barrier that resembles a net.”23

  • 24 Ibid.

14Rooms in the house were arranged in a manner that took “into account the circumstances of the Arab family” as one article observed.24 A bathroom was placed between the two bedrooms, whereas the toilet was separated and integrated with the service and kitchen area. Separate entrances for family and guests were provided. In all of these arrangements privacy was a major concern, always prominently highlighted in the official rhetoric accompanying the presentation of these houses. Thus the open space of the garden was “surrounded by a fence that fully protects the inhabitants from the curious eyes of strangers additionally it adds to the beauty of the house, its spaciousness and its features from the inside.” Moreover, certain design features such as having a large courtyard, and an accessible roofscape, for outdoor sleeping during the summer months, were all done with the (assumed) habits of the Bedouin in mind.

  • 25 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Public Housing,” July 15.
  • 26 Hempel, 2016.
  • 27 Ar, 1977.

15Nominally, cultural considerations were an important aspect of the original Sha‘bī design. Yet there was a great deal of pressure to deliver these units quickly. Officials emphatically pronounced that “the public is eagerly waiting for the first batch of state housing and is waiting for the debut of the Union and its first gift.”25 As a result, no in‑depth study of cultural traditions was conducted and thus some form of interpretation took place. This was further exacerbated by the involvement of foreign consultants in these initial stages of nation building. Requirements were relayed from the ruler, state officials and municipality experts (who themselves were in many instances new to the land and unfamiliar with its residents’ behavioral patterns) to architects and contractors. The case of two German architects, Wolfgang Braun and Peter Säckl is relevant. They were tasked in 1973 to construct a prototype for a Sha‘bī settlement to be developed in Al Ain. While they attempted to incorporate cultural elements, it ultimately resulted in proposing simplistic schematics — such as the presence of a free standing wall separating the public and private domains of the house (Fig. 4a, b).26 Elsewhere in the UAE many architects were active in building other typologies of the national house as it was state policy to diversify plans and to make constant changes in response to people’s feedback.27

Figure 4a: Isometric Drawing for Housing Type B.

Figure 4a: Isometric Drawing for Housing Type B.

Source: Braun & Säckl, 1974.

Figure 4b: Completed Sha‘bī Housing prototype and Inspection visit by Sheikh Zayed.

Figure 4b: Completed Sha‘bī Housing prototype and Inspection visit by Sheikh Zayed.

Source: Juergen Monnerjahn, 1974.

  • 28 El‑Aswad, 1996; http://www.kisho.co.jp/page/304.html.
  • 29 Al‑Ittiād (1976), “Reconstruction journey over five years,” Dec. 8.
  • 30 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “20,000 citizens on the waiting list for social housing,” May 10.

16Many photographs from that time show Bedouins setting up their tents in front of the house while it was being built in anticipation of moving in once complete (Fig. 5). And yet, while there were some stories related to their refusal to move into these new homes, or their practice of simply placing livestock in them, there has been no mass‑rejection. Moreover, subsequent designs mitigated some mistakes and the houses became more responsive to local conditions.28 Indeed over the years, and particularly during the 1970s and 80s, the construction of the Sha‘bī house proliferated. A 1976 news item noted that since 1971 more than 40,000 units had been constructed, with many more still being planned.29 Moreover in 1980 around 20,000 citizens were on a waiting list, further illustrating the popularity of the scheme.30 But building such a large number of houses in a span of a few years led to a series of problems.

Figure 5: Image by Dutch photographer Gerard Klijn from 1974. In the foreground is a traditional tent inhabited by Bedouins. In the background is a Sha‘bīya development under construction.

Figure 5: Image by Dutch photographer Gerard Klijn from 1974. In the foreground is a traditional tent inhabited by Bedouins. In the background is a Sha‘bīya development under construction.

Source: Gerard Klijn. Catholic Documentation Center of the Radboud University Nijmegen.

The Sha‘bī Occupied

  • 31 The New York Times, Jan. 14, 1972 “Abu Dhabi adapting to Modern World.”
  • 32 Ibid.
  • 33 Al‑Ittiād (1975), “Head of State views new home models: 2500 resident units to be constructed in (...)

17As the social housing program somewhat matured and people settled into their assigned houses, officials from municipalities as well as the Ministry of Public Works were keen to survey residents’ reactions and understand whether their needs had been met. Early reports were unequivocally enthusiastic. A 1972 New York Times article cited a “Bedouin boy” who was playing with friends in the family courtyard of a Sha‘bī house in Abu Dhabi: “We love our new house because it’s big and we can play outside like we did in the desert.”31 Such enthusiasm was also reflected in early local newspaper reports as noted above which were filled with stories of residents patiently waiting for their turn to receive this “gift” by the countries’ leader.32 In the mid‑1970s however, a new rhetoric emerged, mostly pertaining to functional issues as well as aesthetic concerns attributed to what was perceived as a lack of identity of these houses. The latter was particularly critical with the ruler instructing the adoption of regional elements and highlighting the need to emphasize an “Islamic architectural style” in combination with a “modern, contemporary architecture.”33

  • 34 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Citizens of Yarn Jafour waiting for communal housing,” March 8.
  • 35 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Citizens complain about the small rooms and their unsuitability for local envi (...)
  • 36 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Imminent danger to the communal housing in Ras Al Khaimah,” March 20.

18While most residents, based on official media coverage, seem to have liked their new habitat some were more critical with people complaining about the adequacy of their accommodations in terms of size, suitability for the harsh climate and being scattered throughout the UAE. Another concern voiced by some was the long waiting period for receiving these state subsidized houses.34 There have also been complaints about cultural issues particularly with respect to privacy such as sharing of bathrooms between guests and house residents.35 Others pointed out the small number of rooms given the large size of families, which could reach up to 11 members in some cases.36 And the closeness of the kitchen to living quarters, essentially adopting Western norms, was a point of contention.

  • 37 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “New policy for Sha’abi Housing,” March 22.
  • 38 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Zayed determined specification for Sha‘abīya Housing,” March 25.
  • 39 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Model homes have come to Dadna, and the Bedouin request the redevelopment of t (...)
  • 40 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Inhabitants of razed neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi still waiting for social hous (...)

19House occupants were thus forced to take matters into their own hands, adding rooms and adjusting the functional distribution of some elements such as having a stand‑alone kitchen separated from the living quarters. Additionally, in reaction to such critical coverage authorities responded by suggesting modifications to the ownership law as well as providing funds for maintenance and expansion of Sha‘bī houses.37 The ruler personally got involved by suggesting improvements with respect to layout, aesthetic elements and so forth, as presented in an article titled “Zayed determined specification for Sha‘abīya Housing.”38 Substantive funds were provided for expansions as well as upgrade of utilities. A significant change concerned allowing the addition of a second floor. This was previously discouraged as it violated privacy concerns.39 Thus by the end of the 1970s and beginning of 1980 a very specific process has been set in place whereby residents could apply for modification of their assigned housing unit by adding rooms for example, either through state funds or at their own expense.40

  • 41 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “How have lives of citizens in the villages changed?,” Dec. 3.
  • 42 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s gift to the People,” July 17.

20The direct and rapid involvement of the state in response to people’s concerns indicated the extent to which authorities viewed the Sha‘bī initiative as a crucial element in legitimizing their rule. The benign ‘hand of the state’ through the guidance of its wise leader was a trope repeated throughout in the media, in many instances supported by quotations from select members of the citizenry as well as state officials. For instance, the Chairman of the Emir’s Dīwān in Fujeirah highlighted a statement by Sheikh Zayed where he said that “Money is worth nothing if it is not dedicated to serving the people."41 Such responses permeated the discourse of the Sha‘bī house, but it also masks the sometimes heavy handed reaction to people’s complaints. This reaction was occasionally dismissive, with various experts bemoaning the lack of expertise of the residents or their inability to adapt. For example, in the case of the height of the outer wall and the roof parapet, a ‘technical expert’ from the Ministry of Public Works wrote off their concerns arguing that the height of 2 meters is sufficient given that the “average height of an Arab does not exceed 175cm.” Moreover, for someone standing on a roof the issue is one of “general conduct of the individual” who should not be “peeking” on his neighbor.42

  • 43 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Housing problems faced by citizens living in the capital,” Oct. 18.
  • 44 Al‑Nakib, 2016.
  • 45 Gardner, 2010.

21Furthermore, emphasis was placed on appearance and thus the “ministry would block any attempt to distort the shape of public housing.” Yet alterations were made regardless and over time the image of the Sha‘bī house itself changed. Original residents moved into larger villas, renting their previous residence to low‑income expatriates. In the media, the discourse concerning the Sha‘bīya neighborhoods became increasingly racialized portraying them as a deteriorating place not befitting Emirati citizens who need to be separated from expatriates to maintain their cultural traditions. Indeed in an article concerning the removal of an older neighborhood in the capital, Abu Dhabi, a senior municipality official was quoted as saying that “the most important problem was the spread of the lease of rooms by expatriates, which is against the customs and traditions of our society.” Residents were thus relocated to outlying areas, such as Banī Yās, which were described as “a modern and comfortable city befitting citizens, not shared with expatriates, and where citizens can live freely and in a manner compatible with the strengths of their country.”43 In many ways, such rhetoric reflected an increased awareness of a local identity that allegedly needed to be maintained vis‑à‑vis the sea of foreigners flooding the country. Similar processes were also observed throughout the Gulf. Historian Faraḥ al‑Nakib in her portrayal of Kuwait’s urban development makes this a centerpiece of her argument noting the increased xenophobic atmosphere permeating the planning of Kuwait City.44 Anthropologist Andrew Gardner in his depiction of Manama in Bahrain observes similar processes.45

  • 46 Elsheshtawy, 2013a; 2015.

22In the UAE such segregating measures and policies continue till this day.46

Evolution of the Sha‘bī Model: Adapting Modernity

  • 47 E.g. Amaireh, 2006.

23The transformative aspect of the national housing model is perhaps one of its most salient and significant qualities.47 The extent of change varied from one city to the next, one neighborhood to the next. Yet the main idea remained, an architecture that people were able to personalize to their needs. As a result it became an expression of their culture and lifestyle. The specific way in which these houses were designed allowed for such an accretive change. This is because the design was based on modular elements, pre‑fabricated in many instances, and was a sort of blank slate upon which people could project their aspirations — whether they were functional or aesthetic. The result is an environment that is both functionally responsive and visually interesting because it has resulted in architectural variety, a strong counterpoint to the repetitive and dull appearance of many contemporary projects. The following section discusses the specific changes that were implemented in more detail.

Physical Changes and Transformations

  • 48 Al‑Ittiād (1978), “How to provide faster services to citizens,” April 25.
  • 49 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Citizens complain about small rooms and their unsuitability for local environm (...)
  • 50 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Imminent danger at social housing in Ras Al Khaimah,” March 20.
  • 51 Damluji, 2006; p. 38.

24The historical overview showed that the initial reaction to the Sha‘bī house was largely positive. People who were living in poorly constructed houses and roaming Bedouins all found the provision of housing by the state a welcome contribution and a way to benefit from the financial upturn due to the discovery of oil. Yet over the years and as residents settled in, houses proved to be incompatible with their needs. One particularly salient issue concerned the accommodation of local traditions given the modernist configuration of these designs. One resident in a 1978 feature argued that it was “designed in a poor way not suitable for the inherited Arab tradition.” As an example he stated that there are provisions for only “one bathroom that a man, woman and stranger can use.” This was then further criticized: “Of course, this is not consistent in any way with our values and traditions. We are an Arab Islamic nation, and a woman hides behind the veil in front of a strange man in keeping with the Islamic faith.”48 Another resident reiterated that the “buildings are designed in a Western style that is inconsistent with the Gulf taste.” The issue of the lack of a “barrier” separating men and women was brought up. Media accounts in subsequent years repeated similar concerns “stating that they contradict the traditions and customs of the people of the area.”49 Such ignorance of cultural traditions and absence of local features prompted many residents to modify the house. An owner in Ras Al Khaimah laments: “When I received it in 1974, it was only two rooms, a hall, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. I built an additional room with my savings, trying to give it a more traditional look to keep us connected to our roots.”50 Another interesting account was provided by Salma Damluji in her review of modern architecture in the Emirates. On a visit to the remote outpost of Līwā in the western desert she encountered Bedouins who had recently moved to a government provided settlement; the street they live in, as she noted, is “called after the name of the desert they dwelt in, al Sha’bīyah al Qaramdah.” Additionally, a tent has been placed in front of the house where residents could light a fire, prohibited in the house itself; and this is not only done “to keep warm but also to create light in the tent, and to recall the early days.” 51 Of note in all of these accounts is the constant reference to the traditional, to roots, to an Arab/Islamic identity that many felt was not there and needed to be incorporated in the design.

  • 52 Abdulla, 2006.
  • 53 El‑Aswad, 2016.

25Authorities were aware of such criticisms and responded by changing the housing typology, but those who were already living in a Sha‘bī house had to resort to physically modifying their residence (Fig. 6). These changes (ta‘dīlāt as it became officially known) had to be approved by the municipality or government in a highly structured process whose aim was to minimize any significant modification. Yet this was not always as straightforward and indeed in many instances residents took matters into their own hands, circumventing official routes and thus substantively altering the appearance of the house and the function of its spaces. This was viewed as a problem by authorities, prompting them to conduct wide‑scale studies to understand the reason behind these changes and to find ways to avoid them in the future. The specific intent was to prevent the kind of ‘informal’ additions made by residents, who were seen by the authorities as needing to adjust to the ‘highly structured urban environment.52 Yet by changing the physical characteristics of the house it could be argued that an alternative view of its role in domestic life was pursued. One that rejects certain notions of modernity which the state aimed to impose on residents through an alteration of functions, relocation and addition of spaces, and aesthetic embellishments.53

Figure 6: Seating area outside a house in al‑Maqām. This set up is quite common in these neighborhoods, allowing household members to sit outside with their neighbors, drink tea and converse.

Figure 6: Seating area outside a house in al‑Maqām. This set up is quite common in these neighborhoods, allowing household members to sit outside with their neighbors, drink tea and converse.

Source: Reem Falaknaz.

26Modifications included replacing the exterior wooden gate with a decorated steel or metal door, building additional bedrooms or reception rooms (majlis), adding a garage, and digging a well. These changes were not just an outcome of individual preference but also a result of family circumstance due to the increased number of household members. They were also an attempt to mitigate a lack of cultural considerations. For example, observations in Sha‘bī neighborhoods throughout the UAE show that provisions were made for outdoor seating by providing seats and carpets. Such additions did in turn facilitate the creation of a transitional zone linking the indoor to the outdoor, crucial to maintaining social relations (Fig. 7).

Figure 7: Backside of houses in Sha‘bīya al Defaa in Al Ain; trees and plants dominate the scene.

Figure 7: Backside of houses in Sha‘bīya al Defaa in Al Ain; trees and plants dominate the scene.

Source: Author, 2016.

27Significantly, many modifications were made to address what El‑Aswad terms a “culture of covering”, using the Arabic word “sar.” The word evokes a very protective manner in which the sanctity of the house and its inhabitants is maintained. These changes thus resulted in a clear demarcation and identification of two “internal and external domains” which was closely linked to this very specific notion of privacy and protecting the sanctity of the (female) household. To that effect inhabitants extended the height of the external walls which also included the elevation of the height of the exterior door. Interestingly in the case of the wall the additional section was not designed as a solid surface but included openings following an intricate brick pattern, also known as claustra. Extending across the entire length of the wall, it facilitated the flow of air and created a visual connection without compromising the privacy of the inner courtyard. This element contributed to create a connection between the house and the street. Outdoor gardens formed another layer of privacy protection. As the Sha‘bī house developed residents began to place great emphasis on landscaping (both indoor and outdoor). This sometimes reached a degree where the house disappears in the midst of foliage and tree branches. Aside from the environmental value such measures improved visual privacy and created a humane habitat by softening the harshness of the desert (Fig. 8).

Figure 8: Behind the al-‘Azīzī family home in Umm Ghāfa is a small shack where they display their collection of traditional Emirati items. “We take pride in our heritage” says Umm Juma‘, the matriarch of the family.

Figure 8: Behind the al-‘Azīzī family home in Umm Ghāfa is a small shack where they display their collection of traditional Emirati items. “We take pride in our heritage” says Umm Juma‘, the matriarch of the family.

Source: Reem Falaknaz.

28Doorways formed another element which residents were keen to replace. As a result the specific patterns and color scheme of each doorway varies greatly. This can be attributed to a process of individualization and distinction but it can also be construed as a symbolic act. It indicates the values of privacy and exclusiveness through spatial separation, and becoming a threshold between indoor and outdoor, a transitional zone between private and public. The specific patterns that are used relate to the natural habitat of the Emirates and include such elements as the falcon, national symbols, flags and the like. Sometimes they are designed to reflect ‘Arabic/Islamic’ features in the form of arches. Arguably, all of these decorative endeavors can also be seen as a way for local residents to assert presence vis‑à‑vis outsiders (expatriates, guests, visitors).

  • 54 Rapoport, 1969; 1976.
  • 55 El‑Aswad, 2016.

29The majlis or sitting room/reception area for guests is one particularly salient feature that was significantly changed and modified from its original form. The male majlis is connected to the outdoor space, while the female version is smaller in size and relegated to the inner spaces of the house. It is one aspect of Emirati culture that has retained its presence over the years. One could argue that it represents what urban scholar Amos Rapoport identified as the ‘cultural core’, which refers to elements of a culture that are constant and do not change over time and thus constitute an essential component of a people’s identity.54 In this case it would be hospitality and the welcoming of guests. Thus it is a space of generosity where certain rituals are performed — burning of incense, serving of Arabic coffee and the like. The courtyard (or hūwī according to local parlance) on the other hand is an outdoor space reserved for the family; and while transformations and additions to the original house resulted in a diminished space it remains a significant presence. It represents the core symbol for the internal and intimate domain of the house.55 A place where women of the household can perform various household activities and — if there is a sufficient area —conduct performances and events related to local culture (listening to certain forms of music, recitation of poetry, burning of incense, and display of heritage oriented objects). In some instances a tent is placed within the open space of the courtyard containing objects of cultural significance (Fig. 9).

Figure 9: A 1974 plan illustrating one of the typologies developed by the Ministry of Public Works. Notice the location of the kitchen at the upper left corner.

Figure 9: A 1974 plan illustrating one of the typologies developed by the Ministry of Public Works. Notice the location of the kitchen at the upper left corner.

Source: Ministry of Public Works.

30Cooking in a traditional Emirati household is an elaborate affair, performed by servants and maids. While domestic help is a phenomenon that began to proliferate at the end of the 1970s, due to increased levels of wealth, this also meant that the original location of the kitchen came under scrutiny. Designed in a manner that approximates Western values, and seen as an expression of a modern and progressive life‑style, the kitchen was integrated with the house proper. Yet as a space that increasingly became associated with outsiders, its closeness to the house meant that it violated privacy (or sar) of female household members. Official rhetoric though attributed dissatisfaction with the location to smells emanating from cooking. Thus modifications to the house invariably entailed moving the kitchen away and subsequent types provided by the Ministry of Public Works show the cooking area at a distance from the residential quarters.

Current Status of the Sha‘bī House

  • 56 Al‑Ittiād (1977), “The problem of migration to the cities,” June 5.
  • 57 Alawadi, 2017b.

31While the initial reception of the Sha‘bī was a positive one, and to some extent sustained in various parts of the country, more critical attitudes began to take hold after a few years. A research study that took place in the late 1970s outlined some of the issues that became apparent in cities such as Abu Dhabi. According to the study, “80 percent of public housing has been rented out to expatriates” by Bedouins who own these homes. In turn they have “returned to the desert, leaving behind all the amenities that were available to them in the city to escape the noise and return to their simple lives.”56 This is what prompted the policy of building public housing settlements in areas where Bedouins lived rather than enticing them to move to cities, as discussed above. At the same time, changes in ownership structure, where laws have been somewhat relaxed allowing people to rent out their homes, resulted in an influx of expatriate laborers. Another factor leading to the migration away from the Sha‘bī house was increased prosperity and the desire to move to larger and more luxurious living quarters.57

  • 58 Goodfriend, 2016.

32Surprisingly though some neighborhoods, such as al‑Maqām or al‑Defā‘ in Al Ain, are still home to many Emirati families. Also, old time residents have refused to move given the strong attachment and associated memory accumulated over the years. And while the newer developments dotting the UAE landscape provide all needed amenities, they lack a sense of community and the visual diversity prevailing in the Sha‘bī neighborhoods. Rachel Goodfriend, in an insightful essay about her experience visiting a Sha‘bīya in Al Ain, recounts her interactions with an Emirati family.58 As a student researcher she was noticed by children playing in front of their house who in turn notified their father. He invited her to join the rest of the extended family. The great‑grandmother was sitting on the floor since she was “just used to eating like that.” Yet tellingly while the grandmother spoke lovingly about the house “as if it was a piece of her past” she was also waiting for approving her request to demolition and replacement with a larger residence. Even if the house — according to Rachel Goodfriend — seemed spacious enough, the family felt that they had outgrown its spaces.

33Changing demographics in the neighborhood were noted, with the residents informing Rachel Goodfriend that many of their neighbors had moved away and that newcomers were not Emirati. The physical character changed as well. While the area comprises low‑rise Sha‘bī houses, more lavish two‑storey villas are proliferating. However, many Sha‘bī houses still exist, occupied by elderly residents who retain stories reflecting the extent to which the neighborhood has maintained a strong sense of an Emirati identity. For instance, close to the house mentioned before is Rāwiya, an elderly Emirati woman living by herself and visited on occasion by her daughter. Her only companions are a maid and a gardener from India. The living space was documented for the Biennale exhibition by allowing a photographer — Reem Falaknaz — to enter the house and take pictures of Rāwiya’s daily living arrangements. The images display a space that has been heavily used over the years, showing a certain lived‑in quality that is absent from newer and more sanitized dwellings. Rooms are modestly decorated; some contain toys that grandsons and granddaughters can play with when they come to visit (Fig. 10).

Figure 10: Rāwiya al‑Surūr lives alone in her house in al‑Maqām. Her eldest daughter, Fāṭima, has tried to convince her mother to move in with her but with no avail. “I will die in this house” responds Rāwiya.

Figure 10: Rāwiya al‑Surūr lives alone in her house in al‑Maqām. Her eldest daughter, Fāṭima, has tried to convince her mother to move in with her but with no avail. “I will die in this house” responds Rāwiya.

Source: Reem Falaknaz.

  • 59 Um Ahmad’s story was not shown at the official display in the UAE Pavilion in Venice; her presence (...)

34These sorts of arrangements also extend to the space outside the house. In that same neighborhood another elderly woman, Umm Aḥmad, has a habit of sitting on the curbside in front of her house. Wearing traditional clothing, she observes comings and goings, while a glass of water and some medicine is located nearby. Reem photographed her as well and found out that she lives by herself in the house, although frequently visited by family. She likes the sun and thus prefers to sit outside when the weather permits. She spoke to Reem Falaknaz about her only son who had passed away. Interestingly Umm Muḥammad is not Emirati — she does not wear the traditional mask cover, worn by elderly Emirati women when outside — but is a longtime resident of the UAE presumably after marrying a local resident (Fig. 11). While in the UAE’s class system she would be relegated to second‑class status, her presence imbues the neighborhood with a local identity, an ‘Emiratiness’ that cannot be found in such a direct and profound manner in newer developments. Additionally, by occupying the sidewalk space she engages in an act of defiance; an issue that will be discussed in the conclusion of this paper.59 Alongside her place is a row of Sha‘bī houses all occupied by Emiratis. On weekends it is packed with cars, relatives, sons and daughters who come to visit their parents; children are seen playing inside and outside the houses, and some of the latter have furniture placed near the doorways. In some cases, carpets are placed on the ground, allowing people to sit in groups. The Sha‘bī house with its various modifications and alterations is a backdrop that both accommodates and engages with these Emirati traditions.

Figure 11: Umm Muḥammad longtime resident of al‑Maqām. She sits every afternoon in front of her house as she enjoys the sun.

Figure 11: Umm Muḥammad longtime resident of al‑Maqām. She sits every afternoon in front of her house as she enjoys the sun.

Source: Reem Falaknaz.

  • 60 Alawadi, 2017a.

35However, such positive qualities are not observed everywhere. A survey about Sha‘bīya neighborhoods conducted in preparation for the UAE’s participation in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale found that a vast majority of these neighborhoods have fallen into disrepair and are primarily occupied by an assortment of South Asian laborers. But they are also inhabited by poorer Emiratis who simply cannot afford or do not have the ability to move into larger residences. This occurs due to their citizenship status with many not having an official ‘family book’ (Khulāsat Qayd) that would allow them to benefit from various state subsidies, such as housing. The case of Sha‘bīyat al‑Shurṭa in Dubai is exemplary in this regard, as it was a space exclusively occupied by Emirati families who were forced to move to make way for a luxurious development (City Walk).60

Idealization and Valorization

  • 61 Huyssen, 2003.
  • 62 Dennis, 2008; p. 1.

36While the Sha‘bī house has fallen into disrepair over the years due to neglect and migration to newer quarters, there has recently been an increased interest in these older neighborhoods. The idealization and romanticization of older structures can be tied into a sort of modernist longing, as a result of a dissatisfaction with the present, as postmodern theorist Andreas Huyssen argues.61 Indeed, such a pervasive sense of loss is a popular sentiment in many parts of the world, resulting in an “explosion of memory discourses.” Others argue that this is an “invention of tradition,” a psychological device through which some aspects of the past are rejected to “validate the new, but sometimes also the retention of the past as ‘other’ as a continuing proof of the superiority of the new”.62

  • 63 Huyssen, 2003.
  • 64 For example: Leech, Nick (2012), “Sha‘bīyat Al Shorta residents hold on to the ‘our’ in neighbourh (...)
  • 65 E.g. Malzahn, 2014.

37In the case of cities, memories and temporality are beginning to invade the spaces of neutral modernism. Yet there is a danger here, as Huyssen correctly points out, that we may not be able to distinguish between a mythic past (one that we are imagining) and a real past (what was actually there).63 For longtime residents in the transient cities of the Gulf, evoking such nostalgic recollections may act as a form of resistance to obsolescence and disappearance. This may explain to some extent the current efforts at valorizing the Sha‘bī house, as it continues to retain a hold on the Emirati urban imaginary. This is evident in a number ways. For example stories about old neighborhoods continuously populate news outlets, including elaborate pictorial reviews.64 At the level of popular media the cartoon Freej shown on National TV for a number of years and the online Sha‘bīyat al‑Kartūn, were an affirmation of this phenomenon. Yet, as some scholars pointed out, such depictions invariably involve an evocation of a mythical past that may have never existed in such a manner. These portrayals are sanitized and heavily edited to convey the sense of an idyllic existence. In such a manner the story of the Sha‘bī is part of a “creation myth”, an invocation of the mythical Freej.65 The choice of the Sha‘bī House as a theme for the UAE National Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale — curated by the author — can also be understood through this perspective. Yet tellingly, and this is of course an important element of the idealization process, any references to migrants and negative elements of deterioration, abandonment and the like, were left out from the picture as happened in the case of Umm Aḥmad described above (Fig. 12). Not surprising given that the exhibition was government sponsored, envisioned to celebrate Emirati identity to an international audience of art and architecture connoisseurs. It is an urban imaginary that is predicated on excising an important but less glamorous part of the nation’s past; yet ultimately an honest and more useful depiction should be shown without whimsical evocations and embellishments.

Figure 12: Sha‘bīyat Al Meryal in Al Ain; abandoned by Emiratis and taken over by South Asians. Many of its houses have not been maintained in years and are covered in graffiti.

Figure 12: Sha‘bīyat Al Meryal in Al Ain; abandoned by Emiratis and taken over by South Asians. Many of its houses have not been maintained in years and are covered in graffiti.

Source: Author, 2016.

Conclusion: Transforming Architecture without Architects

  • 66 Al‑Maria, 2012.

38The story of the Sha‘bī house recounted in this paper is one of a ‘caring’ state concerned with the welfare of its citizens, but one that is also acutely aware of the socio‑political implications of providing proper habitats. It relied on experts who presumed the spatial needs of newly‑sedentarized inhabitants and, when these preconceptions proved incompatible with people’s actual needs, the latter engaged in a process of transformation and adaptation of their habitat. In a way, they constructed their own version of modernity, independently from the state. And it is this notion that makes the Sha‘bī truly unique and also relevant in the current top‑down planning paradigm pervasive throughout the Gulf. To that effect, Sophia Al‑Maria in her autobiography depicting Qatar in the 1970s and 80s provides a vivid account of life in a Sha‘bī house.66 Raised in North America, she encountered the house on her first visit to the UAE as a teenager and makes a particularly poignant observation concerning the obsession with privacy. Houses were designed to protect women through the erection of walls but what “they didn’t factor in was that out in the desert there was no privacy. Even if men and women socialized separately, things were much more fluid than “culturally sensitive” urban planning allowed for” (p. 128). She also points out the ease with which changes were incorporated into the house which “seemed to be permanently under construction; whenever another down‑and‑out family member needed a place to sleep, they just knocked the walls out to add a back room. In the desert this would have been easy — weave another flap, add another meter to the tent” (p. 128).

39Her narrative makes a number of interesting points within the context of this paper. Primarily it demonstrates that ‘cultural’ assumptions made by urban experts concerning the planning and design of the Sha‘bī housing were not always correct. Accordingly, residents had to resort to modifying their residence with relative ease which is one of the most important aspects of the house, its flexibility. Indeed, it was a blank canvas, a basic framework, within which various elements of Bedouin life could be placed. In its design and forms it differs from the typical top‑down planning approach, which imposes rigid forms and spaces that are not easily modifiable.

  • 67 Rudofsky, 1964.
  • 68 Rapoport, 1969.
  • 69 Oliver, 2003.
  • 70 Turner, 1976.
  • 71 Hamdi, 1991.

40Indeed the Sha‘bī house could be construed as a form of vernacular architecture that challenges notions of top‑down planning so prevalent in the region. Such views were expressed in the 1960s in the West as a reaction to modernist planning ideas. Starting with Rudofsky’s exhibition about “architecture without architects” raising the status of ‘non‑pedigree’ architecture.67 Amos Rapoport in his landmark “House, Form and Culture” further elaborated on the significance of culture and lifestyle in determining the form of houses.68 Paul Oliver looked at how this was applied at dwellings across the world.69 And in terms of planning processes and housing policy John Turner, in his aptly titled “Housing by People,” argued that what people do is more efficient and enduring.70 Similar views were expressed by Nabeel Hamdi in “Housing without houses”.71

41Life in these Sha’abi houses did not always follow the pre‑conceived scenarios envisioned by designers, as exemplified in Sophia Al‑Maria’s book mentioned above. This allows us to come back to one of the main issues presented at the beginning of this paper: namely the extent to which residents reacted to a certain vision of modernity. State actors — in the form of rulers, officials and the like — while acknowledging cultural specificities, nevertheless embarked on a program of modernization that substantively altered the way of living for most of the population. Residents participation in the process was minimized and as a result of this top‑down process a conflict occurred between their needs and what they were given. Seen in this way, the transformation of the Sha‘bī house can be understood as a rare form of adaptation, and to a large extent resistance, to state policies, and a way to subvert certain visions imposed on residents. By taking matters into their own hands, dwellers became active participants in the production of urban space. Beyond the Sha‘bī context, this constitutes a significant development whose lessons have wider implications, as they offer a poignant critique to the current development paradigm.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 Elsheshtawy, 2010.

2 Elsheshtawy, 2008; 2013b.

3 Research for the Sha‘bī house was supported through the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation in Abu Dhabi in preparation for the UAE Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

4 E.g. Malzahn, 2014.

5 E.g. Huyssen, 2003.

6 Rudofsky, 1964; Rapoport, 1969; Turner, 1976; Hamdi, 1991.

7 El‑Aswad, 2016.

8 Heard‑Bey, 1982; Al‑Mansoori, 1997.

9 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “All the services are for the Bedouin,” Jan. 30.

10 Al‑Ittiād (1977), “Nostalgia for tents,” March 2.

11 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Citizens of Jarn Yafor await Social Housing,” March 8.

12 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Why are villages scattered far apart in remote areas? Part 1,” Sept. 5.

13 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Why are villages scattered far apart in remote areas? Part 2,” Sept. 6.

14 Al‑Ittiād(1973), “1720 Public housing units to be constructed this year,” Feb. 17.

15 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Houses for the People,” July 15; & Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s Gift to the People,” July 17.

16 Al‑Ittiād (1976), “Musaffah a housing experience that needs to be studied,” June 6.

17 Al‑Ittiād (1974), “Ministerial Decree No. 1 of 1974, the Executive Regulations of the Federal Law No. 9 of 1973 concerning the Utilization of Public Housing,” March 3.

18 Emirates Today, June 12 2011; http://www.emaratalyoum.com/life/life‑style/2011‑06‑12‑1.402628.

19 Harvey, 2006.

20 Lieto, 2015; she recounted her experience as a consultant for a project in Saudi Arabia; the client wanted a plaza however it became a myth of sorts as the idea of such a space was incompatible with Arab culture which typically do not have such spaces; as such a hybrid form was developed in which the traditional spaces of gathering were incorporated into the western notion of a square and presented as a traditional space. She describes this as a form of ‘myth making.’

21 Al‑Ittiād (1972), “43 important projects implemented by the Federal Ministry of Works this year, including Public Housing and internal roads in all Emirates,” May 23.

22 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “All the services… are for the Bedouins,” Jan. 30; Al‑Ittiād (1973), “How is the construction of Public Housing proceeding?,” July 16.

23 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s gift to the People,” July 17.

24 Ibid.

25 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Public Housing,” July 15.

26 Hempel, 2016.

27 Ar, 1977.

28 El‑Aswad, 1996; http://www.kisho.co.jp/page/304.html.

29 Al‑Ittiād (1976), “Reconstruction journey over five years,” Dec. 8.

30 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “20,000 citizens on the waiting list for social housing,” May 10.

31 The New York Times, Jan. 14, 1972 “Abu Dhabi adapting to Modern World.”

32 Ibid.

33 Al‑Ittiād (1975), “Head of State views new home models: 2500 resident units to be constructed in rural, urban and desert areas this year. Zayed orders Islamic architecture be highlighted in new housing,” May 23, 1975.

34 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Citizens of Yarn Jafour waiting for communal housing,” March 8.

35 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Citizens complain about the small rooms and their unsuitability for local environmental conditions,” May 10.

36 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Imminent danger to the communal housing in Ras Al Khaimah,” March 20.

37 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “New policy for Sha’abi Housing,” March 22.

38 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Zayed determined specification for Sha‘abīya Housing,” March 25.

39 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Model homes have come to Dadna, and the Bedouin request the redevelopment of their old houses,” May 12.

40 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “Inhabitants of razed neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi still waiting for social housing,” May 29; Al‑Ittiād (1981), “AED 200 million allocated for expansion of citizens’ social housing units,” Nov. 4.

41 Al‑Ittiād (1981), “How have lives of citizens in the villages changed?,” Dec. 3.

42 Al‑Ittiād (1973), “Zayed’s gift to the People,” July 17.

43 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Housing problems faced by citizens living in the capital,” Oct. 18.

44 Al‑Nakib, 2016.

45 Gardner, 2010.

46 Elsheshtawy, 2013a; 2015.

47 E.g. Amaireh, 2006.

48 Al‑Ittiād (1978), “How to provide faster services to citizens,” April 25.

49 Al‑Ittiād (1979), “Citizens complain about small rooms and their unsuitability for local environmental conditions,” May 10.

50 Al‑Ittiād (1980), “Imminent danger at social housing in Ras Al Khaimah,” March 20.

51 Damluji, 2006; p. 38.

52 Abdulla, 2006.

53 El‑Aswad, 2016.

54 Rapoport, 1969; 1976.

55 El‑Aswad, 2016.

56 Al‑Ittiād (1977), “The problem of migration to the cities,” June 5.

57 Alawadi, 2017b.

58 Goodfriend, 2016.

59 Um Ahmad’s story was not shown at the official display in the UAE Pavilion in Venice; her presence excised in a way because it was deemed to be not sufficiently Emirati.

60 Alawadi, 2017a.

61 Huyssen, 2003.

62 Dennis, 2008; p. 1.

63 Huyssen, 2003.

64 For example: Leech, Nick (2012), “Sha‘bīyat Al Shorta residents hold on to the ‘our’ in neighbourhood,” The National, June 6.

65 E.g. Malzahn, 2014.

66 Al‑Maria, 2012.

67 Rudofsky, 1964.

68 Rapoport, 1969.

69 Oliver, 2003.

70 Turner, 1976.

71 Hamdi, 1991.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Bedouins at the entrance of an enclosure constructed from palm fronds. Līwā, Western Region, 1948.
Crédits Source: Wilfred Thesiger, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 390k
Titre Figure 2: An abandoned Sha‘bī House in Biyāta.
Crédits Source: Author, 2016.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 261k
Titre Figure 3a: Reconstruction of the Halcrow Sha‘bī housing model floorplan.
Crédits Source: ADCO image and still from a Huntley Archive Video.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 154k
Titre Figure 3b: Image from the late 1960s in Abu Dhabi showing the final stages of constructing a Sha‘bī house.
Crédits Source: ADCO.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre Figure 4a: Isometric Drawing for Housing Type B.
Crédits Source: Braun & Säckl, 1974.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 255k
Titre Figure 4b: Completed Sha‘bī Housing prototype and Inspection visit by Sheikh Zayed.
Crédits Source: Juergen Monnerjahn, 1974.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 402k
Titre Figure 5: Image by Dutch photographer Gerard Klijn from 1974. In the foreground is a traditional tent inhabited by Bedouins. In the background is a Sha‘bīya development under construction.
Crédits Source: Gerard Klijn. Catholic Documentation Center of the Radboud University Nijmegen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 333k
Titre Figure 6: Seating area outside a house in al‑Maqām. This set up is quite common in these neighborhoods, allowing household members to sit outside with their neighbors, drink tea and converse.
Crédits Source: Reem Falaknaz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 408k
Titre Figure 7: Backside of houses in Sha‘bīya al Defaa in Al Ain; trees and plants dominate the scene.
Crédits Source: Author, 2016.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 115k
Titre Figure 8: Behind the al-‘Azīzī family home in Umm Ghāfa is a small shack where they display their collection of traditional Emirati items. “We take pride in our heritage” says Umm Juma‘, the matriarch of the family.
Crédits Source: Reem Falaknaz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Titre Figure 9: A 1974 plan illustrating one of the typologies developed by the Ministry of Public Works. Notice the location of the kitchen at the upper left corner.
Crédits Source: Ministry of Public Works.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 424k
Titre Figure 10: Rāwiya al‑Surūr lives alone in her house in al‑Maqām. Her eldest daughter, Fāṭima, has tried to convince her mother to move in with her but with no avail. “I will die in this house” responds Rāwiya.
Crédits Source: Reem Falaknaz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 399k
Titre Figure 11: Umm Muḥammad longtime resident of al‑Maqām. She sits every afternoon in front of her house as she enjoys the sun.
Crédits Source: Reem Falaknaz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 214k
Titre Figure 12: Sha‘bīyat Al Meryal in Al Ain; abandoned by Emiratis and taken over by South Asians. Many of its houses have not been maintained in years and are covered in graffiti.
Crédits Source: Author, 2016.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cy/docannexe/image/4185/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 330k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Yasser Elsheshtawy, « The Emirati Sha‘bī House: On Transformations, Adaptation and Modernist Imaginaries », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 11 | 2019, mis en ligne le 17 octobre 2019, consulté le 13 décembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cy/4185 ; DOI : 10.4000/cy.4185

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Auteur

Yasser Elsheshtawy

Professor of Architecture and Independent Scholar

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Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Ce document est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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