The BackgroundThere is an ongoing discourse that leads to the distinction between the urban context of old middle eastern cities and the modern urban fabric. Reading an article entitled "Adapting Design Principles of Traditional Courtyard Housing for Future Urban Design" which inspired me to write this post. In this post, I'll focus on the differences between the two models of urban design. The points are summarized from the research above, thus for more detail you can read the article on the researchgate.
Traditional Courtyard Urban ContextFirstly, the urban model of traditional cities of the middle east which are known by their compactness (the ratio between buildup and open area) as shown in figure 1. The sidewalks are narrow, winding, and twisting which promotes shadow in the allies. Also in some cases, the alleys are partly covered by architectural features called "Sabat" to mitigate the effect of sunlight and provide more shady areas for passengers. The hierarchy of streets is accurately followed in this urban form which leads to wider streets dedicated for commercial purposes and narrower alleys for semi-private or private residential squares. This setting can effectively define the borders between the public and private realm. In addition, it effectively limits the strange passengers to enter private blind allies. However, this urban model has some drawbacks like safety issues.
|Figure 1: the urban fabric of the old Jaddah source here|
Modern Western Urban FormOn the other hand, there is the western urban form with low density and more open spaces (see figure 2). There are some similarities and major differences between the two models. Just like the first model, the hierarchy of streets is regarded, but the distinction between public and private zone is not as clear as the first urban form. The streets are straight and designed to catch the sunlight, as they were the urban form used in European cities. This urban form has been adopted by most of the cities worldwide including cities in the middle east dominated by the harsh hot dry climate.
|Figure 2: Grid Iron urban form adopted from here|
In the first two decades of twenty century the traditional, courtyard urban form was gradually replaced by the western urban model. This transition was done without any concerns about the local climate and overlooking the ancient commulated knowledge of their builders. This was the case of many countries in different contexts as they had to adapt to new conditions after introducing motor traffic. A question arises here: is a modern urban form suitable for cities with hot dry climate?