Local architecture is music for the eyes Print E-mail
Article Index
Local architecture is music for the eyes
Building through the ages
Back to the basics
The courtyard in the middle
Cooling the house
Entrance and windows
Majlis and harim
Importance of family
Survival of the fittest
Old houses of Muharraq

Majlis and harim

The house was functionally divided in two parts: usually near the entrance there was the majlis, the reception room for male visitors, which was also the best room in the house, a showroom of the family's wealth to the neighbours.

You will still find the majlis in most Arabic homes. Many have changed the furniture there to western style sofas, but in many homes there are the traditional pillows along the sidewalls of the room - sitting on them for hours at the same time trying not to point your sole at anybody can be rather demanding to your feet - at least for those of us who are more used to normal chairs like I am.

So much so that after a long dinner you might need a helping hand to get back to your numb feet (yes, you eat dinner sitting on the floor with the food being served at floor level, preferably with your right hand - no need for knives and forks here!).

The majlis was strictly separate from the rest of the house, the harim, which was the domain of the women. It was forbidden for all men except those of the family to enter this part of the house, which is the case even nowadays.

Primary rooms were placed on the north side of the house so that they weren't directly in contact with the sunshine.

In old two-storey houses you will see one part of the house projecting out from the rest, usually on the back, with a hole in the floor. You guessed it, this is the washroom.

Like in medieval towns in Europe, for hygienic reasons all the sewage was led out from the building. Before the sewerage system it all stayed there of course - it must have been an unforgettable experience to walk on the side alleys during the hot summer days....

Everyone was an architect

Houses weren't planned much beforehand; instead they were expanded when necessary (again, a striking difference with modern houses, which lack the more organic nature of their randomly built predecessors).

Because of the use of local materials everyone knew what to do and how to do it; nowadays you need the skills of highly educated professionals who use hi-tech building materials.