THE CYCLADIC HOUSE
Cycladic architecture is pure, simple and harmonious with an interplay between light and shadow. White volumetric shapes create enclaves of secluded spaces, while aiding the environmental control of the blinding Aegean sun. Traditional houses have flat roofs, wooden coloured doors and windows, a vibrant blue dome, and a strong identity that asserts its location. In addition to the celebration of Cycladic art, several other factors have contributed to the uniqueness of Cycladic architecture. The distinctive geometric shapes and the smooth-curved edges help resist the strong winds blowing inwards from the bay. While the abundance of materials, such as green and white marble, slate and granite, stimulated the artistic flair. An all white interior brings light and warmth. The intensity of natural daylight a space receives depends on the size and number of openings created on the curved walls. Where bright light and enhanced air circulation is needed, such as in the service areas, the size of a window is generally large. But the cozy feel of the living areas is retained by minimising the openings, making allowance just for the right amount of light and air to enter through very small windows. The primary focus of outdoor living is concentrated around a few terraces, shaded by traditional wooden pergolas, which include a kitchen/dining space and a lookout platform, framing the stunning view out to the bay.
THE COURTYARD HOUSE
Urban planning in the Arabian peninsula began with a simple, streamlined horizontal city with flat-roofed buildings, constructed from sun-dried mud bricks. Traditional building methods evolved as a blend of three core elements: the climate, hot and humid, spirituality and tradition of the people, locally available materials and the tools of the time. Buildings were packed close together to reduce the impact of the scorching desert heat, with a labyrinth of narrow alleyways or sukak, running in between the dwellings. The high walls surrounding houses offered a double shelter from the direct sunlight, creating a tunnel effect, which enhanced the concentration of prevailing winds. The harsh geography of the region dictated the design of other ventilation shafts inside homes. This resulted in the emergence of wind towers or barajils, which later became a distinctive architectural feature, especially in the Arabian peninsula. Generally, the living quarters are designed to open on to a paved courtyard, sometimes adorned with a fountain or cascading pool called bahrah. The impact of religion and tradition on the vernacular architecture is why the rooms of the house usually opened onto the courtyard. This way, the exterior walls were left with very few openings, except ventilation holes at high levels, as culture promoted modesty. Sometimes, the courtyard is planted with fruit trees, rose bushes and climbing vine leaves which are often brought alive by birds. A wall is usually placed behind the entrance gate, further screening the house from the dust and noise of the outside world.
THE ARABIAN PALACE
A palatial eastern residence from the outside is usually subtle, with the show of wealth and distinctive architecture subdued within the high walls of its interior. Once inside, the house is a rich compendium of decorative exotic arts. Ablaq walls of alternate sequential runs of light and dark-coloured stone, marble floors with geometric patterns, wooden ceilings painted and gilded, muqarnas, cornices, embellished polychrome wood and stucco panels, hanging translucent glass and metal lanterns, which shed a filigree of light across the space. Depending on the region, ceramic tiled fireplaces and prayer niches in golden mosaics are usually painted with calligraphy of spiritual or poetic verses. In addition, medallions, arabesques, stalactites, rosettes, carved stone or marble columns, arches and fountains can also be featured. In some instances, a liwan is constructed on the southern edge of the courtyard. This element was introduced by Islamic architecture, and became a prominent feature of the traditional house, particularly in Damascus. As a vaulted portico in the courtyard, it forms a medium between the indoors and outdoors. The main use of the liwan is as a shaded retreat, the fundamental focus of social life, where the man of the house receives his guests. Mats and carpets are spread on the floor, with low sofas and cushions aligned against the full length of the walls to create the divan seating space. In architectural terms, the liwan has the same effect as a ventilation shaft which cools warm air before it continues its journey into the internal living spaces. In this view, the design of grand palaces includes more than one courtyard. Hence, there is the street facing court, an inner family retreat, and a kitchen yard for household assistants. In most cases, windows open onto the courtyards and are fitted with stained glass, grills and shutters. Upstairs and downstairs, the rooms of the whole house are lavished with intricately patterned, richly textured, elaborately detailed wooden furniture, embezzled with laminated gold leaves. This rich tapestry of refined timelessness required the joint effort of several different craftsmen. Each is a specialist in the delicate engraving of wood, metal, glass, marble, stone and the mixing of paints. This kind of lavishness also needed a refined understanding of spatial design and an experience in the placement of its complimentary elements together. Damascene artisans were famous for mastering the art of craft in the decorative business. But despite its extravagance, the eastern house is always designed to express highly respected traditional cultural values. It is a humanist architecture centred on the importance of social interaction, the flow of movement and communication between those occupying the space, and the appreciation of nature.