‘Build mud houses the old way’
The old mud houses and palaces in Diriyah are undergoing renovation but experts believe that these infrastructures should be restored to their original condition.
“The mud houses are being renovated to look like the original mud houses. But they are not really like them,” a Shoura member and former professor at the King Saud University (KSU) said.
Although new techniques have been employed, they are more difficult and expensive to execute compared to the way the old mud houses were constructed,” he added.
Ellezer B. Mendoza, a project architect at Al-Afaq Al-Munirah Contracting Est., said that the new techniques include demolishing a mud house and rebuilding it or changing its façade by using aluminum cladding.
“When a mud house is demolished and reconstructed, the authorities totally change the way it looks on the outside with the use of aluminum cladding. It also loses its original design, which is characterized by Islamic architecture,” Mendoza explained.
Another technique includes the use of Riyadh stone or concrete blocks to construct a wall and then paint over it to make it resemble a mud house.
“After constructing the concrete block wall, a plaster of cement is applied which is painted over to look like a traditional mud house,” he said.
He said that the ADA has been trying to preserve the traditional image of buildings by using Riyadh stone, especially at the Diplomatic Quarter.
“Natural Riyadh stone, which is like a marble slab, has been used at the Al-Tuwaiq Palace, Cultural Center and the ADA building,” he said.
He added that Riyadh stone is also used in private residential buildings in Diriyah, the Durrat Al-Riyadh housing project (near the Sultan bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City) and other districts in the Saudi capital.
Mendoza said that in one of his projects, he used natural Riyadh stone for constructing the guardhouse of one of the embassies.
“These techniques have even been used in houses that I have designed,” said Mendoza who received his architecture degree from the National University in Manila in 1982.
The preservation of the mud houses in their original form arises from the need to promote tourism.
Jannettee Arenque, a teacher, said that many tourists visit old Riyadh and other places with old mud houses just to see them.
“Old mud houses have become tourist attractions because they reflect the history and culture of Saudi Arabia and its people,” she said.
Thamer Al-Hawas, a Saudi from Riyadh, said that he and his family used to visit Diriyah because of its cultural significance modeled by the old mud houses.
When a delegation from Harvard University visited the capital some time back, team members also went to old Riyadh to see the mud houses and palaces.
The old mud houses in other parts of the Kingdom like Najran have drawn tourists as well. As of 2011, about 230 ancient mud houses can be found in Najran.
One of these is the Al-An Palace and the historic Emarah Palace, which has 60 rooms and a mosque with a well in the center of its courtyard. A wall with four towers surrounds the edifice.
The seven-story Al-Sadran Palace, which is located in Al-Sadran village, is 1,803 years old and was renovated in 2006.
Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, has encouraged local residents to adhere to their architectural heritage which bridges the region’s past with the present.
The materials used in the construction of the mud houses were stones, clay and timber designed in different shapes. Some houses were rectangular and lofty while others have the shape of a vertical tower. Most of them had eight or nine stories.
The construction of the mud houses involves placing stones and drenched clay in a rectangular stone frame. The frames are left to dry for a day in the summer or two to three days in winter.
Construction starts soon after the processing of the stones and clay is completed. A coating of lime is given on the lower part of the edifice while the roof is made of timber, palm trunks, and leaves and tamarisk or willows.
Lime is used mainly for the firmness of the pillars of the house and also to add elegance to the muddy color of the coating at the lower part of the house.
The rooms also contain some additional fixtures such as apertures to keep lamps or books.