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Understanding the Architecture of a Saudi Arabian Home

The Middle East is not only the home of the Muslim Culture, it is also the breeding ground for some pretty awesome architecture. (Remember the Bahrain World Trade Center?) But the cultural and traditional aspects of the MENA area have resulted in a completely different style than what we’re used to in the West. So I’m here today to tell you about how a Saudi home architectural design can be totally different than any other contemporary home in the west.
When I first started working in the MENA region, especially the KSA, I hadn’t the slightest clue on how to handle all the unique requests that had to be met while designing homes and residential units in the area. But today, I’ll even go as far as to say that I’ve become a veritable expert. So without further ado, let’s look at all the tips you should consider when designing a Saudi  Arabian home.

Keep 7 important tips in mind while crafting a successful Saudi Arabian home architectural design.

1. Urban Planning

Urban planning for a Saudi Arabian home architectural design is based on the culture and traditions. The religion of Islam is very family oriented. This means that communal areas and wide spaces for family interactions are always a must. This is why while designing villas in the middle to upper-class neighborhoods, about 60% of the land is used for the building infrastructure. The rest of the 40% is used for green spaces and a central courtyard – which is a very commonplace architectural space in Saudi homes.

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Furthermore, the parking spaces for Saudi homes are not covered areas. There are no garages or even closed off spaces to park the cars. However, in my experience, it is always best to provide a semi-covered area for a parking spot that can keep the car out of direct sunlight. If you want to get even more creative, then you can opt for a supporting wooden structure as well.

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The Saudi home architectural design usually consists of about 2.5 floors. While the ground and first floors are usually reserved for the family and guest rooms, the second-floor second floor is usually less than half the area of the basement. .The remaining space can be used as a terrace, rooftop garden, outdoor or barbeque area. Spacious terraces are ideal for family holidays including the much loved Ramadan Iftars.
Additionally, you are even allowed to construct basement floors according to the urban planning standards in Saudi Arabia.

2. Entrance Designs

You’ll be surprised at the difference in Saudi Arabian home architectural design as compared to even other Arab countries. There are essentially two kinds of entrances – a large gate for the car entrance followed by a driveway along with several (around 3-4) doorway entrances for the actual residents of the home. Here’s the breakdown of all the entrances; one for the residents, one for female guests, one for male guests and occasionally a backdoor in the kitchen. Moreover, you’ll find a separate entrance for the suite areas if the home is actually designed on a grand scale.

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Saudi homes also have a servant’s quarter. These mainly consist of a maid’s and driver’s room along with a small bathroom and kitchenette. Of course with the new laws in the KSA allowing women to drive, the driver’s room might not be so necessary anymore. The servant’s quarters are usually located outside the kitchen with a separate access to the original house. The driver’s room in a Saudi home architectural design is always designed on the periphery of the house. It is located next to the main gate and has immediate access to the street. It is also sufficient for this room to have a bed and washroom facilities.

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3. Landscaping & Green Areas

The green area and landscaping always act as a buffer between the interior and exterior of a Saudi Arabian home architectural design. A Saudi home is enclosed by an outer wall that runs along the periphery of the plot. It is made of solid brick masonry and is about 7-8 feet tall. It is constructed to obstruct outside views into the home, which would violate the family’s privacy. However, these external walls are usually decorated with plasterwork and even ornamental lighting both externally and internally to add to the visual beauty of the home.

Since the Muslim culture is rich with generosity and kindness, people often create niches for water coolers in their exterior walls to accommodate thirsty travelers and passersby. We got to know about this tradition when one of our clients made a request for a niche to be designed on their exterior wall for a water cooler.

I had heard something about this in the past, but I really liked this request as an architect and to have the opportunity to create an area that provides services to others. Only in the design of a home in Saudi Arabia with a distinctly Arabic-Islamic culture can you consider and design such a place of public service in a private property.

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As far as actual green spaces are concerned, here’s all you need to know:
– Green spaces and landscape elements are used to create an inherent sense of generosity in a Saudi home architectural design.
– You can use greenery (lawns, small green patches & attractively landscaped areas) along with courtyards to create a natural harmony in the home design.
– Hardscape elements like fountains combined with softscape elements like trees, shrubs, and hedges can create an allure of generosity for friends and family.
– Usually, deep or shallow pools, fountains, grass and various trees and planters that may adapt to the Saudi Arabian climate are the elements that can be used to design the landscaping of a Saudi home.
– A semi-open seating area for family and guests can add value to the overall home design as well.

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4. Spaces & Importance of Orientation

It doesn’t matter where a home is located because a living area, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom are all the essentials that anyone ever needs. But with regards to the climate and culture of KSA, there are a few more rooms you can find in a Saudi home architectural design. a good example of this is a Majlis (or a sitting room) each for men and women along with separate washing spaces and traditional guest dining rooms with Arab style seating.

Another important thing to consider while designing spaces in a Saudi home is the actual orientation. Residences must follow a special architectural layout in the KSA. While maintaining privacy is a key aspect, the orientation is what dictates the actual layout. Did you know that Muslims pray in the direction of the Ka’ba (the House of God)? Therefore, the footboard of the bed must always face a different direction. Similarly, the commode must also never face the west. Moreover, small alcoves and niches for prayer are designed in each room.

Other than that, the bedrooms and living rooms are usually designed on the ground and first floors. Spaces allocated for men are close to the main entrance and completely separated from the privacy of the house and women-oriented spaces. The basement is usually reserved for offices, recreational rooms and movie theatres. Saudi homeowners typically ask for a separate basement door close to the main entrance so they could lead their friends to the basement without going into the privacy of the home.

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5. Designing the Majlis

The Majlis is an important part of the Saudi home architectural design. Hospitality has a special place in the Arabic-Islamic culture, and because of this, the Majlis has become an important area for receiving and entertaining guests. Privacy is always a key factor in designing homes for Muslim countries, and the Majlis is no exception for this rule.

Therefore, in the architecture and design of residential homes in Saudi Arabia, two completely separate rooms for the women and men are considered. The two rooms, which are spacious in proportion to the overall size of the house, are spaced relatively apart and have two separate entrances. The men’s Majlis is usually larger than the women’s. The feminine Majlis can be placed in the interior of the home and be close to the private family area. But the men’s Majlis should be placed completely apart from this area.

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Here’s what you need to know about the interior design of a Majlis:
– The interior design of the Majlis consists of large sofas placed all around the periphery of the room with coffee tables in front of them for serving.
– The wall and ceiling décor are considered in accordance with the overall theme of the Saudi home architectural design.
– However, the ornamentation is always a little bit more opulent in the Majlis.
– Decorative frames for the walls, ornate cabinets and shelves for accessories, heavy ceiling and wall lighting along with marble floors are a norm in Majlis interior design these days.

6. Designing the Washing Area

Another space which is specific to Saudi Arabian homes is the semi-open ablution area and restroom facilities. Ablution is the washing ritual Muslims carry out before each prayer, so it is very necessary within the context of their culture and traditions. Furthermore, cleanliness is considered a great part of the religion. Muslims wash their hands before every task. Therefore, having a washing area next to the Majlis is very essential in a Saudi home architectural design. This washing area is always separate for men and women. It is usually located next to each Majlis, where two sinks and a mirror are placed next to the restroom facilities. The decorations for the washing area must match that of the Majlis, but it usually has some special ornamentation and lighting of its own.

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7. Designing the Traditional Guest Dining Room

Feeding the guests is considered a virtuous thing in Islam – Arabs go as far as considering it their sacred duty. Therefore, in light of the importance of hospitality, it is necessary to consider a large space for the guests to dine. Here is what you should know about designing a traditional guest dining room in a Saudi home architectural design:
– This room should be located between the two Majlises so as to be easily accessible from both sides during meals.
– Interestingly, in contrast to western dining rooms, which are furnished with dining tables and chairs, the traditional Arab dining room has no furniture.
– A long cloth is spread on the floor at mealtime and the guests sit around the cloth on Arabic style seating, namely floor cushions.
– For this purpose, the floor of this room is covered completely with a carpet or rugs.
– The decor of this room is relatively simple, but closets and cupboards for keeping dishes is an integral part of this room.

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8. Designing the House Façade

Style is very important in the architectural designs of homes and is the first thing that every architect takes into consideration. Here are some style designs that should be considered when designing in a Saudi Arabian home architectural design:
– Due to the sunlight and the hot desert climate, it’s vital to pay attention to the should’s and should not’s.
– The home exterior should be covered with materials that are durable and resistant to extreme weather conditions.
– Since the paint shade or the material of the exterior of your house can affect the amount of heat (or cold air) that comes through the walls, lighter shades are best for Saudi homes.
– Light-colored paint can help reflect the sun’s heat away from the home. White walls, for example, will gain 35 percent less heat than black walls, therefore requiring less energy to cool the home.

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– Brick or concrete walls will keep the interior cooler on those hot summer days than lightweight wall materials. And that same material can help you stay warmer during the colder months. Denser materials naturally soak up heat from the outside and hold it longer, slowing the interior warming process in the summer and the cooling process in the winter.
– Windows should preferably be double glazed, reflective glass or covered with tinted film in a Saudi Arabian home architectural design.
– Window tinting can reduce the heat of the sun in your home. So when you are sitting by a window the window tinting will block 55 percent of the heat coming into your home making you feel more comfortable.
– The size and number of windows should be few, limiting sunlight, but natural light should be considered for all the rooms and spaces.
– This can be achieved by using shades, creating a niche for window setting or by using exterior blinds. These methods will limit sunlight but allow some natural light to come inside.
– The entrances that I talked about before have to be clearly visible in the exterior design because they give the dwelling its identity.
– The women’s and men’s entry doors should also be emphasized in light of the importance of the culture of generosity and hospitality.

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These were my points about the characteristics of a Saudi Arabian home and things that I think every architect or designer should consider.
I hope I was able to share some of my small but important ideas.

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