New study of Shibam architecture


Abobakr Abdullah Ahmed Al-Sakkaf recently (June 2013) received his M. Sc. in Architecture from the Department of Architecture & Planning, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  His dissertation title is ” The Impact of Local Climate on Residential Building Design in the Ḥadhramaut Valley: A Case Study of the City of Shibam” [Translated from Arabic].  Below is an abstract in English of his thesis:

Traditional mud brick architecture has been used for centuries in the construction of urban centers and residential homes, buildings, fortresses, and mosques across the Middle East and beyond. Despite the historical importance of this traditional form of architecture,  which in countries like Yemen continues to serve as the visual record of a nation’s history and heritage, the scientific literature available is mostly restricted to identifying  the modern challenges to its continued survival and preservation.

This research offers a case study of the ancient city of Shibam in Yemen’s Hadhramaut Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a leading example of traditional mud brick architecture. In particular, my study focuses on the impact of local climatic conditions on the design of residential buildings in Shibam. As a result of the region’s hot and dry climate, the residential buildings of Shibam consume roughly 26 percent of the region’s total energy consumption, most of which goes towards air conditioning according to the official rates of the General Electric Foundation. The major factors affecting the
efficiency of energy consumption in residential buildings consists of: i) their envelope design or shape (compact, rectangular, L-shaped, and courtyard designs), ii) their physical orientation, iii) thematerials used in their construction (traditional mud brick, stone, and concrete), iv) the use of window apertures in their design, and finally v) the thickness of their walls.

Given these considerations, this study focuses on identifying the ideal custom-tailored solution by exploring the ideal combination of these factors so as to attain maximum thermal comfort in the most energy efficient manner possible. Towards this end, the study is composed of two sections: I) a theoretical section focusing on the climate and architecture of the city of Shibam and II) a practicalsection that collects information on residential building practices in the city by preparing a survey targeting local engineers,  academics, contractors, and property owners.

For the experimental part of this study, the programs Meteonorm and Weather Consultant are used to obtain local meteorological data (local temperatures, relative humidity, wind movement, and solar radiation). The local construction patterns are then further tested through Design Builder using the four variables identified above: I) design envelope, II) choice of construction material, III) wall thickness, and IV) building orientation. A total of 432 simulations of case patterns are carefully studied to identify the ideal mix of these
construction variables needed to obtain maximum thermal comfort and most energy efficient design.

The study concludes by identifying the compact shaped building of mud brick material, with a wall thickness of one meter, a southern orientation, and 10 percent of its façade surface devoted to window openings (apertures) as the most energy-efficient model available. The study also provides general guideless for the most suitable combination of variables in terms of energy efficiency pertaining to the use of different construction materials.