Mashrabiya

A Mashrabiya is a type of oriel window commonly found in architecture of the Mashriq – a region in the Arab East encompassing Iraq, the Levant, Hejaz and Egypt [ref. Wikipedia]. The mashrabiya is usually found on the street front of the building and sometimes internally facing the courtyard.


The mashrabiya emerged from the practice of cooling pots of drinking water in an enclosed wooden shelf by the window. The latticework and the projected bay allowed cooling winds to pass into the interior while filtering out the hot afternoon sunlight. This vernacular grew in the hands of craftsmen, through revisions and evolutions in construction techniques, into an art form which spoke of the culture it is steeped in. The poetic image of the mashrabiya as a veil protecting the intensely private domain of an Islamic household resonates a deep cultural tone of the hidden harim.

The aesthetic of the mashrabiya – abstract geometric patterning of the latticework – stem from the prohibition of human representation in Islamic art, which is also applied universally across other art disciplines like calligraphy, ceramics and textiles. The beauty of the mashrabiya and its existence is all the more true because its aesthetic comes from a deeper source that is the spiritual and religious beliefs of a society. Stated by Stefano Bianco in Urban Form in the Arab World: Past and Present,

‘ […] the distinctive feature of Islam is that it has given birth to a comprehensive and integrated cultural system by totally embedding the religious practice in the daily life of the individual and the society. While Islam did not prescribe formal architectural concepts, it moulded the whole way of life by providing a matrix of  behaviourial archtypes which, by necessity, generated correlated physical patterns.’

In this sense, the mashrabiya is more than a window element that cools drinking water, it is more than a decorative element that protects the privacy of a household while allowing a view of the public domain – it is a product of a context of total culture. The lazy application of the mashrabiya to modern buildings that wistfully wishes to show deference to this culture is just that – a lazy gesture. With climate controlling air conditioning and the loss of its noble duty of veiling, the modern mashrabiya is seems just a little false, a shadow of its ancestor.


© Kalpana Gurung
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Feeney, John. “Saudi Aramco World : The Magic of The Mashrabiyas.” Saudi Aramco World : January/February 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. <http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/197404/the.magic.of.the.mashrabiyas.htm&gt;.(tags: noneedit tags)

Images

Image 1 HuTect ShOts. Taken from: “Mashrabiya مشربية – Bayt Al-Suhaymi بيت السحيمي / Cairo / Egypt – 29 05 2010 | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.” Welcome to Flickr – Photo Sharing. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahmedalbadawyshots/4674462452/&gt;. (tags: noneedit tags)

Image 2 & 3 taken from: “theStoryOfMyLIFE: August 2010.” theStoryOfMyLIFE. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. <http://onemilegrads.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html&gt;. (tags: noneedit tags)

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