Building laws and urban regulations between modernity and tradition

Material Information

Building laws and urban regulations between modernity and tradition
Al-Marzoky, Hatim H
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
115 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Urban and Regional Planning)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
College of Architecture and Planning, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Urban and regional planning


Subjects / Keywords:
Islamic architecture -- Saudi Arabia ( lcsh )
Building laws -- Saudi Arabia ( lcsh )
Building laws ( fast )
Islamic architecture ( fast )
Saudi Arabia ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 69-71, 114-115).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Architecture, College of Architecture and Planning.
Statement of Responsibility:
Hatim H. Al-Marzoky.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
35817471 ( OCLC )
LD1190.A72 1995m .A56 ( lcc )

Full Text
AUGUST 8,1995

Sources and Development of Islamic Law (Sharia) ..............7
Institutions in Charge of supervising the traditional
Islamic city:.................................................8
TYPOLOGY OF THE ISLAMIC CITY:................................10
Cities built by Muslims:.....................................16
- Unplanned cities:.......................................16
- Pre-planned cities:.....................................20
Cities inherited by Muslims:................................2 6
ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE I:.........................................36
THE ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY:............................36
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet: ............36
Design Principle: ...........................................38
1- Shura as an approach for Decision making process: ....38
2- Harm:...................................................39
3- cleanliness:............................................40
URBAN FORM:..................................................40
1 Streets:...............................................40
2- building form:..........................................50
3- land use:...............................................51
ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE II:........................................53
- THE ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF PRIVACY.............................53
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet: ............53
Design Principle: ...........................................55
Protection of Privacy:.....................................55
Urban Form : ................................................56
1- The Dwelling Unit:......................................57
2. The cul-de-sac:.........................................64
3- Street system: ........................................ 65

ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE III:........................................66
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet: ...........66
DESIGN PRINCIPLE:.............................................67
- Beauty without arrogance: ................................67
- Mixed income community: ..................................67
Urban FORM:...................................................67
1- The dwelling unit:.......................................67
2- The neighborhood:........................................69
1 Al-Muraba :..............................................7 6
1- Al-Nasriyah: ..............................................7 9
3- Al-Malaz :.................................................82
Residential Districts of the City:............................8 9
1- Density: ..................................................
2- Scale and character:.....................................93
3- lot sizes:...............................................94
I. The Islamic concept of community:..........................97
1- Land use allocation:.....................................97
2- Circulation Pattern:.....................................98
II. The Islamic concept of privacy:.........................100
III. The Islamic Concept Equality: ..........................106
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS:..................................108
ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE I:.........................................110
DESIGN PRINCIPLE:............................................110
ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE II:........................................112
DESIGN PRINCIPLE:............................................112
ISLAMIC PRINCIPLE III:.......................................114
DESIGN PRINCIPLE:............................................114

The present architectural environment of modern cities in
the Arabic-Islamic world in general and Saudi Arabia in
particular is totally different from the traditional one and
has resulted in a sense of discontinuity and alienation
among the Saudi people. Neither traditional nor modern
technology provides solutions to the current architectural
problems of Saudi Arabia; however, studying both past and
present building forms and urban patterns can inform us as
to how the traditional Arab-Islamic city used to operate and
how the current problems inflecting the contemporary cities
in the Arab-Islamic countries came about. In this way, we
will open our vision and broaden our choices for the future.
The essence of this thesis is the disparity between
traditional building laws derived from Islamic sharia, or
law, versus building laws imported from western cultures,
which are currently being enacted in Saudi Arabia
In this paper, I explore how Arab-Islamic traditional
societies have operated and how tradition has affected our
lives in Saudi Arabia so that we may better understand how
maintaining traditions may serve us invaluably even in this

modern world, because society's "awareness of the past is in
fact society's awareness of its continuity.
While today's Arab-Muslim cities seem greatly modern,
actually the modern forms of buildings and street patterns
are undermining not only the Saudi lifestyle and culture of
many hundreds of years in the making but also undermining
the very foundation of a way of life that was built with
over a very long period of time and with great reason. As a
result of the distinct differences between traditional city
development and construction and the modern one, there is a
discontinuity not only with structures and forms of the past
but also with the underlying spiritual values upon which
traditional forms were based.
In this paper, I will focus on tradition and modern
architecture in Saudi Arabia as it is visible through
building forms and structures which are shaped by building
codes and laws. By so doing I will try to understand how
changes in building and construction codes and methods came
about and how and why a continuity with the past must be
reestablished. In chapter one, I will study the traditional
building laws and guidelines that motivated the creation of
the traditional Islamic city, focusing on both residential
and city development. For comparison, in chapter two, I

will look at why modern building codes and styles currently
imposed do not work in the Saudi Arabian culture. Chapter
two presents the disparity between traditional and
contemporary architectural environments, as well as the
origins of this disparity. I will look at the process
through which the contemporary physical environment was
introduced and the way it was sustained and developed and
its contrasts to the traditional environment, such as the
development of the orthogonal grid for street patterns and
the villa as a housing type. I will study how the
traditional relationship between socio-cultural values and
conventions and physical forms and structures have been
replaced by a package of western building laws and
regulations that are alien to the Saudi climate and
lifestyle and generally work against accepted social norms,
setting up a distinct cultural conflict.
In conclusion, This study is an exploration of the possible
solutions for ways to reestablish and maintain a continuity
with our past and to carry our intrinsic social values
forward as we build our new homes and cities and redesign
our old ones.

The traditional Islamic city is typified as being a
confusion of buildings, with streets of various widths
running in a multitude of directions, ramifying larger ones,
terminating in dead-ends. "The urban mass is seen as an
entanglement of senseless labyrinths impossible to unravel
even with the help of maps."1 In this chapter I will
attempt to study the underlying principles and ideas behind
the urban morphology of the traditional Islamic city and its
building forms. The study will be an exploration of
relation between urban form, design process, and Islamic
cultural values. I will study the Islamic conception of
life and community, design principles and guidelines based
on this conception, and the degree of response of the
traditional Islamic city to these principles and guidelines.
I argue that the traditional Islamic city was motivated by a
set of conceptual guidelines, derived from Islamic law
(Sharia) and social convention. The focus of this chapter
will be on how Islamic law (sharia) motivate the creation
and development of the basic principles, framework, and
building guidelines of the traditional Islamic city.

Sources and Development of Islamic Law (Sharia):
According to Al-Shafi'i, a great Arab scholar who spent his
life studying, teaching and writing on the subject and who
formed one of five remaining schools of law (Hanafi, Maliki,
Shafi'i, Hanbali, Jaffair), there are four major sources or
roots of Islamic law: the Quran, the Sunna (divinely
inspired saying and behavior of the Prophet), the Ijma '
(consensus of the entire Muslim community), and Qiyas (using
human reason in the elaboration of law) .
The Sunna was the second source of law after the Quran.
"The repeated command to 'obey God and his Prophet'
established the precedents of the Prophet Mohammed as a
source of law second only to the word of God."2 The Quran
and Sunna complement each other and they both contributed to
Islamic law. Ijma is the third source of Islamic law. Al-
Shafi'i said there can be "only one valid consensus [Ijma],
that of the entire Muslim community, lawyers and lay members
alike."3 The forth source of Islamic law, Qiyas (or
reasoning by analogy), means using human reason to elaborate
the law. This exercise of one's own judgment covered a
variety of mental processes, ranging from interpreting holy
texts to assessing the "authenticity of traditions." Qiyas
was a particular method by which the principles established

by the Quran and Sunna were applied to solving problems not
expressly regulated in the holy texts of Quran and Sunna.
The jurist as well as the entire Muslim community was
completely subordinate to the dictates of these sources.
Islamic law, therefore, provided the basic guidelines for
buildings homes, neighborhoods, and cities. Likewise,
jurists and institutions in charge of supervising the
traditional Islamic city refereed to it as a source to
regulate and methodize the built environment.
Institutions in Charge of supervising the traditional
Islamic city:
There are three institutions in Charge of supervising the
traditional Islamic city: the Qadi, ahl al-khibrah, and the
Muhtasib. The physical environment of the entire Muslim
community was governed by the Qadi, whose duties and
procedure were developed by the Prophet Mohammed himself.
The Qadi, a single judge appointed by and representative of
the authorities and invested with the power of jurisdiction,
was responsible for supervising public roads and buildings;
he delegated experts (ahl al-khibrah) to investigate damage
complaints and ownership disputes.
The muhtasib was the traditional inspector of the market
{suq). Entrusted with supervising moral behavior, he was

also responsible for maintaining public utilities and
thoroughfares; he kept from the streets anything that might
cause them to be dirty or make them dark and narrow. He
also saw to the needs of wayfarers, and he ensured the
distribution of water and the quality of building materials
as well as overlook the repair of ruined city walls. 4 The
muhtasib derived his authority from the religious injunction
"promote good and forbid evil" (hisbah). The muhtasib,
moreover, acted only when complaints were lodged. In
Islamic law individual property was considered private and
the surrounding streets semi-private. As along as all
neighboring homeowners were in agreement concerning an
individual property's use, or if no claims were made for
damage to one's privacy, the Qadis or the Muhatasibs did not
interfere. For example, in Medina a lane was closed, but
the court did not hear the case until fifty years later when
some of the residents sued their neighbor.5
Besides the aforementioned institutions responsible for
supervising the Islamic city, The Islamic community was a
self regulated one. By following Islam's values and social
guidelines, the inhabitants of a traditional Islamic
neighborhood self-regulated themselves. They strove to keep
things clean; to feel responsible and be aware of public
interest; to keep the environment beautiful; to trust,

respect and foster peace; even when selling property, to
announce and not hide its defects 6 In this respect,
residents of the traditional Muslim community informed the
authorities of any wrongdoing, such as an unlawful
protrusion into a street or the misuse of a fina. This
self-regulating behavior coupled with the doctrine of
Islamic law was a major influence in the formation of the
typology of the traditional Islamic city.
In its land-use allocations, street patterns, locations of
urban elements, the Islamic cities resembled one another.
They all had on typology (fig. 1). At the center of the
city there was the Friday mosque which was the religious and
intellectual center of Muslim life. Near the mosque, we
find the Suq of mosque related items such as candles,
perfumes, books ect. As we go further from the mosque, we
find the Suq of textile such as cloth and leather. Beyond
the textile trade we find the markets of jewelers, furniture
market, and kitchen wears. Near the gates we find the
weekly market where goods from the country side are sold.
Finally on the periphery we find the industrial traders like
black smith, the dyers and the tanners.7 The city itself
was built around the mosque and divided into Kittas

(residential quarter). Each tribe was given one Kitta. The
spaces left between the kittas formed the main streets
(Bazaars) that linked the city center to the different gates
of the city. The Subdivision of each Kitta itself was left
to the tribe members to deiced on without interfering from
the city officials. The origin of this ubiquitous typology
was Medinah, the first city in Islam built by the Prophet

!______________________________________________________! I_________________________________________J
1. Friday Mosque (Masjid jami) 2. Market (Suq) 3 Public Bath (Hamam/ 4. Residential
tjuarters (Hay or Khutah)
Fig. 1: The Steroptypical Islamic City

Before 622 A.D., Medina was a group of independent
settlements. Later, the Muhajereen or the immigrants from
Makkah followed the Prophet to settle there. The first
thing the Prophet did was to build the Mosque at the center
of the city and the Suq and marketplace around it. Then,
the Prophet Mohammed granted fiefs (grants) to tribes and
individuals. Each quarter was settled by the members of one
tribe.8 The subdivision of each quarter was left to the
tribe members who lived there without and instructions from
the Prophet(fig. 2). After the death of the prophet
Mohammed and in their attempt to consolidate the new Islamic
state, Muslims adopted the policy of building new cities
throughout the Islamic cites.

Fig. 2.1
the Plan of Medina


Cities built by Muslims:
After the Prophet death, the newly-founded towns were often
armed military camp-towns (fustat) or fortress towns (ribat)
founded to "consolidate the domain on the frontier as well
as in the interior"9 those newly-founded towns were
classified according to their development process as
unplanned and pre-planed cities.
- Unplanned cities:
(1) Al-Basrah was founded as a military camp. The
first khittah planned was the mosque, then the dar al-Imarah
which was located some distance from the mosque. Settlers
divided the city according to tribes, one khittah to each
tribe.10 The people themselves subdivided the land and
built their homes (fig. 3).

1. Mosque 2. Dar at-1 mar ah 3- Main Sahah 4. Suq/Market 5. Khutah 6. Khutah's bunal
grounds & prayer place 7. Mam Thoroughfare (6o cubits) 8. Main Streets (zo cubits)
9. Lancs (7 cubits)
Fig. 3: The Early Organization of Basrah

(2) Al-Fustat's location was near an old settlement.
The process of settling was similar to Al-Basrah. First,
the congregational mosque was laid out. The khitat extended
from there, settled by each tribe, some in the town, others
banded together; each khittah was named after the tribe that
settled it, and each khittah hosted one or more mosques.11
The khittah was a system of planning, based upon the tribe
as an already existing institution (fig. 4).

Fig 4: Plan of Al-Fustat

Amsar towns of the medieval period of Islam were strikingly
similar to Medina. The system of land grants (fiefs), The
internal evolution of each khitat, the position of the
congregational mosque at the center of town with the markets
located around it, and the development of bazaar streets
between the khitat were attempts at replicating Medina.
- Pre-planned cities:
(1) Baghdad was originally designed according to a
highly-ordered plan (fig. 5). Baghdad was founded as a
residence and capitol by al-Mansur, The second caliph of the
Abbasid dynasty (712-775), in the year 762 A.D. He brought
together engineers, builders, and surveyors, and described
his plan for a city with a circular shape divided into three
zones. In the first zone, the center of the city, was the
al-rahbah, within which the palace, congregational mosque
and two other buildings were located. In the second zone,
the inner ring surrounding the rahbah, were the residences
of al-Manur's sons, plus servants and government agencies.
In the third zone, the outer ring, were residences of the
Caliph's army chiefs and mawali. The city was walled and
had four gates, each with an arcade street going all the way
to the rahbah, thus dividing the city into four quadrants.
The areas surrounding this royal residence were planned and

developed at the same time. A1-Mansur gave grants to
individuals, estimated locations for shops and markets, and
defined street widths.12 Most interesting, however, Baghdad
completely transformed, to the point that now it resembles
the amsar towns.

Fig. 5.1: Plan of the Circular City of Baghdad

l. Moat (Khandaq) 2. Bridge 3. Rah bah 4. Dahliz 5 Taqat (Commercial bays)
6. Residential Quarters A. First Zone (Guards) B. Second Zone C. Residential Quarters
D. Third Zone (Public officials) E. Caliph's Royal Space
Fig. 5.2: Plan of the Valuted Arcade of the Market

(2) Samarra was also designed with an orthogonal grid
plan, with a congregational mosque at its center and markets
around it (fig. 6).
Once again, while both Baghdad and Samarra were laid out
according to highly ordered plans, the amsar towns were
built without preconceived plans. In addition to building
cities, however, the Muslims inherited numerous cities and
towns from previous civilization.

0 10
Fig. 6: Plan of Samarra

Cities inherited by Muslims:
Muslims did not create all of their cities and towns. They
inherited many Greek, Roman and Persian cities, such as
medieval Damascus and Aleppo. Over time, these highly-
ordered and planned cities transformed incrementally into
the traditional irregular pattern identified with a Muslim
city. When we study the ancient cities such as Damascus
(fig. 7) and Aleppo (fig. 8), we see a gradual decline in
the use of geometric block structures such as Greeks and
Romans used in their orthogonally-planned cities previously.

fig 7.!: Plan of Damascus Befor the Arab Conquest

I. Church of St. John 2. Ummayad Mosque
5. Residential Quarters 6. Cemeteries
3. Al-Khadra Palace 4. Market/Colonnade

Liu^ ==^
Fig. 7.3: The Transformation of the Colonade Avenue
into theLinear Bazar of Damascus

Aleppo before Islam
1. Byzantine Cathedral (t
Episcopal palace
2. Church
3 Synagogue
4. Castrum
1. The Great Mosque
2. The Ummayad Mosque
3. Musalla
4. Fresh produce market
5- Citadel
Fig. 8.1: Plan of Alepo befor and After the Arab Conquest

/. Great Mosque 2. Madrasah 3. Mosque 4. Qaiysariyah 5. Khan 6.Colonnaded Street
turned Bazaar
Fig. 8.2: The Bazar of Alepo, Growing over a Grid Pattern

Whether built or inherited, The traditional Islamic city
began with two or more different patterns that evolved into
a single pattern and character. For example, cities such as
medieval Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad began with highly
ordered plans yet, as they grew, they developed the
characteristics of the traditional Islamic cities. In
describing the physical pattern and organization of Muslim
towns, von Grundbaum states that throughout the Islamic
world, the towns resemble one another. He alluded to the
walled quarters, to the system of gates which closed off
these quarters during the night, to the lack of open spaces
within the city and within the residential quarters, to the
narrow and winding streets and byways, and to the Muslim
houses which are oriented away from the streets and open
spaces onto an inner courtyard.13 In this vein, the
fundamental question is: Starting from two or more quite
different urban patterns how did Arab-Muslim society
developed cities of a similar pattern and a distinctly
similar character?
This question has demanded the attention of many scholars
throughout the world. Jean Sauvaget, who studied Damascus-
Alepo urban fabric during the Islamic period, ascribes the
gradual forsaking of geometric block structure of
orthogonally planned Hellenistic and Roman cities to the
weakness on governmental authority and the continuos

instability which he believes affected all aspects of urban
life during the Muslim reign.14
M. von Grunebaum, who undertook a comparison study of the
Greco-Roman and Muslim cities, saw the traditional Islamic
city as lacking order and city institutions According to
him, the highly ordered Hellenistic plan was supported by
certain city institutions, as soon as the city fell under
the Arab-Muslim domain the institutions ceased to exist and
chaos replaced order with the result that the city plan was
radically altered.15
Nevertheless, the argument of this theses is that The urban
layout of the traditional Muslim city can be accounted for
with reasons more decisive than a mere lack of authority or
an instability. I argue that the beliefs and concepts of
the inhabitants of the traditional Islamic city played a
major role in the development of this rather eccentric
pattern. Moreover, the traditional Islamic city reflects the
Islamic civilization itself, its religious faith and way of
life as guided by the Quran. In building a traditional
city, the most important guidelines came from Islam.
Islam is not merely an abstract religious faith, but it
implies an entire social order and a set of rules of conduct
with virtually encompasses all aspects of daily life. The

Muslim's reverence for the values and guidelines of Islamic
law (sharia) motivated them to build their cities based on
building laws and guidelines derived from Islamic law and
social conventions "The early Muslim went out to conquer
the world with a very simple instrument: the Quran.
Philosophy, ethics, politics, legislation, in fact all the
essentials of the Islamic civilization are contained in that
holy book."16 When preparing to build the city of Fes,
Idris I of Morocco's plan was to construct an urban center
"where Allah was to be adored, where His book, the Quran,
was to be read, and where His divine laws were to be
followed."17 This was the fundamental rationale behind
building a traditional Islamic city. Muslim urbanistic
endeavors were simple and direct and held religious purpose.
"Islam did not need, and thus did not have in its
communities such areas of social grouping as the [Greek or
Roman] agora, amphitheater, theater, stadium, and the like."
Rather, Islam had the mosque.
In order to study the traditional Islamic city we must
understand the underlying ideas and principles behind its
morphology and pattern. In other words, we must go to the
roots of the Islamic religion to try to interpret the
organizational aspect of traditional Muslim cities in light
of Islamic principles. In the coming part of this chapter I
will try to answer the following questions: How did Islamic

laws and social conventions motivated and helped shape the
traditional Islamic city? How were traditional building
laws influenced by the religious and behavioral guidelines
in the holy text of Islam? What is the Islamic conception
of life and community? How this conception was reflected in
the traditional Muslim cities
Throughout this part, I will present a selection of
principles and behavioral guidelines which could be viewed
as the general "performance specification" followed by the
local Kadis and master mason in traditional Islamic cities.
All principles and guidelines are cross-referenced with
relevant Quranic verses and saying of the Prophet {hadith).
The verses and saying were chosen because of their direct
influence on conduct and decision making within the
traditional Islamic cities and communities. Likewise, I
will present several cases about neighbors' disputes. How
the conflicts were resolved by jurists and judges
illustrates the traditional community's needs and helps us
to understand the culture and, thereby, the value of the
unique pattern of traditional Muslim cities. The cases
cited reveal the basic lifestyle and themes of Islamic

community. The judgments and resolutions were based upon
Islamic law and social convention, from which the rules of
conduct have evolved. These themes reflect the organization
of communities, cities, even the entire nation; in a sense,
even the entire Arab-Muslim world; because at the root of
all laws, judgments, and decisions regarding the structural
development and spatial organization are not only climate
and sectarian needs but the values of Islam, which is the
underlying theme of all Arab behaviors and attitudes.
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet:
"The Muslims in their goodness, affection and fellow-feeling
form the sense of one body which, when one part is ailing,
seeks to share its sleeplessness and fever through out the
"A believer to his fellow believer is as the mutually
upholding sections of a building strengthen each others."
(Hadi th)
"The gates to goodness are many: glorifying good, praising
Him, enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong, removing
any source of harm from the road, listening to the
aggrieved, guiding the blind, showing the seeker his need,
carrying with the strengthen of your arms the burdens of the
weak. All these are acts of charity which are an obligation
on you."

"Whoever does not concern himself with the affairs of the
community is not one of them."
"keep yourself clean as Islam is clean."
"Good be praised is good and he loves goodness, clean and he
loves cleanliness, generous and he loves generosity, perfect
and he loves perfection, so clean your fina."
"If you disagree about the width of a street, make it seven
"If a man is walking in a street and finds a branch of thorn
and removes it, then God will thank him and forgive him."
"Avoid sitting on thoroughfares." The prophet said. Then his
companion asked, it is difficult to avoid as they are our
gathering places where we spend time talking. The Preheat
responded, "If you insist then you should respect the rights
of thoroughfares. Avoid staring, do not create harm, salute
back to those who salute you, bid to honor and forbid
"Of happiness: a good wife, a spacious home, a good
neighbor, and a good mount."
"The work and good deeds of a believer that continue after
his death are: disseminated knowledge, leaving a good son
or a Quran for inheritance, a mosque which he built, or a
house for travelers, opening a stream, or a charity created
for his wealth and which continues after death."
From these saying, we can see two main concerns of the
prophet: to awaken the spring of goodness in the human
relationships and to strengthen the society with the bond of

love, affection and brother hood. Prophet Mohammed and,
thus, Islam placed great emphasis on the affiliation of the
members to their community by increasing interaction and
interdependence among the members of a society.
Design Principle:
1- Shura as an approach for Decision making process:
The decision making process in the traditional Islamic city
fell into the domain of Shura or mutual consultation. Shura
promotes unity and the striving for unified goals in a
community. It is an indispensable condition for promoting
the common good, to ensuring a sense of responsibility,
participation and commitment in members of a society. The
Islamic rule of Shura are so flexible as to allow any Muslim
community to choose the best means to suit its requirements
according to the circumstances of time and place. This in
turn helped in giving the traditional Islamic city its
personalized character. For example one community may
choose to allow its member to encroached upon an ally or a
cal-de-sac if its width is more than the width prescribed by
the law. Another community might not allow that under the
pretext of using it as a Fina or an open space for the
public. Similarly one community may choose to close a cul-

de-sac by a gate to protect itself from the intrusion of the
public, and another community may choose other wise. There
is, however, one condition in the exercise of Shura, that is
no harm should be inflected upon a private or public
affairs. Such as the narrowing of a street to a level that
would hinder the traffic.
2- Harm:
The most essential rule of conduct in the Muslim tradition
is harmlessness, that all of our actions be harmless; and
that we do everything possible in our choices and behaviors
to avoid causing harm or damage to other person or to the
community. The idea that the traditional Islamic city had
no building codes and guidelines per se, and that its
process of creation was guided and motivated by a rather
conceptional guidelines based on social and religious
conceptions such as "harmless actions", freed the hands of
its inhabitants to invent endless solutions to satisfy their
needs. These architectural and urban traits were
characterized as being personalize and tailored to meet the
exact needs of the community and its members.
The principle of harmlessness is rooted in the Prophet's
saying, "No person or party to be harmed for another to

benefit. We see the impact of this notion in the street
system of the traditional city, regarding whether or not a
projection or building is allowed to infringe on a street.18
Whether an encroachment was allowed depended largely on
whether any harm or damage was involved. A part of a house
may intrude onto a street, sometimes lanes were completely
closed off to create a cul-de-sac, sometimes even
appropriated within the private property Encroachment of
buildings onto streets and the closing of streets was a
common practice and is the very thing that gave the
traditional city its distinctive characteristic
3- cleanliness:
This principle is self-regulating by inspiring guilt and
shame in the person did not practice it, particularly with
regards to the exterior fina.
1- Streets:
Street with winding organic contours are well adapted to the
cultural context of the Muslims. They ensure opportunities
for walking, discovering, playing, meeting, and shopping.
Climatically they also offer good protection from warm dusty

winds. Thanks to their usual deep sections, as well as to
numerous cantilevers and covering, pedestrian areas are
provided with shady places that are keenly sought after most
of the daytime. Sometimes a passageway or a room is built
over a street, and sometimes a whole residential street is
covered with houses, only leaving some light wells to
provide a link with the sky.
Following are some of the street guidelines and rules based
on Islamic law (Sharia):
(1) Width: The minimum width of seven cubits was
established by the Prophet. One of the reasons for these
narrow streets was that they were designed based on the
width of two loaded camels. (Fig. 9)
(2) Height: There was no specific saying of the
Prophet that regulated the height, but the Fuqaha seem to
agree that a person riding a camel should be able to pass
through without obstruction. (Fig. 9)
(3) protrusion into a street: if the protrusion harms
people, then it should be demolished, regardless of its
size; if no harm is done and the street is wide enough then
can be retained; if the street is less than seven cubits,
the protrusion should be demolished. (Fig. 10)
(4) disallowed elements and actions: there are certain
things that are disallowed in streets by the Islamic law

such as, planting trees in public right-of-way; narrow
right-of-way by storage of wood, food, and various loads;
tying animals of burden on the street for a length of time
and creating a nuisance to passers-by; slaying an animal in
front of a butcher's shop and polluting the street with
blood; disposing of items on the street; in narrow streets
not allowing downspouts and water outlets from walls to
empty directly in streets.19
As we can see, the aforementioned guidelines rules are based
on social behavioral rather than on physical regulations.
Like wise, they are conceptual in nature rather than
prescriptive. What I mean by conceptual is that it does not
tend to tell the inhabitants what to do and how to do it in
terms of prescribed rules such as, building line, setbacks,
density and minimum floor area ect. The conceptual
guidelines, however, inform the member of the community of
what not to do, leaving its implementation to the community
itself. In other words, In the traditional Islamic
community every thing, pertaining to building activities,
was allowed as long as no harm be generated from that
particular act. This attitude resulted in numerous
solutions and design traits compatible with the exact needs
and aspiration of inhabitants.

I'hnMi^n Mrix!*
Minimum \ndtn ramie* hcween
* metcf' v^hiiN
Minimum height
' ukicr*
hclirc an\
t Mrikture
Maximum r.. r:/ mji A \ertkjl
dimcnM:> w j :u;i\ i*aded mjturc
Arabian i a!:;., i jinciL' I )r'mcJariii'
Fig. 9: Traditional Street's Width and Height

Related street elements
within Fma'
height for
passage is
The Sabaf
concept is
related to
the idea of
utlining the
air space of
the Fma' on
both sides
of street
Two wails
Concept of Fina'
extends vertically
Fig. 10: Traditional Street's Coverage

Following are some of the urban and design possibilities
pertaining to streets treatments that were practiced
throughout the Islamic cities:
1- The building of Dirbas: every resident was entitled
to the use of the cul-de-sac from it entrance to his
doorway; in some cases, the person who lived at the end of
the cul-de-sac was allowed to move his door forward if it
did not obstruct other doors, and, in effect, created a
Driba to his house. (Fig. 11)

t JcNjw'*
pn\.iic 11 s^h! -r -a j\
Minimum jrerjee rnjin ranee'
heiweeii I '4-J nn nieier- a.i.r'ii'
House on corner ean open joor
hul |o he U'eJ lor'
Knrhiv oi iim1 irom Joor
loarJ' iiiouih el
Drihj .an r>e
.reaieJ hr nr ner
oi iho Joor
I he riehl' o| U'asre ae.orJme
o the l I eehool ill lari
Fig. 11: The right of Building a Dirba
at the enf of a cul-de-sac

2- Street coverage: Projections and (Sabats) over
streets, which was two houses bridged across a street are
dominant features of Arab-Muslim cities. Their use has been
in practice since early Islam and Muslim jurists saw no
objection to such a practice as long as no harm was caused
and the circulation was not hindered. "Many thoroughfares
of the traditional Muslim city were partially or fully
covered. Such disposition was a purely functional one,
being a product of the crowding of housing within the walls
of the city, or typically only of Islam, as shelter from the
elements. Lacking sufficient building space, the dwellings
sometimes had their upper stories project (orioles, attics,
and garrets for food storage) over the passage-ways by means
of corbels supported on braces or brackets. At other times,
the encroachment was much more pronounced and the upper
stories over-extended to constitute roofs for sections of
the thoroughfare."20 (fig. 12)

Fig. 12: A Sabat at the city of Damascus

In relation to chambers built over the street, there is the
case of a person who owned two houses, "one on each side of
the street." He wanted to build a chamber by bridging his
two houses. He was allowed to do so unless he should
introduce something that would narrow the street and,
thereby, "cause harm" in some way, in which case he would be
stopped. In another case, the owners of a house in Medina
had a built-in bench (dakkah) on the other side of the
street upon which they wanted to build supports for a
chamber. Their neighbors' objected, but the judge allowed
the structure, as long as "no harm would be caused to the
public and that circulation would not be hindered"21
3- The closing of a through street: The closing of a
through street and converting it to a cul-de-sac was a
common practice in the tradition Islamic city. In most
cases the other end of a cul-de-sac with a gate. Like wise,
it might be partially of fully covered. The converting of a
trough street (public) to a cul-de-sac (semi-private) limits
the use of the street to members of the community that lives
around it, which in turn increase the interaction and
interdependence amongst the inhabitant.
4- The Fina: Fina, which was the space adjacent to the
exterior wall of the house; a building could be extended
into a street if the action did not cause harm. A person

could rebuild part of his house to widen his fina; if a part
of the house or fina protruded into the street, the action
was allowed if it did not create harm. In one case, the
structures of a house crept onto a fina that was spacious
and unoccupied and the street was untouched. The owner was
not required to have the building demolished since the
passage-way was large and entirely open and all of its width
was not needed; therefore, the building did not cause any
damage. This was an example of the flexibility of Islamic
law. In another interesting case, a man's house encroached
upon the street and was allowed because the street was wide
enough. When the road was very wide and the encroachment
very small, in comparison to the width of the street, so
that the encroachment caused no real damage, according to
traditional law the house or fina need not be demolished.22
2- building form:
The traditional Islamic city is characterized by its
compactness and low-rise buildings. Necessarily, it was of
pedestrian scale, and constitutes an urban environment
characterized by low demand of and dependence on automobile
that helped in strengthen the social interaction of the
members of a community.

3- land use:
In contrast with its modern counterpart, the traditional
Islamic city stresses the idea of close interrelation
between the various aspects of urban life. The public space
of traditional Islamic cities relies on the close
interrelation between residential, religious, educational,
commercial, industrial, and recreational spaces, so as to
express the full range of human activities. This
interaction is materialized in the main spines of the
central bazaar. The bazaar acting as the artery not only of
the economic life, but also the public, social life of the
city, extends throughout the city filling the urban
environment with life and vitality. It is widely recognized
that the bazaar of commercial activity presents an ideal
model for the planning and design of retail markets. It
provides for the convenient proximity of inhabitants to
social and commercial activities simultaneous with an
avoidance of conflict between residential and commercial
How lands were allocated and what trades were allowed in a
marketplace evolved, based primarily on the notion of
avoiding causing harm or damage to anyone. One use that
frequently was evaluated for harm was smoke emanating from
buildings or activities on the land, or an increased

quantity of smoke. There is the case of a person who wished
to build on his vacant lot either a public bath house,
furnace, or flour mill with a baking pit. When protested to
the Qadi, he prevented the person in question from doing so
under the pretext that the act would generate harm to the
surrounding community. The answer of the Qadi would have
been the same if the individual were a blacksmith and built
a bellows or built an oven to melt gold and silver.23
Another activity that sometimes created harm was offensive
odors. A person might use his house as a tannery, or
construct a toilet or uncovered sewer. Preventing
impurities and repulsive odors began with the tradition of
the Prophet, "He who eats from this tree should not come to
our mosque; [he] annoys us with the garlic's smell"
Acoustically offensive sounds and vibrations, whether direct
or indirect, were generally disallowed or removed if
neighbors complained. These included beating garments and
grinding wheat, the noise of horses in a stable24 even the
opening of a window or door towards a neighbor if that
allowed sound penetration. Vibrations that might cause
damage to buildings or create discomfort to inhabitants were
considered dangerous. In determining whether a noise was
causing harm, Muslim jurists considered the needs of the

inhabitants as well as what might be considered harmful
noise. The jurists declared zones within the city for
specific types of industries and gave priority to the use
that "originated first, whether residential or industrial.
Once this use was established, other types might move in,
provided they would not cause harm or damage existing users.
However, the jurists always tended to support the right of
residents more than those of industry. They would not allow
an industry to expand, nor would they allow news ones to
move in if neighbors objected, since this would mean an
increase in the amount of harm or damage caused to the
residents of the area"25
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet:
"Serve Allah, and join not any partner with him; and do
good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need,
neighbors who are of kin, neighbors who are strangers, the
companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what
your right hands possess: for Allah loveth not the arrogant,
the vainglorious;
(The Quran 4:36)

"The angel Gabriel kept stressing the rights of neighbors
till I thought he would let them inherit."
"Do You know what the rights of neighbors are?" Asked the
Prophet. "Help him if he asks for your help. Give him
relief if he seeks your relief. Lend him if he needs a
loan. Show him concern if he is stressed. Nurse him if he
is ill. Attend his funeral if he dies. Congratulate him if
he meets and good. Sympathize with him if a calamity befall
him. Do not block his air by raising your building high
without his permission. Harass him not. Give him a share
when you buy a fruit, and if you do not give him, bring what
you buy quietly and let not your children take them out to
excite the jealousy of his children."
"To God, the best neighbors are those who are good to each
(Hadi th)
"God will not provide security to the person who sleeps with
full stomach while his neighbor is hungry."
"He who believes in god and the day of judgment should not
hurt his neighbor, and he who believes in god and the day of
judgment should be hospitable to his guests, and He who
believes in god and the day of judgment should speak
goodness or else not say anything."
"He who intentionally looks into a house without the
occupants' permission, and they punctuate his eye, will have
no right to demand a fine or ask for punishment."
"To those who have accepted Islam orally but are not yet
believers at heart: do not hurt Muslims, and do not pursue
their faults, because he who pursue the faults if his
brother, then his fault will be pursued by God, and if God
wants to expose somebody's fault, he will do so even if the
person is in his house."

Muslims are not only required to have goodwill to their
neighbors, Muslims or non-Muslims, but must also offer
practical care and help when they are sick or in need. One
also need to give emotional support by sharing in ones
neighbors joys and sorrows. Naturally, neighbors also need
to refrain from causing any harm or injury, any verbal or
physical harassment or emotional stress to each other. "No
body can be a true believer unless his neighbors fell secure
from his hands and tongue," warned the prophet.
Design Principle:
Protection of Privacy:
Although an intrusion of privacy is considered a harmful act
and therefore, should be included under the concept of harm
discussed earlier, I singled it out because of its singular
importance within Islam and Muslim community. Islam
strongly emphasized the virtues and importance of privacy,
the right to it, and the respect of it. Moreover, privacy
as it pertain to the Islamic conception of neighbors and
neighborhoods was a major influence on the formation of the
traditional Islamic city. Privacy, according to Islamic
religion, is not only the claim of individuals in a single
dwelling unit, it is also the claim of cluster of dwelling

units against other clusters, the claim of the different
clusters against the neighborhood, and the demand of the
neighborhood toward the enter community. In the traditional
Islamic city, each one of these groups called for certain
degree of privacy, and each one of them devised solutions to
satisfy this call.
Urban Form:
The single-most important element to ensure harmlessness was
the protection of privacy, which is strongly emphasized in
the traditional Islamic culture and has been a major
influence on urban architectural forms. In building a
traditional home or city, the Muslim carefully considered
all building heights, window openings, and placement of
doors to ensure maximum level of privacy. Although there
was no restriction on height per se, if the height of a
building caused one to be able to look into his neighbor's
home, and thereby intrude into that other person's life, the
act was considered to be an invasion of privacy and source
of damage. There were many cases where a damaged person
building his own wall to ensure privacy, or seeking the help
of the Court to resolve a dispute. Privacy was always
enforced, although the application was flexible, determined
by whether harm was actually caused; the greatest concern

was to protect the lifestyle and property of all individuals
Within the Islamic city, there were many levels were privacy
was sought including:
1- The Dwelling Unit:
The strong desire for privacy by Muslims motivated and
influenced housing designs. The most common type of
traditional Muslim residence was the courtyard house.
Because of the privacy it affords, the courtyard house
forced the concentration of domestic life in the courtyard
and around it. (Fig. 13) Islamic law's right of privacy not
only determined the format of the house, but also the
placement of windows and doors.

Future 26 Four types of houses from Tunis
MeJtnj. us classified by Renault after Revault,
Modest house
Dar Ternane
Large residence:
Dar El-Hedri
Middle class house:
Dar Baima
Dar EIMrabet
Fig.13: Four Courtyard Houses from Tunis

In one case, to illustrate visual privacy, a person wanted
to open a window within his own wall; however, he would have
been able to look upon his neighbor's house and therefore
inflict damage upon him. The judge said, "One has no right
to create something that will inflict harm or damage to his
neighbor, even when what is done is within his own property"
26 Traditional Islamic law, however, was flexible,
depending on whether an act would create harm. In another
case, an owner asked permission to open higher windows that
would not cause the neighbor harm and would benefit the
homeowner by providing sunlight and fresh air, and the judge
Another example illustrates the invasion of privacy of
rooftops. Rooftops served a basic function in most Arab-
Muslim cities where the climate is hot and arid. During the
summer, roofs were often used for sleeping during the night,
especially in urban areas where large open yards rarely
exist. In one case, the muezzin ascended the minaret to
call a prayer, and the caliph came under his view. "The
caliph then ordered the minaret to be demolished and leveled
with the roof of the mosque". This example portrays that
even overlooking from the minaret or roof of a mosque was an
intrusion of privacy.

The traditional Islamic city, also, reflected the concern
for privacy through limiting its building heights and
avoiding, or architecturally treating, windows facing the
street, as well as the placement of doors within the street.
In one case, a person wanted to raise his edifice higher
than that of his neighbor, but he would have been able to
look into the neighbor's house. The jurist said he would be
inflicting damage and should not be allowed.29 Likewise, If
a window or door is created that would overlook an existing
neighbor's courtyard, then it is ordered to be permanently
shut. Such situation usually occur when a room is added on
roof level. However, if an opening, such as a high level
window, is created which is clearly located so that it
cannot be used for overlooking, then it can be allowed
provided that no harm from it can be established. The height
of the window was determined by the height of a person
standing on the height object on a room where the widow is
to be placed. Caliph Omar ibn al-Kahtab order the Muhatasib
to place a bed underneath the window, which was the highest
object on that room. Caliph Omar told the Muhtasib to let a
man stand on the bed, and if "a man standing on it does not
see through it then the window is allowed to remain,
otherwise it should be shut." (Fig. 14)

Determining the height ol j uindovt
j> determined ir*m the interior
A' determined I rum the exterior
\\ hen lev ei' ol 'ireel
jnd interior jpprox >jmc
Opening J door on a
'tree! or "throuiihwjv
When ie"
than .ahii'
Iropo'eJ j.t
mU'! Pc 'C!
''jx. N
hxi'tim: J.or
Fig. 14: The Placement of Windows

In regard to the placement of doors within a street, Islamic
law has also its say. When a door is planned to be located
opposite another door across a street, It is allowed if the
street is more than seven cubist or wider. The reason is
that traffic and the width of the street will help prevent
invasion of privacy. If the street however, is less than
seven cubists then the door should be set aside from the
opposite door. The reason is that harm would be generated
due to direct overlooking the entry room of the house in
consideration. The same ruling was also applied to opening
a shop opposite an old existing door.30 (fig. 15)

No overlooking
into Skua possible
V/// Skifa
into Skifa
Case 3. page 38

Case 4, page 38

Proposed door not
allowed if opposite
existing door
if it reduces length
of adiacent
neighbour's 'Fina
F:na or Marfaq
Case 2 iu page 39
Fig. 15: The Placement of Doors

2. The cul-de-sac:
The influence of the Islamic principle of neighbors' rights
and privacy was also actualized on housing styles; for
example, arranging houses in a cul-de-sac to provide privacy
and intimate social interaction as well as interdependence
with other residents.
A common characteristic in the network of passage-ways of
the traditional Muslim city was the widespread use of cul-
de-sacs or dead-ends (al-darb). "The typical function of
any thoroughfare [was] to lead continuously from one area to
another by way of an entry and exit; however, the darb [did]
not have an outlet or public function." Because there were
many of this type of cul-de-sacs, the Muslims were able to
give a private quality to large portions of urban public
space"31 In most cases this darb was provided with gate.
In all Arab-Muslim cities, the gate system has always been
explained as a security measure to be used when the cities
suffered either internal troubles or external invasion.
However, the existence of a large number of them within each
neighborhood in the city clearly reveals that these lanes
and cul-de-sacs were looked upon as semi-private,
collectively-owned spaces"32

3- Street system:
Streets can be classified hierarchically, based on different
levels of privacy, as major arteries linking the center to
city gates, neighborhood streets, and cul-de-sacs. The
physical form of the traditional city exhibits, also, a
progression of urban spaces extending hierarchy from the
public domain down to the smallest unit of the city, the
residential courtyard and its exclusively private domain.
The central mosque provides the scene for activities
involving the total population of the city. At the next
level the city is divided by the principal bazaar streets
extending from the mosque square. These streets are the
busiest and the widest in the city. They are therefore
quite distinct from the major residential streets providing
access to the residential quarters. These streets express
their semi-private nature by narrowness and the lesser
amount of activities in them. The narrowest streets are the
cul-de-sacs which lead to small groups of houses. These
form the zone of transition from the public to the private
realm of the individual residence. There were also clear
division between public and private realms, which reflects
the Islamic concern for privacy in the residential quarters.
However, due to "the peculiar concept of space, this never
resulted in a rupture of urban fabric, for the compartment
of secluded private space were embodied in a comprehensive

architectural system, which was composed of complex cellular
structures, smaller elements being contained by larger
units, the whole being held together by a sophisticated
system of interior passages, which were easy to lock in
order to subdivide or to separate attached spatial
Related Quranic verse and saying of the Prophet:
"No person with an atom of arrogance in his heart will enter
Paradise." A man said, "one like to wear good clothes and
shoes." The Prophet responded, "God is beautiful and he
likes beauty."
"Good does not look at your appearance or wealth but looks
at your hearts and deeds."
One of the basic elements in the value system of Islam is
the concept of equality. Islam maintains that in the sight
of God, all human beings are equal. The differences of
race, color, wealth or social rank, are all accidental.
They do not affect the status of any human in the eye of God

- Beauty without arrogance:
Due to the Muslim's strong sense notion of equality, and the
notion of the subordination of Zahir (exterior) to Batin
(interior) he was cautious and prudent about how he publicly
expressed himself, which was also reflected in the
traditional housing styles which masked one's true social
and economic status so as not to embarrass one's neighbors.
Even one who lived in a palace with sumptuous surroundings
was discreet.
- Mixed income community:
Islamic law does not allow communities to develop deferent
residential quarters based on different levels of income.
Islamic, however, supports strong communities which tend to
represents complete social units rather than isolated strata
of the society.
Urban FORM:
1- The dwelling unit:
Courtyard houses appeared in the earliest cities of the
Middle East and were a favorite in the traditional Islamic

city. With its organizational pattern, the courtyard house
was a cluster of structures built around an open space to
create that essential characteristic of privacy. "The
courtyard house allowed inhabitants to focus on their inner
aspect and inner goodness of self (Batin), which is an
essential Islamic value, and to subordinate focusing on the
external self (Zahir)"34 such as reflected in the attitude
and behavior of arrogance. In harmony with this spiritual
pursuit, the external walls of the courtyard were simple and
relatively bare, with few openings. As the central space in
the home environment for social exchange and participation
of all inhabitants, the courtyard was decoratedwhen the
owner could afford it, to a high level of artistic
[Even] splendors residences, devoted to the
exclusive intimacy of their dwellers, were hidden
behind impervious and unattractive walls. The
interiors were never allowed to be seen by the
public, not only to preserve privacy, but also
because such action would represent a challenge to
the fundamental equality of Muslims. In Islam, an
individual would not normally think of
constructing a conspicuous, grand facade towards
the thoroughfare or open urban space for the
purpose of manifesting his present economic
affluence or prestigious social status. Such
modesty is a sign of respect for his fellow
Muslims, his equals. The elaborate facade of a
house would be erected in its interior, facing the
omnipresent courtyard, not only so that it could
be admired in strict privacy by the dwellers, but
also by reason of respect for the city resident
who could not afford such architectural feature.35

2- The neighborhood:
From the plans of traditional quarter it was possible for
rich and poor families to cohabit house by house without
discrimination. In fact this interdependence relied on
mutual economic and social reliance and was often reinforced
by common tribal bonds and religious values, as well as by
the collective use of shared facilities, such as the mosque,
the hammam, the bakery, the fountain and the souk. The
ideal was clearly the "autonomous social units", which means
that integration was achieved by decentralized urban
structures, as opposed to the modern city, where the need
for centralization result in social disintegration, as we
will see in chapter two.
As we saw from the previous discussion that the traditional
Islamic city developed over several centuries, always in
harmony with Islamic religious and social values and
principles as well as climate and lifestyle. The
traditional Islamic city was designed to reinforced social
relations among the inhabitants as well as with the
community. Each residential quarter functioned as a self-
contained neighborhood, providing its own service shops,
public bath, and prayer space (Zawiya); the mosque served as

a center of social activity for the entire town, with the
minaret as a landmark. The residential quarters' narrow,
twisting, dead-end streets slowed down traffic, assuring a
calm environment and providing greater security for the
community. The traditional Islamic city was also deigned to
compensate for a hot climate, as we saw by the use of
interior courtyards with running water and arcades. The
unique design of small houses attached to one another
decreased the surface exposure to weather and reduced the
amount of wasted land.
The development of the contemporary Islamic city, however,
based on imported building laws and guidelines as well as
alien planning technique, was void of any cultural, social,
and environmental context. In the coming chapter, I will
try to point the dichotomy between Islam's social
conventions versus contemporary conventions and the
subsequent building laws that have come with social change.
1 Aydin Germen, Islamic Architecture and Urbanism (Dammam,
Saudi Arabia: King Faisal University Press, 1983), 47-48.
2 Ismail Al-Faruqi and Lois Al-Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas
of Islam (New York: Maxmillan Publishin Co., 1986), 112.
3 AbdulWahid Hamid, Islam the Natural Way (London: MELS,
1989), 35.
4 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 83-84.

Saleh Al-Hathloul, The Arabic-Islamic City (in Arabic) .
(Riyadh: Nehal press, 1994), 115.
6 Besim Selim Hakim, Arabic-Islamic Cities (London: KPI
Limited, 1986), 19-22.
I Nezar Alsayyas, Citis and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab
Muslim Urbanism (New York: Greenwood press, 1991), 15.
0 Philip k. Hitti, Capital Cities of Arab Islam
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973), 33-60.
9 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 20.
10 Nezar Alsayyas, Citis and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab
Muslim Urbanism (New York: Greenwood press, 1991), 46-53.
II Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 37-41.
12 Philip k. Hitti, Capital Cities of Arab Islam
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973), 85-108.
13 G. Von Grunebaum, The Strucutres of the Muslim Town
(London 1955 pp. 141-158 P.&K. Paul ltd), 21.
14 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 24.
15 Ibid., 23
16 Aydin Germen, Islamic Architecture and Urbanism (Dammam,
Saudi Arabia: King Faisal University Press, 1983), 45.
17 Ibid.
16 (b2, pl37) .
19 Besim Selim Hakim, Arabic-Islamic Cities. (London: KPI
Limited, 1986), 24-26.
20 Aydin Germen, Islamic Architecture and Urbanism (Dammam,
Saudi Arabia: King Faisal University Press, 1983), 50-51.
21 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 103.
22 Ibid., 85
23 Ibid., 74-81

Besim Selim Hakim, Arabic-Islamic Cities. (London: KPI
Limited, 1986), 31-33.
25 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 74-81
26 Ibid., 108
27 Ibid., 139-140
28 Besim Selim Hakim, Arabic-Islamic Cities. (London: KPI
Limited, 1986), 37.
29 Ibid., 105
30 Ibid., 36-38
31 Aydin Germen, Islamic Architecture and Urbanism (Dammam,
Saudi Arabia: King Faisal University Press, 1983), 50-51
32 Saleh Al-Hathloul, "Tradition, Continuity and Change: The
Arab-Muslim City" (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institue of
Technology, 1975), 92-93.
33 Ismail Serageldin, and Samir El-Sadek eds. The Arab City:
Its Character and Islmic Cultural Heritage (N.p., 1982), 40.
34 Aydin Germen, Islamic Architecture and Urbanism (Dammam,
Saudi Arabia: King Faisal University Press, 1983), 52.
35 Ismail Serageldin, and Samir El-Sadek eds. The Arab City:
Its Character and Islmic Cultural Heritage (N.p., 1982),

The zoning regulations and building codes now being applied
in modern cities throughout the Islamic world seem to
conflict not only with the socio-cultural values of their
society but also with the physical and climatic conditions
of their environments. In this chapter I will follow the
development of these building guidelines and regulations,
treating three issues, land use allocations, setback
requirements and minimum lot size. I will, moreover, show
how these requirements are not conducive to the three
Islamic principles of behavior discussed on chapter one i.e.
the Islamic concept of community, the Islamic concept of
privacy, and the Islamic concept of equality. Handling this
issue, I will look at the social and physical implications
of imposing modern building laws and regulations on the city
of Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a
case study of cultural conflicts in urban patterns occurring
in the Arab-Islamic built environment.

Riyadi city, the capital of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is
located on a plateau which rises 600 meters above sea level.
The city assumed little prominence until Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud
became its independent governor in 1902 and began his
military campaign for the consolidation of modern Saudi
Arabia. Since that time, Riyadh has become the permanent
residence of the king and the capital of the country
Riyadh maintained its size inside its fortification walls
(fig. 1) until the end of the campaign in 1938 and the
consolidation of the kingdom. At that time, the king Abd
Al-Aziz Al-Saud himself took the first step in influencing
the city's physical development. Here we will follow three
prominent stages in the process of Riyadh's physical
development: the planning and construction of three
different complexes, two of which are royal residences and
administrative centers, known as Al-Muraba and Al-Nasriyah.
The third is a housing complex, known as Al-Malaz. These
three housing complexes has a great impact on Riyadh's
character and physical development. They /likewise, set the
stage for a fourth phase in Riyadh's physical development,
Doxiadis master plan for the city.

Fig. 1: Plan of Riyadh, 1919

1- Al-Muraba:
In 1938, King Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud moved outside the old city
of Riyadh. Two kilometers north of the center of town, he
built Al-Muraba, a large complex of palaces and
administrative buildings for himself and his entourage (fig.
2). The complex covered an area of 16 hectares (a square of
400 x 400 m.). As an urban design scheme, Al-Muraba
preserved the general characteristic of the massing of
volumes found in Riyadh's traditional urban pattern.
The departure of Al-Muraba from the traditional urban
pattern lies mainly in the larger size of its components and
the huge scale of the building program. This building
program affected Riyadh in two ways. First, it stretched
the size of the town and set up the direction of its
physical growth; it showed that the walls could no longer be
a barrier for growth and that north was the preferred
direction for development. Second, it introduced a new
means of transportation, the motor vehicle, which
subsequently became the only significant transportation
system used in Riyadh. This had a major impact on the old
town which had to accommodate the demolition and widening of
streets in the 1950s; and, of course, all new developments
now had to provide for the automobile.

Al-Muraba shows that traditional processes and building
techniques can be continued, while at the same time
providing for new means of transportation, utilities, and
services. Throughout the new building program, the
traditional architecture of Najd was adhered to, and the
expanding town continued to preserve the character of the

Fig. 2: Al-Muraba
Upper: View of the Royal Palce
Lowe: Site Plan

1- Al-Nasriyah:
In 1953, the new king, Saud, the oldest son of king Abdel-
Aziz Al-Saud decided to transfer all government agencies
from Mecca to Riyadh and began a building program along the
road to the airport to house them. He also decided to
expand and rebuild Nasriyah, a country estate 3 km. west of
town, as his royal residence, which was planned according to
a grid pattern with modern, more grandiose palaces,
boulevards, and gardens (fig. 4). Nasriyah was probably the
first step in the process of building what later came to be
known as new Riyadh. From that time on, the conflict of the
old versus the new began to be consciously felt by the
city's residents. In contrast to the traditional pattern,
Nasriyah was orthogonally planned. It was built out of
cement and reinforced concrete as opposed to the traditional
materials of clay, sundried mud bricks and wooden roofs; and
it was spacious with wide boulevards as opposed to the
compact, traditional environment with its narrow and winding
streets. In terms of its impact on Riyadh, Nasriyah was a
clear demonstration of an alternative way of planning and
building. Still, by virtue of offering a new possibility,
it had a clear effect on al-Malaz and other subsequent
developments on the airport road. The immediate and direct
impact which Nasriyah had upon Riyadh was stretching the
city westward for four more miles, thereby, necessitating

another elaborate road program. To link it with the Al-
Muraba palace and the town, a two-way, three-kilometer
boulevard divided by a central line of flower beds was

of Al-Nasriyah

3- Al-Malaz:
When the government moved its agencies from Mecca to Riyadh
and built ministries along the airport road, the site of Al-
Malaz, 4.5 km. northeast of the city center, was chosen to
provide housing for transferred government employees (fig.
5) This project consisted of 754 detached dwelling units
(villas) and 180 apartment units in three apartment
The physical pattern of al-Malaz follows a gridiron plan
with a hierarchy of streets, rectangular blocks, and large
lots, usually sguare. Thoroughfares are 30 m. in width,
main streets 20 m., and secondary or access streets 10 and
15 m. A 60 m. boulevard divides the project into two parts.
Most blocks are 100 x 50 m. The typical lot size is 25 x 25
m., but within some blocks there are a variety of widths,
such as 25 m., 37.5 m., and 50 m. The depth of 25 m.,
however, remains constant in almost all the blocks. New
values in the conception of space have been introduced: a
very low density, one-fifth that of the traditional; a large
area assigned to streets, three times that of the
traditional; and only half of the area reserved for private
lots, as compared to more than seventy-five percent in the

Al-Malaz introduced new patterns and new types. The grid as
a street pattern and the villa as the new house type both
became models for the new physical development that took
place in the 1960s and 1970s in every city and town in Saudi
Arabia.38 Al-Hatloul points out that Al-Malaz rather than
Al-Muraba or Al-Nasriyah was the model for future
development because, First, the project was sponsored by the
government for its employees; it, therefore, was an
authoritative statement by the government on how a modern
neighborhood should be planned. Second, Al-Malaz was seen
as a symbol of modernity in sharp contrast to tradition.
Government employees were highly regarded by other segments
of society, and their lifestyle was greatly coveted.39

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In 1968, the task of planning the capital of Saudi Arabia,
Riyadh, was assigned to Doxiadis Associates. The contract
provided for the formulation of a master plan and program
that would guide the development of the city. Here I will
introduce a brief description of the plan and its provisions
for land use, circulation, and overall structure with
special reference to the residential districts of the city
or Riyadh, the focus of the study
With respect to land use, the physical plan fro the
development of Riyadh is composed of a major commercial and
civic spine which extends to the northwest and the southwest
of the existing business district; an administrative area
which is situated perpendicular to the civic and commercial
spine; and residential districts which extends from both
side of the spine. A strip of industrial and special-use
areas runs parallel to the spine forming a man-made boundary
on the northwest. On the southwest, the steep cliff
formations of Hanifah valley form a natural boundary for the
city. Theses boundaries direct the development of the
residential areas into a line parallel with the city spine
(Fig. 6).

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Fig.6: Doxiadis Master Plan
Land Use

In terms of circulation, the plan of Riyadh shows that the
private automobile will continue to be the only mode of
transportation. The circulation pattern is planned to have
the following hierarchy: four major freeways, connecting
the city with the country freeway system, and serving high-
speed long distance and through-trip traffic on a
national, regional and urban scale; expressways, intended to
serve large volumes of high-speed, long distance urban trips
with partial control of access; arterial roads, designed to
accommodate a large volume of medium and long distance urban
trips, and whose role is to facilitate through movement and
direct service to the adjacent communities; collector roads
which are streets intended for short urban trips and direct
connection of communities with the city's main network; and
local roads, intended exclusively for access to abutting
properties and for very short trips (fig.7).
concerning structure, the plan is composed of a supergrid
which runs in a north-south and east-west direction. In
this grid, the city is cut into six large divisions, each
composed of eight to twelve localities of 2 x 2 km. 40

Fig.7: Doxiadis Master Plan
Hierarchy of Main Road Network

Residential Districts of the City:
Here I will discuss three major characteristics of
residential districts proposed by Doxiadis master plan which
was a major cause on the subsequent dichotomy between
Riyadh's physical development and the socio-cultural
background of its inhabitance.
1- Density:
Doxiadis plan stated that:
The actual land area that the city will eventually
occupy in the year 2000, depends upon the gross density
at which it will be planned. This must be relevant to
time and place, i.e. traditional urban patterns, social
customs and climate, that determined the planning
standards for the future city. In order to promote the
goal of compact planning for the city neighborhood, an
overall density of the order of 60 persons per hectare
would be desirable for the future city. Such an
overall density would lead to net residential densities
of about 200 persons per hectare.41
Although a net residential density of about 200 p/h would
approximately be two-thirds of the net residential density
of Riyadh's traditional neighborhoods, Al-Hathloul points
out that three elements introduced by the plan's regulations
made it impossible to reach the desired density.42 Indeed,
the plan established certain standards that ensured that net
residential density could never exceed 142 p/h, namely the
minimum lot size; the bulk and height regulations (fig. 8);
and the standard minimum street widths (fig. 9) and The most

common residential district in the plan is R12 (residential
scheme no. 12); this district has a minimum lot size of 400
sq. M. as well as mandatory setback and floor area ratio as
Min. Min. Min. Setbacks
Area Coverage width Depth F. S. R.
R12 400 35% 16 24 4 2 10
Bulk and height regulations for R12
R12 is classified as a single family district. Following a
simple exercise if taking one hectar of land and subdivided
it according to minimum lot size standards and to minimum
street standards of 10 m. And 20 m. Widths, for street
within residential areas, one would have 16 dwelling units
per hectare for R12. Assuming an average household size of
5.4. the maximum net residential density for R12 is 142

Fig.8: Doxiadis Master Plan
bulk and height regulations

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standard minimum street widths

2- Scale and character:
With respect to this issue, the plan states that:
Regarding scale and character of the city, the task was to
not only develop a well-structured plan that would function
well, but to express the characteristics of Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia. Certain conditions to be respected were imposed by
the existing city and its traditional elements, by the
climate and by its character. The difficult task was not to
create an entirely new city, but a city that would be a
continuation and extension of the existing one. The task
was to respect the old city and build a new environment in
harmony with it.
Although these values were stated clearly in the master
plan, Al-Hathloul points out that these values were never
preserved in the planning and design of the future city.
The proposed measures introduced by the plan seem to have
been designed to ensure a totally different pattern of
development from the traditional one. By mandating a large
minimum lot size and setback requirements in all of Riyadh's
new developments, the Doxiadis plan actually ensures a
departure from the past, departure of the new Riyadh from
its traditional past, both in scale and in character. In
fact, the master plan confirmed the supergrid as a plan for
the city. By continuing and preserving the trends of large
lot sizes that were introduced in Al-Malaz and the setback

requirements that were developed from there, the plan also
institutionalizes the villa as the most desirable dwelling
type in contrast with the traditional courtyard houses. In
other words, the Doxiadis master plan institutionalized a
new physical environment for the city of Riyadh, an
environment that had no relation to the traditional one,
neither in density, scale, or pattern.43
3- lot sizes:
The Doxiadis plan preserved the concept of minimum lot
size. However, instead of proposing one standard size for
the whole city, it proposed different standards for
different areas (fig. 10). The minimum lot size standards
divided Riyadh into two parts. North of the old city, the
minimum sizes start with 400 sq. m. and up, while in the old
city and in the southern part, the minimum sizes range
between 150 sq. m. to 250 sq. m. Traditionally, the area
north of Riyadh has always been preferred by high and middle
income groups, as can be seen in the developments of Al-
Muraba and Al-Futah, Al-Nasriyah, and Al-Malaz.
Neighborhoods were never based on income, but on place of
origin, ethnic background, or religious belief, so that
people in these neighborhoods, some with vast incomes and
therefore large and sometimes palatial homes and others with

very limited income and therefore small, modest houses,
lived side by side. The impact of this arrangement was two-
sided. First, it introduced a new value system into Saudi
Arabian society; that is, segregation according to income.
Second, it divided Riyadh into north and south, and rich and
poor, respectively.44
In general Doxiadis master plan for the city of Riyadh was a
package of building laws and zoning regulation imported and
imposed on a community irrespective of its physical
character and socio-cultural values which, subsequently,
caused a cultural conflict and a chasm between the people
and their physical environment.

200 sq. m.
250 sq it.
£££] ^-00 sq. m.
600 so. m.
JL5OO sq 1
Fig.10: Doxiadis Master Plan
Average Residential Plot Sizes

I. The Islamic concept of community:
According to Islamic religion social interaction and
interdependence among the member of the community is a
responsibility and not merely a social luxury. As we can
see from the previous description that Doxiadis master plan
for the city of Riyadh is mot conducive to this Islamic
principle of community in the plan's both land use
allocation and circulation pattern.
1-Land use allocation:
According to their mechanistic approach, Doxiadis master
plan stress the division of urban space along isolated
functional criteria. Special areas for housing, commercial,
recreation, industrial activities and governmental use are
assigned out by corresponding zoning schemes. Residential
are subdivided according to income levels, thus
implementing social segregation. This split not only means
the loss of the social context by isolating human
activities, it also means that a high traffic volume is
induced in order to reestablish the lost communication. As
a result, overdiminsioned roads, highways and transport

system are needed to artificially reconnect what has been
broken up by the zoning schemes.
Problems encountered in the development of modern urban
spaces which are usually isolated from residential areas and
therefore suffer from an unbalanced distribution of
activities are not present at the traditional bazaars. The
harmonious relationship between divers urban activities is
missing from contemporary cities. The pattern of mixed Land-
use in a traditional Muslim city expresses the integration
of the economic activities into the fabric of the social and
physical components of the city. The bazaar acting as the
artery not only of the economic life, but also the public,
social life of the city, extends throughout the city filling
the urban environment with life and vitality.
2- Circulation Pattern:
The city of Riyadh according Doxiadis master plan is
designed for cars rather than for people. Vehicular access
and case for vehicular movements have become the predominant
factors in determining the form of the city.
Unlike the traditional pattern of Al-Muraba, Riyadh's oldest
neighborhood, which was based on social activities (both

secular and religious), the newly introduced pattern in
these project has been replaced by an even newer system
based on traffic.
The concept of efficiency mechanism became the decisive
factor rather than people's relation to each other and to
the city in general. Now the relation between the single
family and its car is the main target to be achieved, rather
than the relation to the community.
The relation between different families was not taken in
consideration. This ignores the grate importance in an
Islamic community of social integrity between different
families and quarters. A very individualistic attitude and
a feeling of independence of an individual family from the
surrounding families has become a very strong phenomenon.
The isolation of families in the new in the new environment
left little opportunity for neighbors to get to know each
other. Consequently they would not know if their neighbors
need help or not. In Saudi cities nowadays, there are many
people who live in blocks of apartments or on the same
streets who do not know one another.
Another characteristics of the new environment is that it is
divided into two main types of spaces: Public space, which
includes all outdoor spaces, and extremely private or
secluded space, which means the inside of villas, which are