Traditional building materials: The example of the Eastern Region
Jalal Khalid Al Harun
Over the past few years, there has been a shift in the level of attention paid to traditional building in the Gulf Cooperative Council Countries. What was once an individual interest has developed into organised bodies.
Now, official and semi-official architectural heritage organisations must review proposals for traditional buildings in a systematic and methodical way, and the artistic aspects must be explained to trained engineers and technical staff who are qualified to make good engineering decisions during the renovation and maintenance of heritage buildings. This training will also help the engineers carry out other necessary tasks, such as educating and training individuals and offering consultation services to society.
In Saudi Arabia, architectural heritage organisations are responsible for preserving traditional building styles throughout the vast Kingdom. This is a large responsibility considering the diversity of building methods.
This paper discusses plaster and lime mortar, which are fundamental to traditional architecture in the Eastern Region, as examples of heritage building materials in Saudi Arabia. The study also describes the methods used to dig, manufacture and use these materials in the context of man’s natural surroundings and available raw materials.
The use of plaster and lime mortar for building is similar to the use of clay. I believe that ancient man in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt knew how to mix and build with clay. Archaeological excavations dating back to the third century BC show that the inhabitants of the coast of the eastern Arabian Peninsula used clay to build homes, temples and city walls, and to make simple, everyday objects to store food.
Clay tablets served the role that paper fulfills today. Primitive man made clay tablets and used them to draw and record his ideas and beliefs, as stated in the verses of the Holy Qura’n: Allah says: “And We wrote for him on the tablets of all things - instruction and explanation for all things.” “Take them with determination and order your people to take the best of it. I will show you the home of the defiantly disobedient.”
Ancient archaeological excavations also show that - since the dawn of civilisation - man has invented ways to improve the physical and chemical properties of items made from mud by adding new ingredients, blending and firing. Some historical sources state that in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, plaster was used in building at least five thousand years ago; people have also discovered tombs lined with plaster.