Yemeni Mudbrick Palaces in Danger
Twenty-three mudbrick palaces have been listed on the World Monument Fund's 100 most endangered sites for the year 2000, according to a report published by Yemen Daily Observer. This move will benefit a local architecture documentation team who plans to visit the site in Tarim next Autumn to conduct research.
The team is headed by four researchers: Professor Pamela Jerome of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Maurice Luker, Associate Director of Columbia University's Media Center for Art History, Selma Al-Radi, Director of the Amiriya Restoration Project in Rada, Yemen, and Caterina Borelli, an Independent Filmmaker and a senior producer for Italian RAI-TV 1.
Their research uses the mudbrick structures as the basis for a feasibility study that will lead to the development of a training program centered around the palaces.
Researchers hope to develop a university level program that will train students in historic preservation, art history and architecture, a program that should have appeal to both students in Yemen and abroad. Students from Columbia University and University of Hadhramaut in Mukallah are expected to be among the first to enroll in this exchange program, which will focus on the organic and sustainable form of the mudbrick structure Two of the researchers are most noted for a film made on the subject, “The Architecture of Mud.” This 1997 documentary, made by Caterina Borelli and Pamela Jerome, relies on the interviews of various artisans of the mudbrick form (masons, lime craftsmen, and carpenters) to reveal the building methods in Wadi Hadhramaut and Wadi Do’an, two prominent sites of the mudbrick structure, and the relationship of socio-economic conditions to the architecture of mud.
The documentary was screened at the annual Middle Eastern Studies Association Conference in Washington DC to a sold-out audience in November and then again at the Museum of Modern Art in December. The filmmakers also organized a private screening for 100 students from Sana'a University's architecture department.
There is no question that the intellectual pursuit of the purpose and aesthetic of the mud structure will lead mostly only to a pure appreciation of the art form, and neither historic preservers nor researchers, to their chagrin, believe that mud will likely gain in popularity over concrete, yet they continue in their efforts to promote and legitimize the study and practice of this architectural form, at home and abroad. For this purpose, the Center for Mud Architecture will be established in Yemen for research which will likely delve into the criticism of ‘modern’ techniques such as steel and concrete as inferior materials in an arid Arab environment and contrast imported methods with the authentic original architectural methods of mudbrick building.
Most Yemenite mud homes were constructed between the 1870s to the 1920s by the Al Kaf family, who made their fortune in Southeast Asia. The palaces reveal a strong influence of Southeast Asian and Indian colonial forms and incorporate Mogul, Neo-classical, Baroque, Rococo and early modernist styles. The structures were inhabited by the government of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDYR) and were used for public housing for the poor. In 1990, the properties were returned to their original owners, who have since turned them over to the government for preservation -- Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)