Excerpt:‘Affordable Housing in Sanaa’s Rural Environment’ is an architecture thesis by Ghassan Alhammadi from the Faculty of Engineering – Architecture Department – Sana’a University, that seeks to provide solutions for the housing crisis and displacement in Yemen and design an affordable housing model for the rural environment. The proposal aims to create a sustainable and self-sufficient village on a hillside and protect the agricultural land from concrete urban sprawl. Additionally, the project addresses Yemen’s present issues like food insecurity, poverty, a weak economy, and environmental degradation.
Introduction: Ancient Yemenis used to construct their homes on mountaintops and in valleys to preserve their agricultural lands. These agricultural lands now feature sprawling grey concrete slums due to population growth and the housing crisis. Sadly, the average yearly rate of urban sprawl is 3.7%, which implies that all of Yemen’s agricultural land will vanish over the course of the next thirty years. Yemen today deals with issues like food insecurity, poverty, a weak economy, and environmental degradation as a result.
The proposal aims to offer an architectural solution to the housing crisis and displacement in Yemen that are causing urban development on agricultural land. Providing the advantages of both rural and urban life in one location, a sustainable and self-sufficient village similar to the older times is proposed to be built on a hillside instead of a farmland. Reducing poverty, preventing desertification, and providing affordable housing in the rural environment are the three main objectives of this thesis.
The site chosen for the intervention is a hillside rural area located in Sana’a, the capital and largest city in Yemen. The village is situated between agricultural valleys and mountain peaks. Based on agricultural production and knowledge, the site combines the benefits of rural and urban environments in one location with self-sufficiency.
Due to the housing crisis of the past few decades, slums with concrete houses that are one to two stories tall have been built on these farming lands. The majority of the farmlands have been occupied by urban sprawl, which has been expanding daily as a result of population growth. Yemen currently features life-saving settlements in emergency situations because of the country’s poor economic condition, ongoing urbanisation of agricultural land, displacement, and housing constraints.
Three key phases comprised the design process: (i) Form Derivation, (ii) Topographic Strategies, and (iii) Area Programming.
Form Derivation: In order to adapt to the mountainous terrain and align with the contour lines, a zig-zag form that resembled climbing steps was chosen. In response to population growth, different modules were created by dividing the form into separate units. These modules were oriented flexibly, ensuring daylighting in every unit while creating open spaces.
Topographic Strategies:In order to ensure a safe and viable environment, the site’s topography was studied and divided into three distinct zones. Agricultural land that needed to be preserved was located in Zone A; buildable land was identified in Zone B; and traditional villages on hillsides constituted Zone C. To adapt to the zigzag form, a pedestrian road was added, and hydraulic buffers were installed to encourage rainwater harvesting. In order to encourage a healthy lifestyle, additional zones were added for food production.
Area Programming:To fulfil the vision of developing a self-sufficient village, a variety of sustainable features, such as terrace farming, rainwater collection, and waste segregation, were incorporated together with dwellings that varied in size, community centres, a prayer hall, and marketplaces. In order to ensure seamless circulation, distinct pathways that serve different functions, such as vehicular and pedestrian activity, visitor traffic, and rainwater collection, were defined.
The final outcome is a village that combines the benefits of both an urban and rural lifestyle. The rural aspect of the project is driven by factors like fresh food, healthy living, and self-sufficiency, whereas the urban part is guided by factors like services, education, and accessibility. In response to the site’s topography and climate, the masterplan features a staggered cluster layout. The intervention fosters a sustainable living environment by preserving the farmlands’ natural characteristics without altering the site’s terrain.
The project offers a range of dwelling units with varying sizes and layouts to meet the needs of different family typologies. Every unit is ensured to have open spaces with adequate daylighting thanks to the massing of the clusters. Apart from the housing units, the project includes areas such as a community centre, hammam, marketplaces, and prayer hall to promote interaction at the community level. By limiting vehicle access and adding unique, friendly passenger pathways that offer stunning views of the surroundings, the layout promotes pedestrian movement.
Yemeni vernacular architecture served as an inspiration for the building’s architectural language. For the fenestrations, a consistent arch profile has been adopted, and spaces with cultural significance feature domed roof structures. The majority of the structure has been constructed using stone, a locally available material.
Sustainable practices have been prioritised in order to address the issues of poverty, a weak economy, food insecurity, and environmental damage in addition to achieving the objective of self-sufficiency. The agricultural land is utilised for producing food and is preserved in good condition. Using green roofs connecting to naturally created swale areas all over the site, a rainwater harvesting system has been implemented.
The layout features multiple rainwater tanks that supply water to the farmlands. A method for segregating waste enables the gasification of biomass and power generation, supplying fuel and gas to the buildings. In this way, the initiative utilises recycling methods to provide sustainable energy sources.
Conclusion: The project provides essential sustainable solutions to Yemen’s housing crisis and displacement while addressing the country’s poverty, weak economy, and desertification. This thesis succeeds in creating an affordable, self-sufficient housing model for the rural environment while protecting agricultural lands and offering better alternatives that could replace concrete urban sprawl.
[This Academic Project has been published with text submitted by the student]
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