The Mashrabiya House / Senan Abdelqader

© Amit Giron

Architects: Senan Abdelqader
Location: Jerusalem, Palestine
Project Area: 1700 sqm
Photographs: Amit Giron

The “Mashrabiya House” is located in the Arab Palestinian village Beit Safafa between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The house was designed as a contemporary re-interpretation of traditional elements of Arab venacular architecture, providing at the same time new and imaginative solutions for the transforming social and cultural landscape of the village on the brink of urbanization.

Site Plan

Terraced Landscape

The principle of terraces and retaining walls, one of the most typical feature of the traditional Arab landscape, was adopted for steeply sloping building plot, forming an earthbound, partially inhabited ‘landscape ground’. The basement itself is carved into the hillside forming a massive -clad platform like a deck with sunken courtyards as light wells. This deck accommodates a workshop, studio and gallery and therefore separates working and public functions of the house from the living areas above. At the rear side of the plot this platform folds up to become an enormous, inhabited clad retaining wall, which accommodates several apartments.


The Mashrabiya

The landscaped ground forms a stage on which the building itself stands. The heaviness of the ground is contrasted by the lightness of the vertical structure. The floating effect is achieved through the creative interpretation of an Arab “Mashrabiya”, a latticed window screen that traditionally formed a threshold between private and public spaces. Here, the wooden screen is re-imagined in the form of a large-scale stone envelop that surrounds the building, combining the “Mashrabiya” motif with stone. Its typical semi-transparent effect is achieved by positioning the stones slightly apart, with irregular spacings, creating an effect of lightness and porousness. The resulting stone envelop is structurally separated by a narrow gap from the actual apartment building behind. The playful arrangement of small and large openings provide views from the interiors out into the landscape while carefully retaining their privacy.

© Amit Giron

Hosh and Bustan

The concept of open spaces within and around the house is equally informed by a sensitivity to traditional Arab elements while insisting on contemporary formal and material solutions. The raised courtyard between the rear retaining wall and the “The Mashrabiya” is reminiscent of a traditional hosh while the “Mashrabiya” at the top of the building becomes a ‘garden wall’ for a roof top garden following the ‘Bustan’ motif: a closed garden as a sheltered place of tranquility and privacy.

Floor Plan

An Arabic interpretation of sustainability

Beyond the formal references to Arab vernacular traditions the building developed and tested concepts that could help to inform an agenda of sustainability while maintaining historical cultural continuity: In this way the “Mashrabiya” is not only a traditional threshold between public and private space but also provides an element of climatic control. The stone mass of the outer envelope acts as a climatic buffer: It helps to absorb heat during the day and release heat during the cool Jerusalem nights. Thus it protects the building against solar radiation as well as winter rain and winds. The gaps between the stones ensure a constant flow of fresh air. A further element of passive cooling is the 1m gap between outer and inner envelop. Not only does it ensure constant circulation of fresh air around the building the fact that it remains open towards the top of the building generates a suction effect like that of a chimney: Hot air travels upwards and fresh air is sucked into the gap from below.

Ventilation Diagram

Beit Safafa, like most villages in the Jerusalem area, is facing social and cultural challenges, typical for the transformation from a tightly knit village community towards a suburban centre. In this context the building provides an original solution by combining traditional building form with modern urban apartment living. The building is sensitive to the traditional fabric of the village yet open to new residents, as it combines living and working. It is also the home of the new Gallery for Palestinian Cultural Representation.

© Amit Giron
Cite: "The Mashrabiya House / Senan Abdelqader" 14 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Next_Year_in_Jeruslaem

    It is a very interesting, distinct design, something to learn from. But why was it necessary to introduce a distinctly anti-Jewish political point? Beit Safafa is not Jerusalem, although is very close to the city borders. And Jerusalem is not Palestine. Perhaps, “Beit Safafa, (future) Palestine” is a more accurate alternative.

    • dr

      Want it or not, Jerusalem – Al Qods in arabic – is and will remain the capital of Palestine. Thanks

      • GOD

        Oh really?! So, why exactly you didn’t write Al Qods, Palestine in your project’s location? You want your capital? Build one, like Jews did, on your own territories, don’t take something that you never had and call it yours.

      • ttt


        What a hateful GOD above.

        The US should let pro-Israeli people like this GOD person above fight it out with the Arabs on their own and see how confident they are then.

        It’s time for the US to stop subsidizing Israel’s arrogance and hatefulness with our citizens’ money and blood.

        Let Israelis fight it out on their own if they’re so egotistical and confident.

        That’ll last all of 3 months now that they’re surrounded by countries with representative Arab governments rather than pro-US dictatorships.

  • Next_Year_in_Jeruslaem

    I am sure there is an Arabic name for Chicago and Berlin as well. But Jerusalem was built by the Jews, was only their capital in the last 3-4 thousand years, is their capital today, and will always be one. The Arabs invaded many lands, including Palestine – so what? Remember, my brother, that Muhammad himself established the direction of prayers to Mecca and not to Jeruslaem, and that was long before any significant architecture in Mecca existed.

    • ttt

      Any peace agreement will require sharing Jerusalem.

      Israel can try to needlessly prolong the violence but that’s an unavoidable reality now.

      Soon America won’t subsidize Israel’s ability to go on prolonging the violence and Israel will have to fight its own battles if it wants to be at war with its neighbors rather than share Palestine with the Palestinians. Israel won’t ever fight its own battle without the US.

      • Next_Year_in_Jeruslaem

        So, you hate the Jews, ttt. Fine, whatever helps you bowl movements, as someone said. But find a different outlet please. This forum is about architecture, occasional politics, but not sophomoric nonsense.

      • ttt

        I don’t hate anyone except those who seek out war and death needlessly.

        If that’s Pro-Israel Jewish people (as opposed to the many many sensible peace seeking Jewish people I’m friends with)… so be it.

      • Me and We

        Israel fougth by herself without US support the Independence war, the attrition war, the 6 days war, etc; and defeated the egyptian, syrian, iraqui and all the other arabs armies and voluntiers.
        The US active involment in the Israel-arab conflict has started since in the 70´s (Yom Kippur war and the opec oil embargo). So Israel beated their enemies without the US support, in much more precarious situations than today, and without the tech advantage

  • amine ahmed

    i don’t know why jewish are so haters like that… you let the architecture debate and you still talking like LIBERMAN…we say jerusalem “elquods” is ours & you say that is yours…the war still between us & finally the winner can say it’s mine

  • Architect

    this inspire is coming from an old Arabian civilisation , illuminating many countries before and after the dark ages .
    Jewish were always living in everywhere in the world , Architecture is against extreminists which are everywhere trying to mix the truth .
    of course Chicago and Berlin dont have Arabic origin and they have to thank GOD cause till now no one yet said they have zionist one , they were living there .

  • Next_Year_in_Jeruslaem

    There was no “Arabian civilisation” before the dark ages. Prophet Muhammed appeared 150 years AFTER the dark age in Europe had started. But that was long ago anyway. Today, the “Arabian civilisation” illuminates many countries with explosions from suicide bombers in cafes, with heavy artillery fire destroying ancient Buddhist statues, with screams of Christians being slaughtered in Egypt. For every Zionist, there are at least 100 illuminated Muslims. Yet last week, out of seven Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature five were Jews. You should be ashamed of yourself, Architect.

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