23 March 2011

Mashrabiya or Shanasheel (Arabic: مشربية or شناشيل‎) - Islamic architecture

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I want to draw your attention to "an element of Arabic architecture used since the middle ages up to the mid twentieth century.  It is called Mashrabiya or Shanasheel (Arabic: مشربية or شناشيل‎) is the Arabic term given to a type of projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wood latticework located on the second storey of a building or higher, often lined with stained glass.  It is mostly used on the street side of the building; however, it may also be used internally on the sahn - inner courtyard side.  (In Islamic architecture, a sahn (Arabic: صحن‎, ṣaḥn), is a courtyard.

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Figure 7: I took this photograph in the Medina in Tunis of an ornate Mashrabiya which was facing a busy alleyway.

Figure 8:  A photograph of Mashrabiya on the street side of a building in central Rome.

  One of the major features of the Mashrabiya is for privacy, an essential aspect of Arabic culture. A good view of the street can be obtained by the occupants without being seen, preserving the private interior without depriving the occupants from a vista of the public outside. It is said that Mashrabiyas are the ornaments of the rich as it cost a lot of time and finance to produce them.

It is an ingenious use of architecture very functional and also beautiful.

"Mashrabiya is derived from the triliteral root Š-R-B, which generally denotes drinking or absorbing. There are two theories for its name, the most common one is that the name was originally for a small wooden shelf where the drinking water pots were stored, hence the name. The shelf was enclosed by wood and located at the window in order to keep the water cool. Later on, this shelf evolved until it became part of the room with a full enclosure and retained the name despite the radical change in use.

The second theory is that the name was originally mashrafiya, derived from the verb Ashrafa, to overlook or to observe. During the centuries the name slowly changed due to changing accents and influence of non-Arabs speaking Arabic.

There is no point in history that can be dated as the first time they appeared; however, the earliest evidence on use of the Mashrabiya as it currently is dates back to the twelfth century in Baghdad during the Abbasid period.

One of the major architectural benefits is correcting the footprint shape of the land. Due to winding and irregular streets, plots of land are also commonly irregular in shape while the house designs are usually regular (squares and rectangles). This would cause irregular shapes of some rooms and creates dead corners. The projection allows correcting the shapes of the rooms on the upper floors, hence allowing to utilise the entire plot. This also increased the usable space without increasing the plot size.  On the street side, in addition to their ornamental advantage, they served to provide enclosure to the street."

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