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A Five Hundred Year Old City Made Out of Mud in Yemen

By: Vincent Wang

Shibam, a remote town in Yemen, is widely known as the “Chicago of the desert,” or the “Manhattan of the desert” due to its abundance of mudbrick-made buildings and skyscrapers.

With its current 7,000 inhabitants, it is the seat of the District of Shibam in the Governorate of Hadhramaut.

Historically, this city is proof of an incredible piece of architecture and engineering. This city however, could hold the key to a more easily obtained sustainable architecture.

While concrete might be structurally more sound than mud, it doesn’t offer many of mud’s positive qualities. This includes being easy to obtain, naturally resistant to fire, contains good sound-proofing, and perhaps most important of all, has good temperature insulation.

Furthermore, while comparing mud bricks to concrete, one would find that not only does it have a higher heat capacity than concrete, sun-dried bricks are also much cheaper to manufacture. Not only is it much cheaper, but the process for making these sun-dried bricks out of mud is much more environmentally friendly and these bricks are also reusable.

In Shibam, houses are designed not only to help with concerns about building materials, but more climate considerations are shown in the wooden windows that promote air circulation due to their placement. To further enhance the air circulation in this city, narrow streets and open plazas are present, revealing a complete approach to urban planning with a small twist of different building materials.

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