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Towards Contemporary Mashrabiyyahs (Rawashin)

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) on a house in Cairo, Egypt image

Mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) on a house in Cairo, Egypt.

If one thoroughly studies the distinctive character and evolution of the Islamic built environment — and Islamic civilization taken as a whole – against the backdrop of the message of Islam as a complete code of life, one would inexorably infer that the emergence of the rawashin and mashrabiyyah[1] phenomena was fated, as it were. However, when they emerged, mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) were very flexible, and signified a means, rather than an end. Their forms and functions were always susceptible to the forces and influences of the laws of constant change and evolution. As a result, there ultimately emerged many different types of mashrabiyyahs with the latticework and screen designs differing from era to era, and from region to region. “Most mashrabiyyahs are closed where the latticework is lined with stained glass and part of the mashrabiyyah is designed to be opened like a window, often sliding windows to save space; in this case the area contained is part of the upper floor rooms hence enlarging the floor plan. Some mashrabiyyahs are open and not lined with glass, in this case the mashrabiyyah works like a balcony and the space enclosed is independent of the upper floor rooms and accessed through those rooms with windows opening towards it, sometimes even the woodwork is reduced making look much more similar to a regular roofed balcony; this type of mashrabiyyah is mostly used if the house is facing an open landscape rather than other houses, such as a river, a cliff below or simply a farm.”

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