The Watch

Shibam

Wadi Hadramaut, Yemen

1998 World Monuments Watch

Shibam presents itself as a city of mud brick skyscrapers. The agglomeration of 1,600-year-old structures, some eight stories, was a familiar site for travelers on the frankincense caravan route. Shibam's 500 contiguous buildings are contained within a rectangular city wall; verticality offered further protection. All of the houses are set on stone foundations and exteriors are plastered with a combination of mud and chopped straw. Increasingly, though, locals have been coming down from these heights to live in modern houses along the highway. Many use cars now, which the narrow lanes of the Old City cannot accommodate. It is understandably difficult to convince people to stay in disintegrating dwellings without modern amenities and that are arduous to reach. The key to reestablishing people in the tower houses is to adapt them for modern life. Baswaidan House, a medium-sized dwelling with six levels, would make for an ideal pilot project to demonstrate how something so ancient can be made practical and enjoyable to occupy.

Since the Watch

The German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) undertook the Shibam Urban Development Project between 2000 and 2010. A team of professionals documented and inspected the city's historic residential buildings, and offered guidance and an estimate for the cost of restoration. Interested homeowners could then restore their buildings with a 35% subsidy offered by Yemen's Social Fund for Development. The project provided a strong incentive against exodus from the historic city and had the effect of stimulating training in traditional construction techniques for Shibam's unique mud brick skyscrapers. For addressing the needs of a living community through preservation the project received an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. January 2011

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