Adaptative Mashrabiya: from Mashrabiyas to Dynamic Façades


Mashrabiya pattern

The mashrabiya has offered effective protection against intense sunlight in the Middle East for several centuries.

However, nowadays this traditional Islamic window element with its characteristic latticework is used to cover entire buildings as an oriental ornament, providing local identity and a sun-shading device for cooling.

The vernacular wooden structure has also even been transformed into high-tech responsive daylight systems.

The ancient mashrabiya merges cultural, visual and technical aspects.

The window screen is often found towards the street to enable discretion and allow cool air to pass through the facade. The latticework offers the chance to see the environment, but to stay unseen – thanks to the high luminous intensity outside and the fine dark screen on the inside. From a thermal point of view, the traditional open structure promotes a nice constant flow of air to cool the interior as well as stored pots with drinking water. Craftsmen have developed special skills to assemble the screens without using nails – a minimalistic and delicate approach, which modern high-tech mashrabiyas often leave behind.



“The shade and open lattice of a mashrabiya provided a constant current of air which, as the sweating surfaces of porous clay pots evaporated, cooled the water inside.”

John Feeney The Magic of the Mashrabiyas2

A Mashrabiya with small interstices is suitable for intercepting the direct light and reducing glare, while Mashrabiya with large interstices will let in indirect light. In addition, the size of the Mashrabiya is also connected with its social function: the feeling of privacy. Mashrabiya with small interstices will provide privacy from outside for the inhabitant, at the same time without blocking the view from inside.

The material of the Mashrabiya is also important as it is closely connected to its humidifying and cooling functions.



The Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy explains in his book, Natural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates,  how the different patterns of mashrabiya were developed to satisfy a variety of conditions and functions. These functions are:

  1. Control the passage of light
  2. Control air flow
  3. Reduce air temperature
  4. Increase humidity of air
  5. Ensure privacy

It is the size of the interstices or spaces between adjacent balusters, as well as the diameter of the balusters that are specifically adjusted to serve these functions.


Interaction of light on diferent surfaces


Control of amount of light depending on pattern sizes


Airflow control through inlets & outlets (sizes)



Ensure privacy or not, depending on the need


Now I will talk about a few examples that were interesting for this research and which helped me on deciding how to integrate all these functions into the project:

Microclimates by PostlerFerguson

Traditional Islamic architecture has dealt with the harsh desert climate by carefullycontrolling light and airflow through elements such as the mashrabiya, wind towers and earthen walls.

Microclimates project is a way of building, and it’s based on a three-dimensional interpretation of the masharabiya built from arabic clay. The complex structure has a large internal surface area that efficiently conditions air passing through it by evaporative cooling. Each cooling tower is made from 3D-printed sand using technology developed by D-Shape.

Combining the principals behind these ancient building elements with the most advanced computer-aided manufacturing techniques, Microclimates is not just an installation, but a building language that can be reused again and again to create new public spaces.


Cool Brick By Emerging Objects

Inspired by the Muscatese Evaporative cooling window, which combines a wood screen, or mashrabiya, and a ceramic vessel filled with water, the “cool brick” masonry system is used to build walls that passively cool interiors in desert environments.

Comprised of 3D printed porous ceramic bricks set in mortar, each brick absorbs water like a sponge and is designed as a three dimensional lattice that allows air to pass through the wall. As air moves through the 3D printed brick, the water that is held in the micro-pores of the ceramic evaporates, bringing cool air into an interior environment, lowering the temperature using the principle of evaporative cooling.

Al Bahr Towers


The design is based on the concept of adaptive flowers and the mashrabiya.

The geometry of the shading screen folds and unfolds in response to the movement of the sun, reducing solar gain by up to 50%, whilst simultaneously improving admission of natural diffused light into the towers and improving visibility.

A bespoke application was developed using Javascript and advanced parametric technologies to simulate the movement of the façade in response to the sun’s path.

Each triangle is coated with fiberglass and programmed to respond to the movement of the sun as a way to reduce solar gain and glare.




Tessellate its a kinetic titanium screen which works like a camera aperture, opening and closing to regulate light. The screen is powered by small motors, the middle layers move back and forth, creating both shade, a welcome addition in the Kingdom that experiences summer temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius and light play. Whilst this allows for a tranquil interior it also has a massive impact on the buildings’ footprint.

The versatile design can be integrated into existing systems, and is completely self-contained, protected by glass on either side of the moving metal parts. Tessellate™ is named for the patterns designed for the system. These designs are just the beginning of the visual possibilities inherent in the Tessellate System.






Encina Fernández Torre

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