The Wind Tower of Dubai and its Unique Architecture
In November 2019, MAS Architecture Studio unveiled the Barjeel, a modern treatment of the traditional wind tower, for Dubai’s Design Week. The installation takes its name from the local word used to describe the wind tower, indicating how important the structure is in Dubai. The Barjeel stands at over six meters and is billed as a “homage to regional traditions” – an assertion made clear with its geometric tributes to Arabic construction styles. By using a circular base to build up the Barjeel’s entire square-shaped structure, it achieves a design that’s striking in its minimalism.
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This is a feature that is highlighted further by the organic materials used to create the Barjeel: reclaimed cardboard, brushed aluminum, and LED strips for illumination. As it is described as a contemporary re-imagining of one of the Dubai’s most enduring cultural structures, it follows that the installation also functions the same way a wind tower would. This creates, as MAS founder and lead designer Kerim Miskavi describes it, a responsible design “with sustainability and functionality in mind.”
But just how important is the wind tower to Dubai? What makes the rest of the world consider this traditional structure an enduring symbol of the city’s creativity and resourcefulness?
Style Like Dubai
We know Dubai now as the modern face of the United Arab Emirates, and home to the Burj Khalifa (Khalifa Tower), now considered the tallest city in the world. Tourists the world over also recognize Dubai as a retail wonderland, thank to multiple opportunities to take part in its traditional and contemporary delights.
Dubai’s reputation now as a hotbed of tourism does not stray far from its beginnings. After starting out as a humble fishing village, the city blossomed to become a trading hub for travelers on the caravan trail, before dabbling in the pearl diving industry. Until finally, Dubai struck gold and discovered oil, paving the way for it to become the metropolis it is today.
In the midst of all these developments, Dubai has still been able to retain a part of its history and culture. Traditional houses and structures are still standing, even today, and it’s thanks to these preservations that Dubai is now regarded as a melting pot of cultures.
Dubai's Airbender: The Wind Tower
The trend is most visible in the city’s most prominent architectural structure: the wind tower. Locally known as the barjeel, the wind tower was what early Dubai residents considered their airconditioner, meant to capture cool winds from the outside and funnel them indoors. Meanwhile, hot air coming from inside could also travel through the barjeel to exit the building.
As the wind towers were built to be tall enough to properly catch air, their height also provided shade for the homes packed closely to each other below. For those living in the arid, hot climate of Dubai, these wind towers were considered a convenience and a necessity.
The wind towers were also known for the wooden sticks jutting out from them. While initially appearing to have been placed there for decoration, the sticks were, in fact, there to provide scaffolding and in other cases, even help re-direct air flow.
Finally, thanks to the materials used to create the barjeel – mud, clay, stone, and earth – the cooling process became smoother and much more effective. More than aiding the ventilation, these materials also ensured the wind towers’ sturdiness and the nearby buildings’ security.
Back to the Barjeel
Today, the wind tower is still visible, not just in Dubai, but in neighboring countries like Iran and Qatar. After visiting Dubai’s tall skyscrapers and bustling streets, tourists are also welcome to explore the more traditional side of Dubai. In specially-preserved sites, like the Al Fahidi Historic District of Bur Dubai and the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, tourists can see the wind towers up-close and immerse themselves in the city’s historic culture.
Did you know the Philippines also hosts some skyscrapers of its own? Read more about BGC’s Pacific Plaza Towers here.
With Barjeel, the team of MAS Architecture Studio sought to pay tribute to the classic wind tower. Over time, the structure has become so embedded in and important to Dubai’s culture, that it can also be seen as the precursor to the skyscrapers and skylines that give the city its reputation today.
In 2014, UK studies even considered reviving the wind tower, to provide a more sustainable alternative to energy and climate-related issues in hotter countries. It’s proof of the wind tower’s enduring power and cultural impact, showing that no matter how advanced we become, it’s never a bad thing to look back once in a while and take inspiration from our roots.
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