Veiling Beauty Of The Orient – MASHRABIYA



Mashrabiya, also called Shanashil, is the best and most creative contribution of the Arab culture to the world. It won’t be an exaggeration to address Mashrabiyas as an architectural wonder. Mashrabiya can be thought of as a carved screen developed by the hands of a gifted craftsman beautifully dolling up your space. 


The latticework usually occurs on the first floor of the building as a protruded window. The word Mashrabiya means “place of drinking” in Arabic, which points to one of its applications in the past. Clay pots containing water are kept inside Mashrabiya cases to cool the water inside by evaporation. Other applications include protecting space from direct sunlight, providing privacy, directing the view, etc.





Mashrabiya usually is rectangular in shape; the semi-cylindrical structured Mashrabiya was famous in Libya’s capital city, Tripoli. The veiling structure was used to create a social boundary assigning a dedicated area for women. It enabled them to peek outside the street or courtyard remaining hidden behind the shade of the element.




Mashrabiya is derived from the term “Sharab”, an Arabic term meaning to drink, and the only reason it became so is that earlier mashrabiya meant a place for the purpose of drinking water, and that too from a clay pot. But a much more meaningful etymology can be traced from the Arabic word “Mashrafiya”- to observe. But presently, the term has one and only meaning- wooden panels to form a grid. 


History of Mashrabiya


The exact period of development of Mashrabiyas is unknown; however, buildings of the 12th century in Egypt serve as the oldest examples of it. Mashrabiya gained popularity in the Ottoman period, linking closely with the social and cultural lives of the Orient.




Mashrabiya became a part of many homes in the Middle East because it lessened the extreme heat in that area. This is merely not the reason why mashrabiya acquired popularity, but also because of staunch traditional Islamic notions that gave more prominence to privacy. Mashrabiya provided privacy among homes, but inside homes too. This caused mashrabiya to spread mainly in Islamic areas. 


Over the years mashrabiya has undergone great changes, and in the beginning, mashrabiyas were only a part of palaces or homes but later on spread rapidly into mosques, hospitals, business spaces. 



 Many literary works have citations of Mashrabiya in them, proving its strong influence in society. Mashrabiya is considered a derivative of the Muslim architecture, even then various cultures from different parts of the world adopted it by modifying styles matching their regional specifications, where function remained the same. 


Last few decades witnessed a steep drop in the use of Mashrabiya due to various reasons like the industrial revolution, modern design concepts, time and cost factors, safety factors, etc. Still, the production of the elements is continued in several parts due to emotional factors to preserve heritage. The modern trend of culturally inspired designs can trigger the comeback Mashrabiya with a big bang.


Structure and function


Small single pieces of wood crafted and polished by hand are arranged together without the use of any adhesives or nails to build a large screen of a beautiful miracle. This process demands high patience and creativity to work within the limits of Islam believes preventing the design of any living creature. Simple objects, such as lamps etc. served as inspiration for most of the design works. 


Designing patterns of Mashrabiya fulfilled all or most of the functions like regulating the flow of air and light, Provides light and shade, Cools the air passing through it, controls the view and increases privacy. Designs and space between the lattice works vary to meet particular functions. For example, if the opening is facing North direction, the light falling on the element won’t be much hot, and so the mesh can be wider on top to let the fresh air pass through and closer on the bottom for privacy reasons. 




One of the most significant advantages of Mashrabiya to the building is that it lights up dead corners space, making full use of the area. A street with homes that have Mashrabiya on both sides of it adds aesthetic value and improves the human interface of the region. Hexagon shaped designs with varying sizes are common patterns for Mashrabiya. Woods like Mulberry, Guava, Ebony, Oak, etc. that had varying ornamental colors served as the base for Mashrabiya. 


Mashrabiya has an abundance of functions, which makes it the most preferred material when considering its various patterns. Reducing light that seeps into a building, thus lessening the temperature inside, keeps control of the amount of air from outside, thus raising moisture content in air are some of the main functions which make it worthy.


Above all these functions, Aluminium mashrabiya also had a function of decoration. If watched closely, you can notice that a mashrabiya is designed intelligently. Moreover, placing a mashrabiya makes a room feel much larger than before. But don’t think that placing mashrabiya restricts air circulation. The openings are such that it enables ventilation. The openings above and below a mashrabiya allow hot and cool air circulation. 


Basra, the city of Mashrabiya 


Basra is one of the largest cities in Iraq, away from its capital city and famous for incubating and nurturing “the hanging silk”. The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century marked the use and popularity of interlaced works in Iraqi society. Wood and colored glass were used for making Mashrabiya of the Iraqi style. 



Imagine a night where all lights of the house are turned off, and the street light passes through the differently colored glass through creating a rainbow in your balcony, happy faces weaving vivid dreams under these lights. The current state of several such buildings that absorbed this beauty is devastating; they are on the verge of the destruction resulted from continuous wars. 


Common places of its application


Early-stage applications of these elements were limited to desert homes and structures in the hot climate. As wood is a costly affair in construction, palaces and high profile buildings used it in common. With Globalization, the beauty of Mashrabiya crossed the borders and sea to spread its glory all over the world. Different cultures adapted these elements in their indigenous styles. Mashrabiya is widely used in the following building structures.  


  1. Private places like Orient Palaces
  2. Traditional home balconies
  3. Religious structures like Mosques and Madrasas
  4. Public places like hospitals, schools, museums
  5. Semi-public places like caravansaries


Present-day buildings using Mashrabiya 


Mashrabiya has acquired a new face with improvised practicality. The Oxygen Villa (2012) used the latticework as an adaptive layer that adjusts the openings based on the direction of light. Qatar’s Doha Tower has a metal latticework that controls heat and light flow into the building, additionally protects the glass from grit buildup. Below is the list of some structures in the Middle East that used brilliant use of the latticework.


  1. The Doha Tower (Burj Qatar), 
  2. Louvre Abu Dhabi
  3. The Institut du Monde Arab in Paris
  4. Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi
  5.  Al-Bahar Towers, Abu Dhabi


The veiling structure is often misunderstood by the ones seeing or hearing it for the first time as a symbol of male dominance where the woman is only allowed to stay behind the Mashrabiya and make no contribution to the social developments. The aesthetic and functional properties are so convincing that they rule out all the drawbacks. 





Aluminium mashrabiya is a rare combination of aesthetics and practical usage. Mashrabiya is a complete solution to those people who face privacy issues. Aluminium facade designs come in a variety of designs, with which you can make a space both unique and appealing. In fact, mashrabiya designing and installing in itself is an art. Among the numerous benefits of Aluminium mashrabiya, one feature that stands out is its aesthetic beauty. Beyond regulating extreme climatic conditions, aluminium mashrabiya has its own beauty that no other shielding material can offer. 


Benefit Over Traditional Mashrabiya


Even though the traditional method was an effective solution to all environmental-related problems, later on, it lost its effectiveness. A traditional mashrabiya in your home means more expense for production and maintenance thereafter. Moreover, making a traditional mashrabiya means putting your heart and soul into the highly-skilled work. With that, traditional mashrabiya is easily prone to catch fire mainly because of the material with which it is made-wood. This made traditional mashrabiya lose its value with time. 


Why Choose Aluminium Mashrabiya?


With the diminishing value of traditional mashrabiya, the mashrabiyas manufactured these days have changed its design and material with which it is made. Aluminium mashrabiya is the game changer now, made so as to cover spacious areas and be a part of tall buildings. This Aluminium mashrabiya makes any space look brighter and look luxurious. Try Mashrabiya from Rainbow Aluminium.