Preserving the past: Architecture students document historic buildings in Ras Al Khaimah

Pilot project aims to educate the public about the cultural significance of the emirate's oldest and most ruined buildings

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A new project has been launched to raise awareness about the need to preserve the cultural heritage of historic buildings in Ras Al Khaimah.

Architecture students at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah are documenting buildings in the emirate's Old Town to learn how to preserve them in the modern world.

A short walk along Ras Al Khaimah's Old Corniche reveals deteriorating and abandoned buildings dotted along the coastline.

These buildings were built more than 60 years ago, typically from traditional materials such as coral stone and sea sand mixed with sea shells.

But since a Royal Decree prohibits their demolition, most of the buildings remain dilapidated, or are just used for storage purposes.

Forgotten 'majlises' and courtyards hold the key to studying the culture and lifestyle of past generations
Lama Al Qada, student at AURAK

The new project was funded by the Al Qasimi Foundation, which aids the social, cultural and economic development of the emirate. It aims to raise awareness of the importance of preserving and appreciating heritage, despite the buildings' economic value plummeting.

Students and researchers identified the six oldest and most ruined buildings in the Old Town, with the hope that it will help to educate the public and their owners about their cultural significance.

The project took six months to complete. Students took photographs of the interior and exterior of the buildings, and measured and recorded ornamentation on the walls and ceilings.

Students worked with professional surveyors to verify their measurements before taking their data and sketches to the university's architectural studios, where their findings were converted into technical drawings using specialised software.

Some houses in Ras Al Khaimah's Old Town were built more than 60 years ago. Photo: American University of Ras Al Khaimah

The students were then able to produce precise and three-dimensional drawings, as well as coloured renderings that were exhibited to the public.

“Our strategy is to incorporate historical building documentation into the teaching curricula of some educational programmes, such as architecture,” said Dr Mohamed Al Zarooni, the university's Associate Provost for Research and Community Service, in a statement.

“By creating teaching modules with specific learning outcomes, students will be encouraged to have a direct encounter with their heritage, and accordingly, learn about its importance in the context of understanding modern society and culture.”

Dr Mohamed said that educating the younger generation about the value of heritage and the influence it has on the modern world is just as important as preserving it.

The university currently offers an architecture course, including Urban Design and Conservation of Historic Architecture, which has been tailored to study the urban context of RAK's Old Town.

“The hidden gems in the rubble of the past are visible in the traditional patterns in wall motifs, cornices and niches,” said Lama Al Qada, one of the students involved in the project. “Forgotten 'majlises' and courtyards hold the key to studying the culture and lifestyle of past generations.”

Another student, Mohab Hamada, said the project allowed them to open their eyes to heritage and preservation.

“Working on documenting old houses opened my sight to a different direction in architecture and taught me a lot about the traditional and cultural elements of the old houses, and gave me an idea of how people used to live their daily lives,” he said.

Updated: May 29, 2023, 12:26 PM