Aramco and Al-Malaz Housing Schemes: The Origins of Modern Housing in Saudi Arabia
Keywords:Post-oil residential architecture, Saudi housing projects, In-situ and prefabricated housing, Aramco Home Ownership Program, Al-Malaz housing project
This paper examines two influential, modern housing schemes outside the oil compounds in Saudi Arabia. The first, Aramco’s Home Ownership Program from the early 1950s, built houses for Saudi oil workers and their families. The second, the Al-Malaz Housing Project, sponsored by the Saudi Government in the late 1950s, produced houses for government employees. These two schemes mark the beginning of the dramatic and widespread overturning of vernacular building traditions in Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the prefabricated lightweight buildings inside the oil compounds these houses were constructed using heavy masonry, mainly locally-made concrete blocks and concrete floor slabs, and they were built in situ. Nevertheless, they are strongly linked to the imported architectural design and construction techniques found inside the compounds.
For Aramco, the need to provide better accommodation for Saudi workers was highlighted by the vastly different conditions for expats and local Saudi workers. Inside the camps, expats lived in modern, imported, prefabricated timber buildings laid out in neat suburbs. Local workers lived outside the fence in ramshackle “Coolie Camps” made up of traditional barastis, tents and other structures put together from salvaged materials. While the Aramco program led to the construction of thousands of houses mainly in the eastern oil-rich regions, Al-Malaz, in the capital of Saudi Arabia, signified mainstream acceptance of modern housing design and construction by the Saudi government. Al Malaz was the first of numerous government-sponsored and developer-led housing schemes using modern, non-traditional designs and heavyweight in-situ, and later prefabricated concrete construction.
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