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  Book review

The Valley of Mud Brick Architecture

Salma Samar Damluji

Garnet Publishing

Dr. Samar Damluji’s second book is of a different nature to her other work, A Yemen Reality. It is a scholarly book concentrating on the architecture and town planning of two towns in the Hadhramawt, Shibam and Tarim. It looks at the very ancient origins of the south Arabian mud built architecture, its suitability for the climate, its adaptability, and its relative virtues compared with imported Western practices and how it can continue to develop as an indigenous Arabian art or science. It is clearly an exciting study to any such as Dr. Damluji, who had worked with and is clearly an admirer of Hassan Fathy, the great exponent of traditional mud brick architecture in Cairo.

It contains a wealth of information on these quite fascinating towns where the styles vary from towers that have changed little in pattern for hundreds of years to the fantastic late 19th and early 20th century palaces in Tarim, built on the wealth of Hadhrami trading empires in the far east.

For those interested in pursuing this subject of a unique and continuing architectural tradition, this book is a valuable source. However, the text suffers from a too literal translation of the Arabic in which the thoughts appear to have been composed, a process that never makes for easy comprehension. It also lacks a certain discipline, two dimensions of a brick are given on one page and the third appears, almost incidentally, several pages later. A little more editing would have helped.

JAMES NASH, November 1994