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CONSIDERATION OF CLIMATIC CONDITIONS IN THE DESIGN OF
DWELLINGS IN THE SAHARA DESERT
M.Y. BENYOUCEF
Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Faculty of Engineering), Moscow, Russia
A. D. RAZIN
Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Faculty of Engineering), Moscow, Russia
V.M. SHUVALOV
Moscow Architectural Institute (State Academy), Moscow, Russia
Abstract
Climate is the most important factor in Architecture. The historical experience of the inhabitants
of the desert zones has created invaluable knowledge on the design of residential environments
in these aggressive conditions. The article considers the climatic conditions in which the
dwellings in the Sahara desert were built. The climate is the most important ecological
component in the formation of architecture, it had a strong influence on the formation of desert
settlements. This is reflected in the significant differences in the design of residential
development in various parts of the desert, as well as in the formation of the layout of city
streets. Throughout centuries of development of residential communities, the advantages of
environmental elements have been used, in order to achieve favourable conditions and to adapt
life to climate conditions. We focused, in particular, on the desert terrain. Traditional dwellings
and street layouts are the most characteristic of cities in the Sahara desert.
Keywords: Sahara, climate, residential buildings, environment, temperatures, vernacular
architecture.

Since ancient times every population has created its own habitation in accordance with its needs
and its environment. The characteristics of the Saharan climate are due to the situation in latitude
at the tropic level, at the tropic level, which leads to high temperatures, and to the wind regime,
which results in hot and dry currents.

In a study on dwellings in ancient desert cities, the Great Sahara is a land of old humanity, of
great historical thickness, of human creations as beautiful as the creations of Nature. Every era,
every population, has left its imprint on the vast backdrop of the Desert Light Trace or powerful
mark, each one is a human signature, rich of all meaning1. The study of climatology, that is to
say, the interrelations between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, of the Sahara and its
margins, in order to determine the climatic characteristics 2. This climate is characterized in
particular by the weakness and the irregularity of the precipitations, an intense luminosity, a
strong evaporation and big differences of temperature 3. For areas like deserts which are
considered as a very dry regions of the globe, wherein very rare cases very little precipitation
occurs, and also the living conditions are hostile to plants, as well as animal life. Deserts are part
of extreme conditions and can be classified according to the amount of precipitation and
temperatures that prevails throughout the year. But, despite the particularly difficult conditions in
most deserts (aridity, temperatures). In the great Sahara desert, an average effective duration of
insolation of more than 3, 978 hours in each year is regularly recorded, more than 10 hours per
day, but in in the central Sahara more than 4,000 hours of annual daylight (more than 11 hours a
day) 4.

The word Sahara certainly refers to geographical reality 5. In an arid zone, there is usually less
than 250 mm of precipitation a year, although there are exceptions. Semideserts or semi-arid
regions receive from 250 to 500 mm of precipitation a year and are known as steppes. There
are several deserts (Hot deserts, Fig. 1) in the world like such as the Great Sahara, the Arabian
Desert, the Kalahari Desert, the Syrian Desert, the Chihuahua Desert, the Karakum Desert, the
Sonoran Desert, the Tar desert, Atacama , the Namib desert, the Mojave desert, the Australian
Figure 1 : The map of Köppen-Geiger, Deserts areas of the world according to climate
classification «Köppen» BWh.

desert. The only thing that is typical for all deserts is their extreme drought, or rather their aridity,
translated by the weakness and rarity of precipitation. In this desert region there are several
distinct ecological zones that contain most of the residential communities, important aridity, also
called hyper aridity, (where the precipitations are almost zero and the heat hardly bearable),
elevation, and soil, With variations in with mean annual temperatures exceeding 30°C (86 °F).
Other general features are, dust, dry vegetation, and most importantly, temperature decreases
quickly just after sunset and increases after sunrise 6.
The Great Sahara is the largest desert hot in the world’s lowest supply area and considered as
the best illustration of hot deserts in the world, the largest hot desert in the world and the most
important in terms of history and natural potential, an extensive hot desert located in the
northern part of the African continent (Fig. 2). It extends east – west over 5000 km from the west
coast of Africa in Mauritania to the Red Sea Hills adjoining the Red Sea in Egypt and over 1200
Km from the north to south 7. With an area of 9,065,000 km² and extends over more than ten
countries: Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and
Egypt, Western Sahara. There are different kinds of land in the Sahara. Great flat areas of
gravel and stone, rocky plateaus, mountains, and vast seas of endless sand. The great sandy
areas are called ergs. The Sahara’s ergs have huge wind-blown dunes, some up to 600 feet tall.

The map of Köppen-Geiger1 climate type for Africa shows that only three (A, B and C) of the
main climate types are present in Africa. Of these three the dominant climate type by land area
is the arid B (57.2%), followed by tropical A (31.0%) and temperate C (11.8%)8.

According to Köppen-Geiger, the great Sahara is classified as BWh2 climate. But this region has
undergone significant changes from the time of the prehistoric period to the moment, its change
is reflected in ancient civilizations, cities, cultures, religions, history. In the hottest months,
temperatures can rise over 50°C (122 °F), and temperatures can fall below freezing in the
1 The original papers and maps appeared in the late 19th and early 20th century and are written in
German. Recently one of the first papers concerning climate zones, published by Köppen (1884), was
translated into English. Comments to it by Rubel and Kottek (2011) comprise a short review on the
development of climate classifications as well as a vita of Wladimir Köppen, available at : http://koeppen-
geiger.vu-wien.ac.at/ . 2 BWh, Main climates (B: arid), Precipitation (W: desert), Temperature (h: hot arid), type of climate: dry
arid low latitudes available at : ftp://ftp.itc.nl/pub/debie/Koppen-Geiger%20Map2.pdf .
Figure 2: The Great Sahara Desert.

winter. A single daily variation of -0.5°C (31.1 °F) to 37.5°C (99.5 °F) has been recorded 9. The
two graphs shows the climate in Timbuktu and Ghardaia within a year (Fig. 3), The climate
graphs depict monthly average temperatures, precipitation, wet days, sunlight hours, relative
humidity and wind speed.

In hot and arid areas NCEP/NCAR (Fig. 4), all human activities take place in outdoor spaces. The
duration and intensity use of an outdoor space can be significantly affected by weather
conditions. In hottest areas during the summer outdoor spaces are less frequented by people. In
such places, the possibility of improving comfort conditions of shaded surfaces to protect users.

In the great Desert, there’s many territories which considers like an Ecoregions as defined by
the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), includes the hyper-arid Centre of the Sahara, between
18° and 30° N, The northern and southern margins of the Sahara, which receive more rainfall
and have greater vegetation cover, are described separately10. In addition, the climate has a
strong sunshine with a large portion of the direct radiation. The clear night sky can cause great
differences between day and night temperatures, and the potential for radiative cooling is high.
Winter nights are cold in certain regions 11.The Saharan population, within the limits of the
Figure 3 : Tombactau (Mali), Ghardaia (Algeria), Climate Graphs.
Figure 4: NCEP/NCAR reanalysis of Northern Africa during August 1-15 2007 showing the
temperature (left) and moisture (right) gradients between the cool moist Gulf of Guinea and hot
dry Saharan desert.

Sahara countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad), is estimated at
1.7 million inhabitants in 1948, 2 million in 1966 and 10 million in the mid-199412. Moreover,
there is a large growth in population in the last 10 years.

In this zone, there are many urban agglomerations that represent a diversity (Fig. 5) in the
lifestyle of these regimes, which translate into a variety of architectural representation and urban
organization. Living conditions in the desert are difficult, but people know how to adapt, and
especially know how to develop this deserted space.

Oasis3 in the great Sahara are examples of desert cities, which is located in ecoregions, and
each area contains many types of housing agglomerations and the existence of several
architectural styles.

The cities and their dwellers in desert oases have survived by sheltering and protecting
themselves from these extremes in climatic conditions using vernacular building techniques
developed by experimentation through the age. In the harsh climate in the oases, the dwellings
have been configured to facilitate daily life activities. Oasis dwellers had to adapt by creating
suitable forms for their buildings and by using the local building material to overcome the
negative impacts of the harsh desert climate13.

The Vernacular architecture (Fig. 6) which is based on local resources and cultural needs
designed by local builders rather than formally trained architects. The Vernacular architecture
an example of an architecture which adapts to harsh climatic conditions. The earth vernacular
structures in desert climates reach a degree of sophistication that makes houses warm in
winter, cool in summer.

3 In geography, an oasis (plural: oases) is an isolated area in a desert, typically surrounding a water
source, such as a valley or lake. Oases also provide habitat for humans, the location of oases has been
of critical importance for trade and transportation routes (caravans) in desert areas and.
Figure 5 : ksar in the dunes of the Grand Erg Occidental, north of Timimoun, Algeria.
Photograph by FranÇois Lagarde.

Over the past decades, the urbanization rate in the Sahara has been previously unknown and is
often greater than that of North Africa. To the extent that we can say that, today the Sahara has
become urban 14.
Urbanization in the Sahara has a historical dimension, in this territory, characteristic type of
residential buildings has developed with these conditions and inhabited spaces are integrated
with the Saharan environment. Desert cities in the oases has a unique natural identity and
character that has evolved from the amalgamation of influences such as natural desert
topography, climate, and geography, along with cumulative cultural, social, religious and
historical factors. All these factors affect the way of life there and add distinctiveness to the
building patterns and forms as well. There is harmony and homogeneity between buildings and
nature because of the use of local natural resources as building materials 15. For example,
territories like Saoura and Touat and M’zab in Algeria and Libya, North Cape and Atlas in
Morocco, Tagant and Nouakchott in Mauritania, Timbuktu in Mali and cities such as Marrakech,
Timimoun, kenadsa, Ghardaïa (fig. 7, fig. 8 ), Matamata, Ghadames (fig. 9, fig. 10), all this
Figure 6: Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco. « Vernacular ArchitecturÉ », Photo: Nadia StotieK

Figure 7: Urban view of Ghardaïa, M'Zab Valley.
Photo: George Steinmetz.

Figure 8: The picture shows a narrow street in
Ksar of Ghardaia, credit: Michal Bosina.

examples explain this diversity and this wealth of architecture of cities and Saharan houses. The
study of ancient tissues and the environment in the context of the Sahara leads us to
understand the houses in this context in a relationship with the natural conditions.

Desert habitation has always been effective in terms of adaptation to the harsh conditions of the
terrain and climate. The cities are made in the forms of traditional architecture, largely due to the
influence of the environment. Houses are compact with a closed outer face. The layout is similar
in most of the villages16. The vernacular architecture which is an Adaptive and flexible building
process that is responsive to changing needs. One aspect trend is the keen interest being
shown in the high environmental performance of vernacular architecture. The term “vernacular
architecture” is used to refer to traditional buildings that have been designed and built to match
the local climate and culture and what built in the desert areas differed in the composition and
construction material than built in other areas. Most of the houses are Patio4 houses and that
represent the module houses (fig. 11, fig. 12) of this historic cities. The patio is a kind of
4 The patio is a central courtyard and characterizes a type of habitat rather urban than rural. It would be possible
to differentiate the patio from the courtyard by a more central position, a functional role more complex and
especially socially as a place of residence and family life. Available at: http://openarchive.icomos.org/1160/1/II-1-
Article6_Abdulac.pdf
Figure 9: City view of Ghadames,
Photo: George Steinmetz.
Figure 10: View of a local house inside the
city of Ghadames.

Figure 11: Plan of a traditional house,
Ghardaia, with Chikan access, credit:
J. Eshalie.
Figure 12: Section of Mozabite house in
Ghardaia city, small windows, arcades, Patio,
credit: Christian Bouquet.

microcosm that connects the house with nature, sky, sun, fresh air, earth, and sometimes water
and vegetation. The spatial configuration of the cup-shaped patio creates a kind of microclimate
17.

Plans are about 8 – 15 m width, except the upstairs usually more smaller, unless it extends over
a street. The review presents a compact form of urban and wind towers, the orientation of
buildings in the sun and wind, the location of summer and winter spaces, the use of local
materials and clean energy as environmental potentials, narrow and enclosed passages,
underground spaces, deep patios, thick walls, use of water and plants, reuse of materials –
these are some significant solutions in the urban and architectural design of this region for the
fact that the green city even in the current topic 18.

The buildings are so tightly pressed against each other that they leave a minimum of the area of
the external surfaces that are not protected from the marching rays of the sun and the hot
winds-dry winds. The planning structure of the complex is characterized by integrity and unity,
almost complete absence of separately standing material volumes, high density and heat
resistance of all residential buildings.

Massive building envelope structures soften and slow down the impact of periodic thermal
waves. In each dwelling, there is a shady green courtyard, reliably protected from unfavorable
factors of the external environment. Such a compositional principle of construction is dictated
both by an urgent biological need and by the theories of social and cultural-historical
development 19. For a long time, knowledge of the practice of construction on these sites has
evolved and passed on from generation to generation, in order to better understand the context
and ideally adapt to these conditions. The Climate is one of the most important things that
govern the form and distribution of buildings and orientation, as well as on the urban level all the
components of the city buildings and roads; for example, the convergence of buildings in the
desert areas is the result of the prevailing hot climate. The practice of a desert habitat for the
development of a set of conceptual solutions, clean, which allow it to adapt perfectly to the
climate, and also to low energy consumption, Dwelling in the desert is like a paradox and an
indispensable source for studying organizations and architectural typologies and adapting to
climate change.

SOURCES OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Fig. 1. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Koppen_World_Map_BWh.png
Fig. 2. https://skepticalscience.com/print.php?n=3006
Fig. 3. http://www.smara.climatemps.com/map.php
Fig. 4. http://maps.wunderground.com/blog/Weather456/archive.html?year=2010;month=06
Fig. 5. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/04/19/angle-of-vision
Fig. 6. https://lovetrotters.net/2016/11/03/ksar-ait-benheddou-hollywood-marocaine/
Fig. 7. https://jworgfre.blogspot.ru/2015/12/les-villes-fortifiees-de-la-vallee-du.html
Fig. 8. https://www.trover.com/d/tNrI-ghardaia-mzab-valley-algeria-ghardaia-algeria
Fig. 9. http://georgesteinmetz.com/collections/libya-revisited-collection/
Fig. 10. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bilwander/4667093485/in/photostream/

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?? ???????
??????? ???????? ?????
???????? ??????? «A?????????a ? C????????????», ?????????? ??????????? ??????
???????, ??????, ??????
e-mail: [email protected]

????? ?????? ??????????
???????? ???????????, ??????, ?????????, ?????????? ??????????? ?????? ???????,
??????? «A?????????a ? C????????????», ??????, ??????
e-mail: [email protected]

??????? ??????? ??????????
???????? ???????????, ??????, ?????????, ?????????? ????????????? ????????
(??????????????? ????????), ??????, ??????
e-mail: [email protected]

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Benyoucef Mohammed Yassine
Postgraduate student, Department « Architecture and Construction», Peoples’ Friendship
University of Russia, Moscow, Russia.
e-mail: [email protected]

Razin Andrey Dianisovich
PhD in Architecture, Professor, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Department
« Architecture and Construction», Moscow, Russia.
e-mail: [email protected]

Shuvalov Vasiliy
PhD in Architecture, Professor, Moscow Institute of Architecture (State Academy), Moscow,
Russia.
e-mail: [email protected]