Corals are silent animals that have provided valuable raw material for construction for centuries. This humble material has not been given much advertisement and it is unknown for many people.
There are coral stone buildings in places as far as Zanzibar, Dominican Republic or the Philippines. Saudi Arabia has used this construction method on its coast to the Persian gulf and to the Red Sea.
Although the materials are the same, the architecture is different in the different regions and the combination of the stone, wood and climate conditions has developed interesting building structures typical of the Saudi Arabian coast.
Façades in Jeddah Al Balad are usually regular and, in general, have a similar proportion of openings/walls. Probably the construction material was expensive and the need for cross-ventilation made the openings large in proportion to the walls.
The Bazan Lane and Abu Inabah Lane façades show service areas with smaller windows and larger openings with mashrabiyah for main rooms. It also has a particular volume sticking out of the facade alignment.
This brown watercolor is the art work depicting the facade pictured in above images.
Some buildings are of a much more humble origin but they do not lack charm, still decorated with wooden latticework and bright colors. The size of the openings show the importance of the rooms. In this case, the size of the plot is narrow and service rooms ventilate though the main façade.
This house in Abu Inabah Street has a continuous mashrabiyah with an outside shelf for plants or perhaps objects. Observe that the top floor wood enclosure does not have roof since it is built just for privacy purposes.
This house in Souq AlJami Lane has a unique feature. On the side façade there is a patio at the height of the first floor, closed with a wooden structure. It covers the entrance but it is accessible from the first floor and roofed by the third floor. Although the construction is in bad shape now, it is possible to see the side entrance to the building in the ground floor, the closed structure on first floor, the open structure for the second floor and the third floor covering the whole patio.
These outdoor spaces are the adaptation of the construction system and local culture to climate. The shade they provide avoid accumulating heat in the stone surfaces and in the evening the outdoor flooring does not release the heat gained during the day hours. This system reduces the heat island effect because the wooden structure cools easily at night and the stone materials do not gain any heat.
At evenings, the mashrabiyah allows for discrete openings to allow cross ventilation while keeping the privacy in the exterior space.
Coral stone walls are a mixed technique of coral stones with limestone concrete and layers of wood planks for regularity. Afterwards, they are covered with plaster and painted. The traditional houses along the Saudi Arabian coast to the Red Sea are built in this technique and called coral houses. There are very nice examples of coral houses in AlWajh and Yanbu, further North along the coast. You can see the coral skeleton structure of the stones in the image. The wood planks also structure the composition of the façades. Most probably, coral stones cannot be cut into proper regular shapes and the wood planks distribute the weight and forces as well as set the horizontality every 4-5 rows of stones.
The main feature of this neighborhood is the abundance of mashrabiya, also called roshan or shanshul. Mashrabiyah are wooden over structures added to the façade openings to provide sun protection and privacy. Usually, the mashrabiyah covers windows and encloses balconies with wood latticework. When built on roofs, the mashrabiyah provides shade, ideal for evening outdoor sitting as the windows can be opened while keeping the privacy. The interiors are just fabulous spaces with high ceilings for stratification of temperature, filtered natural light and bespoke built cabinets and sitting areas.
The interiors of these constructions are stunning. Of course, some will be more refined than other, but all of them have the atmosphere qualities needed in the region: filtering the sharp sunlight, allowing for cross-ventilation to cope with the high humidity in summer and protecting the privacy of the Arab family. Coral stones are not that strong and therefore walls are thick, allowing for built-in cabinets and shelves.
It is also typical of these houses windows communicating between rooms. They allow for cross-ventilation during the day and privacy during the night. Some larger houses have a splendid sitting room, diwan or majlis, that we have to imagine covered in carpets, with bespoke made cushions and low furniture, hanging lamps and fabrics.