Never heard about “MASHRABIYA” before! That’s ok…..

Let’s treat ourselves with a quick walk through the STREETS OF ARAB … and admire this heritage of Arabic architecture.

Mashrabiya- Photo by Golden Designer from Pexels

MASHRABIYA is typically a type of Bay window masking the upper floors of a traditional Arabic building or an Arabic house. It is an integral part of Arab lifestyle since ages and an element of sustainable architecture ornamented with beautiful lattice work and occasionally with stained glass.

It sounds similar to the Harem window in English and serves similar purpose as Rajputi JHAROKHA-. It was designed to ensure the psychological, physical, social, environmental and religious requirements of the time and place in which they appear.


Mashrabiya (Arabic: مشربية‎) is known with names like tarima, shanashil, shanshūl (شنشول) or rūshān (روشان). The most recognize theory about the origin of the term “Mashrabiya” comes from Arabic literature. It is derived from ‘sharaba’, means ‘to drink’ in Arabic. The place designated to Mashrabiya was usually used to store drinking water pots as the window as a means of ventilation helped the water to remain cool for longer period of time.


This Islamic architectural feature shares a vast history dating back to 12th century and Middle ages. Historical records show their presence in most part of the Middle Eastern cities, Baghdad, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Malta and other Saudi region.

With the arrival of 20th century, Arab underwent a huge modernization program which leads to the demolition of various historical Islamic architectural features along with Mashrabiyas. But this vernacular architecture is later uplifted back by Arabic arts communities, renowned architects like Rifat Chadirji and artist Lorna Selim, who played major role in revival of beautiful Mashrabiyas.

Their initiatives have done a huge contribution in survival, restoration and celebration of such prominent element which is – Traditional, Beautiful and Sustainable.


Mashrabiyas are a part of ancient architecture found in typical Arabic houses. Time also allows changes in the earlier structure of Mashrabiya and turned a Bay window into a highly decorative enclosed balcony.

This marvelous structure of Eastern Arab, was present all over Baghdad, Iran and Iraq. In 14th century, Mashrabiyas gained huge attention of architects and craftsmen especially in Cairo, Egypt. They were transformed from just a store space into a comfortable cozy corner of the house. They were fitted with cushioned beds or sometimes portable seating allowing the occupants to recline in cool privacy and gazing down at the Arabian streets without actually being seen.









They were expensive and thus at first limited to the palaces of rulers and the homes of the wealthier merchants as an outward sign of success. Later, they were incorporated in Arabic buildings, Mosques, hospitals, schools and other government buildings. They became an eminent part of urban elite houses of Arab.

Mashrabiya became a popular source of ventilation in dense urban areas of Arab because of their presence on upper stories as thus creating zero hindrance in traffic in the busy streets of Arab. Mashrabiyas is not just a window but a multifaceted architectural element. They served multiple purposes like privacy, shade, controlling air and temperature inside the building, giving a comfy corner in the house and much more.


With its multifaceted functions– Mashrabiya is an excellent example of Islamic architecture imbibing all aspects of Islamic lifestyle and culture in such a single beautiful element.

In those times, Mashrabiya’s arrangement, shape, material, color and intricacy was considered to be a display of the financial status of the occupants. The whole structure of Mashrabiya enhances the warmth of the building creating confidence and providing bliss to the occupants and inspires creative energy.

As the centuries passed, these ancient windows disappeared in the modern sleek design. Even architects who copy these components in their modern designs miss the pure essence of the structure as they create the design without the understanding of the implications and qualities this beautiful Mashrabiya holds.

Modern Architects or Designers must come forward to learn and appreciate these ancient components and make an effort to integrate them effectively into the architectural plans of present-day structures. Simple designs replaced the original intricacy as shown here-


Like here in the residential buildings in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute which are inspired from ancient Mashrabiyas controlling interior heat and adds to the aesthetics.

Given the elegance, artistry, practicality and multifaceted approach of Mashrabiya, we will undoubtedly continue to explore new ways of including this beautiful element in modern architecture and will able to see interesting variations of this ancient Arabic structure long into the future….


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  1. Pe – Montañero y aventurero de corazón. Es guía de montaña por la Escuela de Montaña de Benasque (EMB). Ha organizando actividades en la naturaleza, en la montaña y viajes en grupo al extranjero, principalmente en Norte y Sur América.Entre las cumbres que ha realizado, cabe destacar las ascensiones invernales al pico Almanzor, en solitario y sin cuerda, el Whiler Peak en las Montañas Rocasas, unos ocho cincomiles en la Cordilleras Blanca, Huayhuash y Raura de Perú y en el Cocuy de Colombia, de los cuales dos fueron en solitario, y el Huascarán (6768m) junto a otros nueve integrantes de la expedición española que organizó a esta emblematica cumbre en el 2012.Del 2013 hasta el 2016 ha vivido en Colombia, llegando a zonas recónditas e inexploradas, poco visitadas incluso por los propios colombianos. Siente pasión por este país y la alegría de su gente, queriendo compartirla con aquellos que se quieran adentrar en ésta cultura y naturaleza salvaje, para enamorarse así como él, de tanta belleza en estado puro.
    Pe says:

    Amazing. Got a space in my room like that. Also, very inspiring how they have being reinterpreted in contemporary architecture. Very bioclimatic. Love the Mashrabiya Building facade and intermediate space…. light and heat control.

    1. OBSIDIAN SPACE – India – My obsession with art and design inspired me to pursue Interior Designing after my Post - graduation in Earth sciences just to brush up my creativity and thus learning functional design techniques. But I BELIEVE just learning How-To-Design is not enough. Space should be ecologically sound at-least to some extent, And that's where Obsidian Space came up. Started in 2019, this is the place to features inspirational content related to sustainable design approaches with the prime Focus on Historic architecture, Eco-friendly designing, Celebrating and reviving global folk heritage and sometimes a bit know-how of ancient science of Vastu and Feng-shui in space planning. Thanks for looking up. I invite you to join this virtual community and stay connected.
      OBSIDIAN SPACE says:

      Thank you, Pe. So nice to hear from you.
      And yes Mashrabiyas are great for sustainable architeture. It’s amazing that your room has got such space inspired from this ancient element.

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