Al Jahili Fort

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Al Jahili Fort

Earthen-clay building-culture in its purest form

Al Ain and Abu Dhabi are 140 kilometres, a deserted desert, and architectural worlds apart. While Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf shines with a glittering skyline and modern architecture, the former oasis city of Al Ain impresses with green parks and historic clay-earth architecture. A visit to the former Al Jahili Fort completes the picture of building culture in this part of the world and will permanently change your view on building with earthen clay.

Mass protects – massive earthen building as a defensive structure

Al Jahili Fort – built in 1891 – is the most famous fortification in the United Arab Emirates. Metre-high crenelated clay-earth walls, round watchtowers and a mighty wooden gate protect a huge courtyard. Inside, along the thick walls, various buildings’ wings are arranged.

Behind these massive walls, one could feel safe. This protection was necessary because the fort secured access to water sources – a rare commodity in the desert.

Preserving architectural culture – a modern museum in a historic fort

Today, you will find another treasure in Al Jahili Fort: the photo collection of the British travel writer and photographer Wilfried Thesiger, who travelled the Arabian Peninsula in the 1940s.

For the conversion into a museum, the historic earthen-clay building had to be renovated. Responsible for planning this renovation was the Berlin architectural office Roswag & Jankowski Architekten. So that visitors can experience the fort today in its historical form, only clay and palm wood were used – just as they were when it was built.

Presenting art – sophisticated interiors with clay walls

Inside, too, you experience purely earthen-clay construction – because the existing clay plaster could be reused. It was removed, rewetted, and reapplied. This ability to be directly recycled is a great advantage of earthen building materials.

Hidden under the clay plaster, a modern cold-water cooling system ensures the right room temperature and the protection of the antique photos. In combination with the solid clay-earth walls and modern solar-protective glass, the room temperature remains constant.

The colour scheme of the rooms is also coordinated with the black-and-white photos. The light grey colour of the clay design plaster harmonises perfectly with the barite photo prints. In these photos, a nomadic culture is depicted that no longer exists today. This makes Al Jahili Fort all the more important as an architectural witness to the Arab past.

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Clay Highlight:

Continuing quality – Claytec earthen building materials for cultural locations

More than 100 years after its construction, the earthen-clay architecture of Al Jahili Fort has lost none of its quality. On the contrary – the architecture was easily adapted to different use and modern needs using the same building materials. Would this also be possible with Abu Dhabi’s high-rise buildings made of concrete, steel and glass?

During the renovation, the old clay plaster was reused. Unlike in the past, however, the clay plaster was not smoothed with the hands but with straightedges. The light grey colour of the YOSIMA clay design plaster used also differs from the original.

The new colour, however, has another important model: the Kolumba Museum in Cologne. The architect Peter Zumthor had it developed especially for the prominent new museum building. As with all 146 shades of YOSIMA clay designer plaster, only coloured clays were used to create the custom shade. An art in itself.


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