The vernacular architecture in Dubai was influenced by the environment, social structure and the teachings of Islam. The most prominent building uses in the U.A.E. were residential, religious (mosques), commercial (souks) and defense (forts and towers).
Social interaction in the community determined the arrangement of settlements. Residences were centered on the religious and commercial areas of the neighborhood. Every small town had their commercial area integrated within the religious complex while the larger town had independent market places known as the souk. Residential and religious buildings were built with the same technique and material but only differed by function.
The typical residential plot consisted of a central open courtyard, which was usually a small garden, around which the living spaces were arranged. The courtyard was the social space of the household. The main entrance led to a visitor area before opening into the rest of the living space to provide privacy for the family. The living spaces were usually built with coral stones or mud and had windows facing the courtyard for natural light and narrow openings near the ceiling for ventilation. The courtyard serves as a source for natural light and ventilation for the rest of the house. The service areas like the kitchen and bathroom were usually independent structures separate from the other living spaces. All these rooms are connected through the internal courtyard.
Some of the buildings had wind catchers for ventilation. A wind catcher is a tall narrow vertical tower approximately 4m high above the roof built with either wood or the same material as the building structure. The tower is designed to direct hot air upwards through the narrow walls of the tower due to the pressure difference as well as direct cooler air downwards into the structure. This along with narrow ventilation ducts serves as an efficient cooling system for the interior of the building. The sketches above demonstrate the concept of the vernacular Arabian residence.
Vernacular building design adopted techniques of passive cooling which helped residents to curtail the harsh heat of the summer. An efficient ventilation system was created by orienting the openings towards the cooler wind channels. In addition to responding to the local climate, the traditional building also encouraged social interaction within the household and the neighborhood. Industrial growth and influx of newer technologies has reduced the time needed for construction of buildings. In the past five decades, the traditional building form has seen a rapid evolution shifting the skyline of the modern Emirati city to dense building blocks of concrete and glass.