Behind a Roshan: Visualizing the Roshan as an ArchitecturalElement in Traditional Domestic Interiors
The roshan is one of the elements that has been studied in my MAthesis, with an emphasis on its term in Arabic and its form anduses in Makkan traditional buildings. “roshan” is an old term usedfor a wooden projected window within the Islamic world. The termwas widely spread until the Mamluk era (1248- 1516), written inplanning and building regulation documents of Islamic cities, yetit is not an Arabic expression. The word roshan has now beenreplaced by many local terms around the Islamic world. Forinstance, it is known as Mashrabiyyah in Egypt and the north ofAfrica, Shanashil in Iraq, Koshke in Syria and Jali in India. Theterm roshan revived again in 1990 when Greenlaw studied Suakentraditional buildings, and focused on the roshan as a distinctiveelement in the Red Sea houses and buildings. The term roshan thenbecame used exclusively for the Red Sea region, whereas the termMashrabiyyah has been more widely popular due to orientalism.
Part of my motivation as a researcher is to help to recover theold terminology of “roshan”. As a teacher of Art in Makkah (SaudiArabia), I have touched the need of references covering Islamic andArabic interiors in general and traditional domestic ones inparticular. In other words, it is claimed that records of domesticarchitecture and of interiors are rare due to accessingdifficulties to private houses, and only rarely have students ofArabian architecture had the degree of this access that allows adetailed description of interiors (King: 1997:3). There are somerestoration movements in Arabia, however, Makkah as a holy capitalof Islam sacrifices the most where the Al-Haram area needs to beenlarged, and the increased number of pilgrims around the year needto be accommodated.
Consequently the traditional architectural fabric suffers arapid destruction. Although there may be some studies coveringtraditional buildings and even a roshan, firstly, they do notinvestigate interior design in-depth. And secondly, they are stillkept as research reports or theses but not in Saudi (mostly inEnglish). That is, it is hard to find serious Arabic sources ontraditional domestic interiors.
Furthermore, I realised that my students had no interest in theroshan, as they assumed it is outdated. In fact they showedunawareness and less knowledge when I asked about the roshan as adistinctive part in Makkan heritage. It seems that it is a seriousissue, where the new generation witness the vanishing stage of thelocal heritage without any efforts of restoration, or even a sourceto document this period of history. Students are not to be blamed,because using the roshan as a symbol of tradition in some Arabiccultures may enhance the idea that a roshan is old fashioned and along forgotten element. Overall, it might be argued that manyissues contribute to its low status, thus both the fading away ofthe term and the lack of usage of a roshan in modern architecture,particularly in Makkah. This study is aiming to understand theconcept of a roshan as a traditional element in interior design andto revalue its quality. Using visual images and a pictorialdatabase will enhance easy access for scholars and minimiselanguage problems.
The importance of the study
“Roshan and Shobbak - Their impact on the interior design ofthe Traditional Makkan Houses during the early 14th Century A.H(Islamic Calendar)”: The MPhil thesis is recommended to bepublished as a book by the University, and awarded a prize incelebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Kingdom of SaudiArabia (Published in 2000).
Several rewards as well as financial prizes for exhibiting somewatercolor paintings (mainly related to the roshan as a source of creativity).