26 Pages

Introduction: Sana'a, Craft and the Building Trade

In the Spring of 1990 I paid a visit to the Zamana Gallery in Knightsbridge to view an exhibit of large and extraordinary ciba-chrome prints of Yemeni architecture taken by the Marechauxs. A few months later, accompanied by a fellow architect and our Lonely Planet guide, I was peering down from an aircraft onto the mountain-cap villages of the Yemeni highlands on a journey to the capital city, Sana'a. My first visit left me, as an architectturning-anthropologist, deeply impressed by its visual splendour and sophisticated sense of space. I continued research on Yemen and the country's indigenous building practices when I returned to my home city, Montreal, and later presented several lectures to my alumni at the McGill University School of Architecture. A subsequent research project in 1992-93 on vernacular architecture and extended family compounds in the Hausaland city of Zaria, Northern Nigeria, enabled me to develop an anthropological approach to my studies of space. 1 In 1996 I returned to Sana'a to conduct field work for a year-long period extending into 1997, and again for a shorter visit in 1998 in order to advance both my theoretical and methodological approaches to studying spatial cognition and apprenticeship amongst traditional builders. Sana'a al-Qadeema, or Old Sana'a, presented an urban fabric rich in history, built forms, and aesthetic innovations which inspired my aesthetic sensibility and intellectual curiosity. In the first section of this introduction I will outline the historic and physical context of the city before proceeding to a discussion on the contemporary condition of apprenticeship and craft in Yemen.