chapter  2
12 Pages

A lesson in urban design from Dakhleh Oasis

ByRiccardo Balbo

The first task of the on-site research was to explore the villages in the oasis.1 Two villages, Al Qasr and Balat, were chosen as case studies owing to the richness of their architectural and urban features. Al Qasr is a fortified village, built on top of an arid hill with an excellent view over the desert and good visibility of far off sand tracks. The southern slope extends smoothly to the flat sand zone, where ancient artesian wells provide the water. The northern

fside of the hill opens to the plateau leading to the Farafra Oasis. The original settlement o earthen architecture was preserved intact and this allowed the village to grow vertically during its most prosperous period. The process was similar to that observed in southern and central European towns in the Middle Ages, where cities that were constrained by natural boundaries

ror defensive walls could only expand vertically by adding to the existing settlement o demolishing entire districts and rebuilding them at higher density. Most Italian cities and villages can be observed to show indications of such expansion, which demonstrates how strong the

ddefensive attitude of the community was and how this limited the idea of the city beyon its original boundaries. Just as in Europe the Napoleonic war campaigns had made defensive structures useless in Italy, similarly in these desert regions as soon as the massive Bedouin raids stopped after the Second World War the mostly abandoned settlement gave way to an alternative development with a new generation of houses built outside the remains of the fortified walls.