Situated in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), once used to be a featureless landscape with hardly any buildings. Up until the early 19th century, the prominent location of Dubai’s emirate significantly improved an income source to the country, mainly through the pearling and trade industry in the Arabian Gulf. After the discovery of oil fields, the drastic shift in the country’s economy helped it to be the financial hub it is today, hence the urban growth of the country, witnessing the history of the ancient Arabian tribes translated into the architecture. With a rich historical influence, the architecture of UAE has seen various features of the Arabic-Islamic culture, giving its vernacular its own traditional identity.  

Here are 10 structures that represent the historical architecture of the UAE.

1. Al Jahili Fort | Architecture of UAE

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Located in the center of Al Ain, this historical landmark was built in the late 19th century. The earthy raw materials of the fort, at the time, served availability and temperature preservation purposes, highlighting the traditional mud-brick architecture that is still found in some parts of the city. The fort had different elements of the UAE’s heritage, including the open space square fort with four elongated defensive towers at each corner coming from the large thick boundary walls hugging the round watch-over tower, to preserve the utopian palm trees plantation at the time encouraging landscaping onto this land that lacked greenery.

2. Qasr Al Hosn

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Located on the first road of Abu Dhabi, Qasr al Hosn is one of the oldest stone buildings in the city. Holding one of the first prominent structures in the country: a watch-over tower. Known as either the White Tower for its stone color or the Old Fort, whereas the word ‘Qasr’ Is an Arabic word that translates to a ‘palace’. This historical landmark illustrates ties to the ancient-Arabian men of Bedouin roots, considering the rooms and how they are open to the courtyard serving different activities. Qasr Al Hosn became a historical and archeological subject of importance in the city, as it once became the Prince’s palace and the governing seat until it became a space of celebration.    

3. Hatta Heritage Village | Architecture of UAE

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A historical landscape in the form of a village, located in Dubai. Housing 17 different stone and mud houses, in addition to the 2 castles and the watch-over tower. The Hatta Heritage village showcases the rural authentic mountainous life of their people at the time. From materiality to the narrow alleyways the village illustrates the cultural impact on its architecture, making the hot breezes of wind cool down through the alley ways considering the extremely warm weather of the country. 

4. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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Located in the capital emirate, Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was built to be one of the largest mosques in the country and the world, since 2007. Regardless of its modernity, the architecture of the mosque shows the influences of the UAE’s historical and cultural identity. The design of the mosque shows the inspiration of the Persian and Arab Islamic architecture shown in the shape of the dome, the alluring archway, and the minaret, making the construction phase last up to 11 years.  

5. Jumeirah Mosque | Architecture of UAE

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Located in Dubai City, the Jumeirah Mosque. Constructed through the mid-19th century, the cultural and Arab Islamic influences show on the mosque’s architecture. Built following the Fatimid architectural style, which was as well present on the two minarets of the marble mosque. Just like the minarets, the large dome of the mosque shows sophisticated detailing, showcasing an overall façade that leaves the pedestrian in awe and making it one of the most photographed mosques in the city. 

6. Al‐Fahidi Fort

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Located at the border of Urban Dubai, the fort was built mid-18th century. Just like most of the forts in the country, the historical influence is shown through the raw materials of mud mixtures. The fort houses a large tower and a watch-over. 200 years later the fort served different purposes such as being a jail and later on a museum. The courtyard shows different rooms around and a relatively small wooden house in the center, emphasizes how the rural people lived at the time. 

7. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum house 

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Located in Dubai, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoom’s house illustrates different historical and cultural UAE architecture elements, later on influencing the vernacular of the city’s architecture. This structure of the building symbolizes the clarity and openness between the ruler and the rest of the people, hence the no barrier or fences that surround the palace making it more inviting. Although the palace does not look spacious, it has a large open space where the palace is directed towards Mecca, showing religious factors of how the rooms sit in the palace. In addition to the earthy materials, the ‘barjeel’ is a traditional architectural element, with Persian influences, was used in the Sheikh’s house that was later implemented in many other houses in the country. 

8. ‘Barjeel’ | Architecture of UAE

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As an architectural element that was implemented in traditional houses in the UAE, the concept was developed to maintain and keep cool of the weather considering the high temperature of the country. Living without air-conditioning at the time was unbearable and using wind towers ‘the barjeel’ was an architectural solution. It started being part of the traditional UAE architecture that cools down the desert houses as it helps to recirculate the air. It usually starts above the roof, being 5 meters high and open from all 4 sides allowing it to serve its function. 

9. Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization


Located in the heart of Sharjah, the museum was built in the 20th century. Built-in a traditional Arab Islamic architecture with attractive large features, having one of the prominent features of the building to be the majestic dome centered in the middle of the building. Unlike many museums, it emphasizes the historical Islamic impact of the country reflecting it on the colorful façade illustrating the relation between the museum and the ancient Islamic civilization that goes back more than a thousand years ago. 

10. Masdar Institute of Science and Technology | Architecture of UAE


Located in Abu Dhabi, thriving to be the next sustainable solution. Regardless of the modernity of Foster + Partner’s design, the implementations of the historical and cultural identity of the UAE are shown. From the use of the terracotta curved façade, it shows the relation to the earthy materials that were used in the ancient UAE time. As well as to the narrow alleyways between the housing unit and the university itself allows and maintains colder breezes. Also, foster implemented a technological wind tower that was discovered in the later times to circulate the air particles, showcasing fosters the design of Masdar being derived from the historical elements of the country’s architecture.  


An Architecture BA graduate that aims to leave her mark by offering her skill-set and knowledge of architecture to the rest of the world, BaheyaSarhan is strongly passionate about sustainable designs and model making. She is currently interning at an architectural practice based in Bahrain.