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7. The humidity factor
In the name of Allah, The Beneficient, The Merciful. And "We sent down out of Heaven water in measure and lodged it in the earth and we are able to take it away" (18).-Book of Al-Qur'ãn, "The Believer."
Water is scarce in desert lands, and people in the hot arid zones have always cherished water and tried to remain in contact with it as long as possible. Apart from its refreshing effect physically, it has always had a pleasing psychological effect. Furthermore, water is very important in increasing the humidity and thereby promoting thermal comfort in hot arid lands.
In the Arab house, the fountain plays a role equivalent to the fireplace in the temperate zones, although one is used for cooling and the other for heating. Thus, the fountain is an architectural feature occupying a privileged place in the house plan.
Originally in the Arab house the fountain was placed in the middle of the courtyard with the iwãnãt or living spaces opened onto it. It always had a symbolic form, square in shape, with the inner basin in the form of an octagon or a hexadecagon as in the example of a fountain in a traditional house in Cairo shown in figure 80. From each of the triangles formed at the corners of the square, a semi-circle was scooped out, so that the entire basin appears as if it were a geometrical projection of a dome on squinches, symbolizing the sky as seen in figure 81. Thus the real sky is brought down into intimate contact with the iwãnãt by the reflection in the symbolic sky of the water basin.
After further development of the Arab house, the concept of the courtyard with several iwãnãt was transformed into the qã'a concept, composed of a dur-qã'a, which is a covered courtyard, with the iwãnãt leading from it. In this arrangement, the fountain occupies a place in the center, displaying its water and mixing it with air to increase humidity.
In places where there was not enough pressure to permit the water to spout out of the fountainhead, architects frequently replaced the fountain with the salsabil. The salsabil is a marble plate, decorated with wavy patterns suggestive of water and wind, which is placed against the wall inside a niche on the opposite side of the iwãn or sitting space. It is placed at an angle, as shown in figure 82, to permit the water to trickle over the surface, thus facilitating evaporation and increasing the humidity of the surrounding air. The water then flows into a marble channel until it reaches the fountain in the middle of the dur-qã'a. The salsabil can be interpreted as a transposition of the fountainhead placed outside the fountain, which shows mental flexibility and freedom of inventiveness in design. It allows the architect to use his creativity and sensitivity in expressing his feelings through architecture. Of the two examples in figures 83 and 84, one can say that they provide tangible proof of Goethe's statement that "architecture is frozen music."
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