WIT Press

The Ecology Of The Mudhif


Free (open access)

Paper DOI






Page Range

15 - 26




634 kb


G. Broadbent


If Eco Architecture is a matter of designing with nature then the Sumerian mudhif is a paradigmatic example. It was first built in the marshes of what is now southern Iraq, over 5000 years ago, and constructed entirely of reeds, to form huge parabolic arches over which reed mats were tied to form walls, curving over into roofs whilst the flat end walls had reed lattice panels for the admission of daylight and air. The mudhif was built and used, by the Marsh Arabs of the region, until 1993 when Saddam Hussein began to drain and dam the marshes, in an attempt to destroy the life and culture of those Arabs. But after his defeat in 2003, the Arabs dug up his dykes, canals and damns, re-flooded the marshes and began to resume their ancient way of life. Keywords: Sumerian, mudhif, reed construction, lattice panels, Marsh Arabs. 1 Development of the mudhif The most immediate ways of interacting with nature of course is to design for both climate and topography, using local resources to make ourselves comfortable by means of the building itself, with a minimum involvement of mechanical devices. The earliest known example of such construction still in use is the Sumerian, reed-built mudhif which is also one of the oldest known monumental building types. These mudhifs were built by the culture which not only developed the world’s first cities, with their great mud-brick ziggurats and temples; it also invented writing, for the keeping of temple records. And of course, for sustenance, the cities had to be surrounded by agricultural villages hence, in the marshes, buildings constucted entirely of reeds. Carved elevations of the latter have been found, on temple walls and a carved gypsum trough from ancient Uruk, dated to c 3,200 BC and now in the British Museum (WA 120000). This shows an elevation of a typical mudhif with


Sumerian, mudhif, reed construction, lattice panels, Marsh Arabs.