The Housing Problem of Riyadh

Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, with a population of 5.7 million. It is one of the least dense cities in the world, at 2,500 /sq.mi. (Dubai is 6,863. Istanbul 7,060. Los Angeles 3,189. Chicago 11,864.) There is no public transport available, but they are working on it.

Right to left, top to bottom: #1: 4000sf is too much, 3000sf is enough. #2: 3000sf is too much, 1000sf is enough. #3: 1000sf is too much, 400sf is enough. #4: 400sf is too much, 20sf is enough.

Right to left, top to bottom: #1: 4000sf is too much, 3000sf is enough. #2: 3000sf is too much, 1000sf is enough. #3: 1000sf is too much, 400sf is enough. #4: 400sf is too much, 20sf is enough.

Yet for a city with so little density and that is literally in the middle of the desert, it is currently in an ongoing housing crisis. 50% of residential units are of the typical "villa" type, which means a walled, but not wall to wall, 2.5-story house. Land available to buy and build is too scarce, leading to an increase in prices as the demand for houses rises, while income remains largely the same.  Land that is available for sale to build on is becoming smaller and smaller. 

This has prompted a research project in my first semester in SAIC : an investigation on how Houses grow. Starting from the simple observation about how houses of the Middle East grew historically with their families, I speculated into how could that be applied to the Riyadh houses of today. It started with an analysis of a typical Riyadh house and the rules and patterns that generally govern it. The rules had to written in a way that allowed potential extendability in the future.

In addition to speculation about how could a single house grow and how the neighborhood would grow with it. For the case study, I took the house I grew up in, and imagines a past and a future for its extendability, spaced over the typical growth of a Saudi family, based on a study by an undergraduate classmate, Ahmad Alfarhan.

Eventually, this the original exercise led to the first prototype of Autoarchitect. A genetic algorithm was created to design house based on the number of family members, and a typical program based on earlier research. The prototype, while not including doors and windows and staircases, accounted well for rooms that intersect with each other and sent rooms up to the second floor as needed. The only problem is that it took a long time and the result was nowhere useable. 

This was, in a nutshell, the first version of Autoarchitect. In the next blog post I will share some of prior art and some of the writing on the subject that influenced me then and later. 

Goal of this Project

Computing has changed the face of the world. It changed accounting, news reporting, photography, transportation, medicine, and many more. Even the building industry has benefitted from computing. Buildings have increased in complexity and capacity. Construction has become easier and faster. Smart Houses allow people to control every aspect of their house from their phone: manage the environment, security, and media. But why stop there?

The quintessential act of Architecture; that of designing spaces and buildings that adapt to their users and their client's needs remains untouched by computing. Architects still sit with their client, sketch an idea (on paper or on a tablet), then go over it with consultants and draftsmen and contractors, produce the construction drawings, and so on. Architecture is a process, and the process has not seen much change from computing.

Autoarchitect aims to reinvent that process. It is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. But it attempts this at an angle that has not been done before. It is a software that takes the resident's input and transforms it into a house that satisfies their criteria. This input can range from anything to the number of kids to the family, the number of cars, the vegetation in the garden, and their favorite sitcom. The eventual goal of Autoarchitect is to create a webapp where customers can submit their input, and receive their house plans and construction drawings in a matter of a few hours.

Due to my background and understanding of Saudi housing, Autoarchitect is written and designed for that market.