The Angawi family open the doors to their home — one of Jeddah’s proud symbols of cultural heritage.
In the welcoming Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, lives Dr Sami Angawi, son of a Mutawwif, a knowledgeable person who guides pilgrims during Hajj. He has created a life rooted in preserving Saudi heritage and traditions, and building bridges between nations and cultures. An authority on the architecture of his region, he has accomplished major projects in Saudi and abroad, such as the Islamic Institute of Boston, and the International Medical Center in Jeddah. In 1975, he worked with German architect Frei Otto on the Hajj Research Center in the Kingdom’s capital, for which he was the founder and director. The pair had previously teamed up for an international competition to design accommodation for two million pilgrims in Mecca. He would later work with Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy on the ground-breaking Dar al-Islam community project in Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1979, which was designed to house and educate Muslim families in a welcoming village environment.
Despite an architectural pedigree which spans continents and decades, by his own admission, Dr Angawi’s greatest legacy is Al Makkiyah, his family home, which was 10 years in the making, creating a holistic haven in the heart of Jeddah. Al Makkiyah refers to Mecca. “That’s my origin, that’s my life,” say the founder and CEO of Amar for Architectural Heritage. “I was born in Mecca, where my family is originally from, and we are honored to be descendants of the Prophet’s family. When I decided to do something in Jeddah, I wanted to build [a home] that identifies and represents Mecca and Medina. So, by default, it was called Al Makkiyah.”
“I see in three dimensions; this is how my mind works,” explains Dr Angawi of his design process. In order to find balance, he creates an equilibrium between six main points: the environment, the economic, and social culture, the material and technology, the purpose or function of the building, and the regulations and laws of the place. Every single detail in Al Makkiyah is studied to provide comfort; and all the details stimulate the five senses. “You have the body and the soul, if they’re balanced in a good way, then you have the right spirit to be in the place,” he considers.
“The idea of ‘Al Mizan’ (balance) in design, as my father explains, is a tool of thinking,” says Dr Angawi’s son Ahmad, a multidisciplinary creative himself. He is an educator of arts and master in the craft of Al Mangoor, an ancient technique that is part of Saudi heritage and a unique feature of woodwork in the Hijaz region. “You have the octagons, and you have the four-point star and many different variational geometries. The main reason is to allow for the natural light and air to come through, creating a relationship between the indoor and outdoor,” explains Ahmad.
Dr Angawi has built his house according to the wind. Capturing it from the north and the west, the house uses natural ventilation six months of the year throughout different levels. Behind an impressive door, the eye wanders. There is always something to see, an opening to look through, or various rooms in plain sight.
To achieve privacy throughout the house, Ahmad explains that his father staggered the floors, offering various lighting solutions. The home is built with a mixture of sea stones from Jeddah, the desert — and some from Mecca — as well as imported wood for the windows and interior spaces. Dr Angawi’s wife, Amira, is an interior designer who has played a big part in developing the house, gathering most of the materials and textures for the spaces and the furniture, explains Ahmad. “She even innovated pieces together with different materials. I have always seen my father taking the holistic approach and my mother more of the detail-oriented aspects,” he adds. “Looking around, the wood, the stones… It makes the space feel warm and comfortable, no matter how big,” he notes.
Walk out to the courtyard to enter the heart of the home. On the right, the “Saramlic,” a salon for the guests, and on the opposite side is the “Haramlic,” a family space. Soft finishes of Islamic calligraphy are placed alongside spiritual charms, as well as sea stones and corals that offer different textures to the courtyard’s symphony. Nature takes center stage in Al Makkiyah. “Architecture is a constant. Nature is dynamic and always evolving,” says Dr Angawi. Plants are both indoors, outdoors, and climbing the walls. You can also enjoy the sound of the water via the swimming pool. “Even though I’m inside, I can enjoy nature,” comments Dr Angawi.
Depending on the time of the day and mood, Dr Angawi strolls around his favorite rooms, from his small office to the family area. When he wants to be alone, he ventures up to the roof. “In general, I welcome guests on the first or ground level. The second level is for me and my family. The third one, which is the roof, is a very simple space, with very basic material, no air conditioning, and that’s why I like it. If you want to be with me to really experience what I like, come up with me to the roof.”
Sometimes people refer to Al Makkiyah as a museum, but Dr Angawi considers it differently. “It’s a family place where we live and interact with people; a place of learning, a place of knowing, and a place that builds an understanding between different cultures,” he says. Ahmad adds, “It’s not only a house for us. The space shows people how to hang on to our roots and traditions in today’s contemporary world, with plans for it to become a foundation that will carry cultural activities.”
Al Makkiyah has become a meeting point for cultural dialogue involving the community and guests from across the globe, such as former US President Jimmy Carter, Saudi royals, and members of the European Parliament. “The house is a landmark of architecture translating how we integrate design within traditional heritage and contemporary times,” says Ahmad. Above all, Al Makkiyah is special because it has been created with love. “I have worked closely with my wife and sons, to create a home that represents us and our guests,” he concludes. A worthy legacy, indeed.
Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia