The capital city of Yemen, Sana'a is one of the oldest populated cities in the world. Historically, its strategic location has allowed it to control the movement of trading networks, governing access from the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean to the Red Sea ports. Sana'a has been a site rich in Islamic architectural history since the seventh century, when Islam was largely adopted in Yemen. Sana'a's architectural heritage is a culmination of influences and styles; containing elements of Umayyad, Rasulid, and Ottoman architecture. Particular to Sana'a is a vibrant tradition of vernacular architecture, known for its use of carved timber, stone, and stepped masonry in multi-level houses. The western city has historically been the site of palatial architecture, including the notable Ayyubid "Sultan's Garden." Other notable complexes include a number of caravanserais and public hammams. In 1974, legislation required that all new buildings be executed in accordance with the traditional Yemeni styles. In 1986, the old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of the Old City has since been destroyed, as a result of bombings throughout 2015.
The Besse Residence is a one storey, single family residence, located on the outskirts of Sana'a, south of the central area. The design aims to demonstrate that traditional building technology, mud brick in this case, will accommodate modern facilities, and to set an example for contemporary construction. The traditional plan of a Yemeni house - a high tower with internal corridor seemed increasingly ill suited to small families and small urban plots. The outward looking traditional house-tower requires more space than is normally available in urban areas. At the same time privacy remains a prerequisite of any Yemeni house. The Besse House makes maximum use of the performance of traditional building materials and building skills while encouraging an evolution of the traditional design to conform with the changing socio-economic situation of the population. The Besse Residence has a spatial quality not typical of Yemeni architecture. An entrance porch opens to two sides; the dining and living areas are connected to the kitchen. The guest quarter is connected to the formal living quarter by a corridor, with its own private entrance; and a yard. The living room is organized around a fire-place. The private spaces of the house are organized around a courtyard and are related to traditional Yemeni architecture only through the treatment of the façade. The use of mud brick for the construction provided a good insulator both for winter cold or against summer heat. Natural light filters through stained glass windows. Ventilation is through narrow openings in the walls.