The Settlement Programme for Semi-Nomads was created for a population of 8,078 poverty-stricken nomads, dispersed over an area of thirty-two loosely knit desert regions, south of Makkah and north of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The project provides a total of 1,154 houses, eleven schools, twenty-five mosques, four health-care units, three market halls and two wells. The ongoing programme is a pious attempt to house approximately fifty thousand semi-nomads, who struggle to survive the harsh climatic and economic conditions of the area. It aims to provide decent shelters that fulfil basic standards of comfort, and to create simple, unpretentious public centres to meet their primary social needs, such as health and education.
The implementation of the programme began in 1993 with the building of the first experimental houses to ascertain the most appropriate design for an efficient and economic shelter. The houses were built with local volcanic boulders, which scatter the surrounding countryside. The construction process, which has no precedent in Saudi Arabia, was carried out by masons and unqualified workers from nearby cities under the guidance of two engineers and one architect. To date, the programme has effectively resolved the basic shelter problems of about 10 per cent of the semi-nomad population in the Hijaz area. The chosen structural typology has become popular among local administrators, who have started to use similar forms, materials and techniques for the new public and administrative buildings in the vicinity.
At present, the Settlement Programme for Semi-Nomads comprises a total of 1,154 single-storey housing units, eleven schools, twenty-five mosques, four health-care units, three market halls and two wells. These are distributed unevenly around thirty-two different centres, with a distance of 400 kilometres between the two most distant points at the extremes of the site. Except for the health centres, all the buildings have been designed with courtyards. Most of the houses occupy a built area of 60 square metres, which, together with a 90-square-metre courtyard, form a total area of 150 square metres each. The total built-up area of all the housing is 69,240 square metres. Together with the courtyards, the total area occupied by the 1,154 units is 173,100 square metres.