In most of the MENA and the Gulf region, we reach for the A/C control when entering any living or working space. But as we casually flip a switch, we tend not to consider all those carbon emissions caused by machines.
After years of indulgence and as witnessed by all of the end results, climate change is forcing all to go green by trying to keep buildings cool as it gets hotter. Greening the Global Construction Industry has already engaged in developing new techniques, tools, products and technologies – such as heat pumps, better windows, more vital insulation, energy-efficient appliances, renewable energy and more imaginative design – has enabled emissions to stabilize the past few years.
The above image is of I Love Qatar
Keep buildings cool as it gets hotter by resurrecting traditional architectural techniques – podcast
The Conversation Weekly podcast is now back after a short break. Every Thursday, we explore the fascinating discoveries researchers are using to make sense of the world and the big questions they’re still trying to answer.
In this episode we find out how “modern” styles of architecture using concrete and glass have often usurped local building techniques better suited to parts of the world with hotter climates. Now some architects are resurrecting traditional techniques to help keep buildings cool.
From western Europe to China, North Africa and the US, severe heatwaves brought drought, fire and death to the summer of 2022. The heatwaves also raised serious questions about the ability of existing infrastructure to cope with extreme heat, which is projected to become more common due to climate change.
Yet, for thousands of years, people living in parts of the world used to high temperatures have deployed traditional passive cooling techniques in the way they designed their buildings. In Nigeria, for example, people have long used biomimicry to copy the style of local flora and fauna as they design their homes, according to Anthony Ogbuokiri, a senior lecturer in architectural design at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.
But in the 20th century, cities even in very hot climates began following an international template for building design that meant cities around the world, regardless of where they were, often had similar looking skylines. Ogbuokiri calls this “duplitecture”, and says it “ramped up the cooling load” due to an in-built reliance on air conditioners.
Alongside this, there was a massive boom in the use of concrete, particularly after the second world war when the Soviet Union and the US started gifting their cold war allies concrete technology. “It was a competition both to discover who actually mastered concrete and who was better at gathering the materials, the people and the energy to make concrete,” explains Vyta Pivo, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan in the US. But too much concrete can contribute to the phenomenon of urban heat islands, where heat is concentrated in cities. Concrete is also a considerable contributor to global carbon emissions.
Some architects and researchers are working to rehabilitate and improve traditional passive techniques that help keep buildings cool without using energy. Susan Abed Hassan, a professor of architectural engineering at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, Iraq, focuses a lot on windcatchers in her work, a type of chimney which funnels air through houses to keep them cooler in hot climates. She’s now looking at how to combining underground water pipes with windcatchers to enhance their cooling effects.
Listen to the full episode to find out about other techniques being used to keep buildings cool without relying on air conditioning.
This episode was produced by Mend Mariwany, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. The executive producer was Gemma Ware. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here. A transcript of this episode is available here.
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It’s an essential component of the design process, where spatial ideations are translated into built form – the design of the prototype. Architectural projects, throughout history and in contemporary practice, have been prototyped to carry out both technical and aesthetic tests, where further insight is gained into the integrity of the design. It’s the blurred line between the experimental and the practical.
Antoni Gaudí’s 1:25 and 1:10 scale plaster models of Sagrada Família can be defined as architectural prototypes, and so can the wooden model of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Florence Cathedral dome. But these are investigations conducted on a smaller scale. It can be argued that architectural prototypes are most effective when built out 1:1, from which further architectural interventions based on the prototype have the security of a design attempt that is not a scaled-down version of the finished product.
But the making of these prototypes is a protracted endeavor – necessitating the complex maneuvering of resources, labor, and capital – for a structure that aims to merely lay the foundations for how similar designs should be approached in the future.
When scrutinized from the perspective of the Global South, this dialogue is complicated further – in countries that have been historically over-exploited and are currently under-resourced, are full-scale architectural prototypes wasteful if they don’t immediately function as a working building? Is it right for these prototypes to simply exist as say, explorations of new materials without serving as a structure that will be in constant use from its inception?
In colonial Africa, architectural experimentation was commonplace, from Fry and Drew in West Africa to Guido Ferrazza in Libya. This experimentation included that of French industrial designer and architect Jean Prouvé, who in 1949 developed Maison Tropicales – prefabricated, modular housing prototypes constructed out of aluminum designed to be easily transported, assembled, and disassembled.
The design problem that the Maison Tropicales had to solve was climatic – as France’s African colonies faced a shortage of housing and civic buildings. The prototype was designed for the equatorial climate, including a veranda with an adjustable aluminum sun-screen. Internally, walls were made of a combination of sliding and fixed metal panels – as glass portholes provided protection against UV rays.
But despite this resourceful, ingenious response to the tropical climate, the Maison Tropicale as a prototype failed. It was no less expensive than locally constructed buildings, and the French colonial bureaucrats did not warm to the industrial appearance of the house. The prototype, ultimately, was a colonial project built for French administrators. A prototype built for the colonial class that proved unpopular with them, and that instead of being widely adopted, was resigned to be a traveling object, making frequent appearances in design exhibitions. This prototype of the African Tropics became a design object that to most, was known outside of its intended context.
But contemporary practice in the Global South has offered up more substantial prototypes, where investigations into materials are coupled with substantial usage. Senegalese firm Worofila’s Ecopavillon in Diamniadio, constructed in 2019, is one such example. Commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment of Senegal, it is built with earth and typha – a type of water reed found in the Senegal River. Woven typha panels provide sound insulation, and when mixed with adobe bricks, provide thermal insulation.
As the prototype is part of the Senegalese government’s initiative to build a new city to ease congestion in Dakar, its usage is still in its early stages. The intention, though, is clear. The Ecopavillon will allow the monitoring of how the building’s materials behave, and performance can be assessed. the behavior of materials and to measure the performance of buildings. Furthermore, it can act as a training venue for craftspeople, where local knowledge of energy-efficient materials can be further developed.
The most tangible example of a living prototype in the Global South, however, is arguably found in Bangladesh, in Marina Tabassum Architects’ Khudi Bari. It is a modular mobile housing unit, with an area of 128 square feet. Its light footprint and elevated form mimic the architectural vernacular of the Bengal delta, but more pressingly, it responds to climate change.
In an area with high instances of flash flooding, the raised second level acts as shelter for occupants as they await the receding of the water. In the Chars of Bangladesh – low-lying islands naturally formed by silt from rivers – the spaceframe structure is a crucial response, low cost, durable, and easily assembled and disassembled with minimum labor.
The true success of the Khudi Bari project can only be measured by what happens after the housing modules are built. A pilot project initiated by a non-profit organization affiliated with Marina Tabassum Architects in conjunction with private and governmental donors aims to establish at least 80 to 100 “Khudi Bari” modules in the flood-prone communities of Bangladesh by May 2023.
More crucially, March 2021 saw the first three homes built in collaboration with families, with some adapting their modules, with the vision for the future being that people involved in this pilot project will then become part of the training collective as the modules are initiated in other areas.
Perhaps this is how architectural prototypes built in the Global South should function – as bold, inventive assemblages, that are not only for observation and display, but instead examples of architecture that is dynamic, in use, and living.
Read related Article: Why Bamboo is the Future of Asian Construction
Recently, Tunisia was found to be using U.S. Funds to broaden its Tourism attractiveness. Having gone through ups and downs, it is a matter of how Tunisia is using those U.S. Funds to broaden its Tourism branding.
So, how is Tunisia using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism? Let us see.
Tunisia recorded two million tourists in 2020, ranking 66th in the world. It generated around $1.01 billion in its tourism sector, corresponding to 2.1 percent of its gross domestic product and approximately 10 percent of all international tourism receipts in Northern Africa.
How Tunisia Is Using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism Branding
The sustainable planning phase of Tunisia’s destination marketing rebirth — the easy part — is done. Plan implementation is where the real work will begin.
The U.S. government is trying to help Tunisia develop a multifaceted destination brand, one that captures its diverse offerings and incorporates community stakeholders. That journey has come with obstacles from entrenched stakeholders, a historic beach image and developing visitor infrastructure.
In February, the U.S. government injected $50 million into Tunisia’s tourism sector through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under a five-year project called “Visit Tunisia.”
The project’s aim is to promote the northern African country of 12 million people as a high-quality tourist destination with diverse offerings, increase the number of tourists year-round, and create new source markets. A key objective is to have the country draw 11.5 million tourist arrivals by 2026.
The USAID, an independent agency of the U.S. federal government, doesn’t typically assist global destinations with tourism marketing. In Tunisia’s case, the agency has been investing in its economic and political development since its 2011 Revolution, which overthrew longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “This was seen as an opportune time to see what Tunisia’s tourism future could look like,” said Visit Tunisia Destination Marketing Team Leader Mackenzie Mackenzie.
Tunisia’s brand has traditionally been a beach destination. “Tunisia has a strong tourism legacy from years of being promoted, especially in the European markets, as a sun and sand destination,” said Mackenzie.
The Tunisian National Tourism Office has offices around the world that lean on this image, Mackenzie said. Travelers on the “budget end of the market” come to the country for its coastal beaches and resorts during the summer season.
“Unfortunately the biggest number of people coming to Tunisia are coming for the resorts,” said Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia Country Manger Chaker Abichou. He expects that 90 percent of tourists that came to the destination this year are here for Sousse and other popular resort towns located on the country’s north and east coast.
USAID’s aim is to expand the number of flexible, independent and younger travelers already exploring the country. “We are looking at what they’re doing and what they are seeing,” Mackenzie said. These travelers go beyond the beach and take on motorcycle tours, camping in the Sahara, hiking adventures, stay in local guest houses and explore local experiences.
The marketing ambition comes as Tunisia bounces back after a rough 11 years since its revolution. In that period, the tourism sector experienced civil unrest, terrorist attacks and Covid-19. “It’s been a triple whammy for the sector,” Mackenzie said.
In 2015, a mass shooting killed 38 people at the tourist resort of Port El Kantahoui, Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015. The security situation has improved greatly in the last decade, said Abichou. He said tourist feedback on safety has been very positive.
Tunisia has the untapped potential to attract the flexible, independent traveler market. The destination is home to famous battle sites, well-preserved Roman and other civilizational ruins, filming locations for popular movies like Star Wars, mountains, Sahara, religious sites, a rich culture and more. Communities just need help to leverage these strengths, MacKenzie said.
USAID has sought out attracting tour operators focused on experiential and adventure travel. It has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to develop the destination’s cultural heritage. Investments in visitor infrastructure for cultural and archaeological sites like better roads, hiking trails and boardwalks throughout the country are also being planned.
The agency has zeroed in on six communities for more focused destination development. “They typically don’t have a destination marketing organization structure,” said Mackenzie. “We are looking at how we work with destinations and innovate and harness the capacity in those communities. If it won’t be a DMO, what will it be?”
Working with industry and community stakeholders to develop sustainable models has eaten up the first year of the project. “Pretty much the first year has been dedicated to stakeholder engagement,” said Mackenzie.
The agency wants to avoid the common mistake international development agencies make of not developing a plan that outlasts their exit. “Often the experts come in, make a plan, off they go and the plan sits around,” said Mackenzie. With stakeholder input, plans have been drawn up to develop visitor infrastructure and promotional efforts.
USAID’s work in the first year underscores the 2022 Skift Megatrend “Communities Are No Longer Spectators in Travel.”
One group of stakeholders that have proven a challenge to work with is the dominant resort community. Many in the group view the attempt at marketing diversification as “turning away from our bread and butter, resort tourism,” said Chris Seek, CEO of Solimar International, a sustainable tourism consultancy which works with USAID on Visit Tunisia.
Resort stakeholders have a lot of influence and power in the country’s tourism industry, said Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia’s Abichou.
“We have to constantly try to remind them it’s not about turning away,” added Solimar’s Seek. “It’s about making your destination more competitive because you have things that other beaches don’t offer.”
Solving Europe’s energy challenge
Published in partnership with
One of the most apparent aspects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the rapid increase in energy prices brought on by Moscow’s reduction in exports to its European neighbours.
In 2021, Russia was the largest exporter of oil and gas to Europe, supplying some 40 per cent of its energy requirements, including 100 per cent of the total gas imports of five EU states, according to the International Energy Agency.
The continent’s three largest economies – Germany, Italy and France – depended on Russian gas for 46 per cent, 34 per cent and 18 per cent of their energy needs, respectively.
The imposition of sanctions on Russia in March 2022, followed by Moscow’s threat to suspend hydrocarbon exports, has resulted in a surge in energy prices.
Opec’s crude basket price increased from $78 a barrel at the start of the year to $122 in early June, while Henry Hub natural gas prices more than doubled from $3.8 a million British thermal units (BTUs) to $8.7 a million BTUs over the same period.
Expensive energy bills
This rapid energy inflation has been passed on to consumers through higher electricity bills.
In the UK, for instance, the energy regulator Ofgem estimates that the default tariff price cap will more than double from £1,300 ($1,529) in January to £3,580 in October, and reach a peak of £4,266 in the first three months of 2023, when demand will be highest during the colder winter months.
Replicated across the continent, this is likely to result in millions of households entering ‘fuel poverty’ as they struggle to pay their energy bills.
The Mena region is well-positioned to plug the shortfall in Russian gas exports as European governments scramble to source gas from new markets to reduce their dependence on Moscow
Reducing reliance on Russia
The subject was not surprisingly a central theme of debate at Siemens Energy’s Middle East & Africa Energy Week held in June, where attendees agreed on two main conclusions drawn from the crisis.
The first was that the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is well-positioned to plug the shortfall in Russian gas exports as European governments scramble to source gas from new markets to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
The GCC alone globally exports almost exactly half of the 411 billion cubic metres of gas that Russia supplies to Europe annually. Most of this is in the form of long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) contracts to east Asia, but there is some limited capacity available – primarily from Qatar – to fill part of the shortfall.
European nations have been quick to recognise this. For example, following a visit to the region by its Vice-Chancellor and Climate & Energy Minister Robert Habeck in March, Germany – Europe’s largest energy market – is now fast-tracking the construction of two LNG import terminals and has entered a long-term energy partnership with Qatar, the world’s largest LNG exporter.
The second principal finding from the Middle East & Africa Energy Week was that the conflict would act as an additional catalyst for renewable energy development as nations globally attempt to diversify their energy sources and reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels.
This was in keeping with the results of a poll of up to 400 of the event’s participants. The survey, which forms the central component of the Siemens Energy’s Middle East & Africa Energy Transition Readiness Index, revealed that attendees considered the acceleration of renewables as the highest priority among 11 energy policies in their efforts to tackle the climate crisis, as well as the one with the greatest potential impact.
The Middle East is already taking a clear lead in this as it sets ambitious targets for clean, renewable capacity. For example, Saudi Arabia is looking to scale up its share of gas and renewable energy in its energy mix to 50 per cent by 2030.
Similarly, the UAE has set ambitious targets for 2050: to improve energy efficiency by 40 per cent, reduce emissions from the power sector by 70 per cent and increase the share of renewables in the energy mix to 44 per cent.
While Europe is looking for alternative gas supplies to urgently fill the gap in the short term, there is little doubt that in the longer term renewable energies and hydrogen will dominate the energy markets
Dietmar Siersdorfer, Siemens Energy
In the long run, the energy crisis also provides momentum for the development of hydrogen production in the region, one of four other central themes emerging from the Energy Week.
Demand for hydrogen in Europe alone is forecast to double to 30 million tonnes a year (t/y) by 2030 and to 95 million t/y by 2050. Thanks to its geographical position, the Middle East is ideally located to meet this demand either by ship or pipeline.
Today, there are at least 46 known green hydrogen and ammonia projects across the Middle East and Africa, worth an estimated $92bn, almost all of which are export-orientated.
“While Europe is looking for alternative gas supplies to urgently fill the gap in the short term, there is little doubt that in the longer term renewable energies and hydrogen will dominate the energy markets. That the robust mix of the energy (gas and renewables) will make the energy system more resilient and support energy supply security while we, at the same time, move us at a fast pace into a renewable future,” says Dietmar Siersdorfer, Siemens Energy’s Managing Director for the Middle East and UAE.
Electricity to Europe
Another unintended consequence of the Ukraine crisis is to turn attention to direct electricity supply from the Mena region to Europe.
Although plans for exploiting the high solar irradiation levels and space provided by the Sahara desert through initiatives such as DESERTEC have long been mooted as an alternative solution, a combination of the crisis, lower costs and improving technologies are increasing impetus.
Some projects are already capitalising on the trend. For example, a joint venture of Octopus Energy and cable firm Xlinks recently received regulatory approval for a 3.6GW subsea interconnector between Morocco and the UK, using energy produced from vast solar arrays in the desert.
A similar project is the 2GW high-voltage EuroAfrica connector currently under construction linking Egypt with Greece via Crete. Plans are also under way for a third power connection between Morocco and Spain, which today is the only operational electricity link between Africa and Europe.
With the Egyptian-Saudi interconnector now under construction, and agreements recently reached for interconnectors between Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Kuwait and Iraq, the region is growing closer to supplying power to Europe directly.
“The development of regional grids has brought the prospect of direct current connection with Europe ever closer,” says Siemens Energy’s VP and Head of Grid Stabilisation in the Middle East, Elyes San-Haji. “Due to its plentiful solar resources, the Mena region could become an energy hub with a global network of high-voltage highways and super grids.”
Interconnection makes sense on many levels. Not only would Europe benefit from a diversified, economical and renewable energy source, but its season of peak demand, winter, coincides with when supply is lowest in the Middle East, and vice-versa. Power transfer would not necessarily have to be in one direction only.
The Ukraine conflict and ensuing energy crisis have created an unprecedented opportunity for the Middle East and Africa to become more closely integrated with Europe. Whether in the form of fuel exports, either gas or potentially green hydrogen fuels, or direct electricity supply, the Arab world has never had a better chance to become the energy partner of choice for its European neighbours.