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Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

The Sharjah Architectural Triennial could be one of the built environment professionals gatherings of importance in the MENA region. Here is an article dated 25 August 2019 written by Rima Alsammarae who gives a fairly well-described idea of some thoughts of this event’s main contributor. And according to this latter, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change.

The event was founded in 2017 and is led by Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Urban Planning Council. The Triennial editions aim to highlight topical aspects of architecture and urbanism that have local relevance and to engage Sharjah’s existing built environment and social fabric. 

Interview: Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change says curator Adrian Lahoud

Middle East Architect (MEA) speaks with curator Adrian Lahoud, who says the triennial is an invitation to ‘radically rethink’ questions about architecture and address climate change – ‘the most urgent challenge facing humanity today’.

The coastal emirate of Sharjah is the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates – and it’s considered the cultural capital of the country. Among the many cultural centres, government institutions that support art-led initiatives, and the ongoing regeneration of heritage spaces, the emirate’s creative realm is further defined by the upcoming Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

The latest move in connecting the city’s motivations with its architectural past and future, as well as a step towards rethinking its urban and environmental footprint, in addition to that of the wider Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, the triennial was launched as a non-profit initiative and is legally housed under the Sharjah Urban Planning Council and funded by the Government of Sharjah. Chaired by Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the team behind the initiative is formed by its partners including the Directorate of Town Planning and Survey; the American University of Sharjah’s College of Architecture, Art & Design (CAAD); the Sharjah Art Foundation; and Bee’ah.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

The curator of the triennial, Adrian Lahoud, architect, urban designer and dean of the School of Architecture at London’s Royal College of Art, spoke to MEA about the event ahead of its launch in November 2019.

According to Lahoud, the theme ‘Rights of Future Generations’ is an invitation to “radically rethink” fundamental questions about architecture and its power to create and sustain alternative modes of existence.

“The theme prompts us to interrogate the fact that, while individual rights have expanded over the past few decades, collective rights, such as rights of nature and environmental rights have been neglected,” he said.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Following various lines of enquiry around housing, education and the environment, the triennial seeks to question and decolonise architectural discourse; it uses architectural design as an opportunity to realise these alternative modes of living, including new concepts of buildings, cities, landscapes and territories, and to consider how these may be better adapted and understood as part of contemporary life and possible futures.”

Rights of Future Generations intends to explore how inheritance, legacy and the state of the environment are passed from one generation to the next, and how present decisions have long-term intergenerational consequences, as well as how other expressions of co-existence, including indigenous ones, might challenge dominant western perspectives.

Lahoud noted that inherent in the theme is a commitment to address climate change as the most urgent challenge facing humanity today.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Through its exploration of how particular conditions in the Global South produce unique relationships between human beings and the environment, the triennial seeks to bring awareness to specific models,” he said. “Ones that allow interacting and living with the environment, rather than dividing ourselves from it.”

In addition to raising awareness via the exhibition and public events, the triennial has formed the Rights of Future Generations Working Group. Its mission is to advance the protection of future generations’ fundamental rights in a world where climate change is dramatically shifting along socio-economic, legal, gender, racial and political dimensions.

The group will collaboratively produce the Sharjah Charter to be presented as part of the triennial, which Lahoud hopes will prove to be a significant moment in the ongoing global discourse around climate change.

“I believe that architecture as a practice holds a key role in addressing climate change,” Lahoud said. “However, in order to leverage this potential, we must move away from the extractive and exploitative models that dominate architectural practice. We are at a point of ecological collapse and one fact must not be ignored: that the sites, regions and populations most immediately and irreversibly threatened by climate change are the same ones that face regimes of global socio-economic extraction and exploitation.

“Valuable insight can, therefore, be drawn from paying attention to existing social struggles at the frontline of climate change, including indigenous ones. There is a particular problem with the western ontological distinction between humans and the environment. This distinction views architecture as ‘shelter’ from the environment, thereby validating land grab and resource extraction. Human history offers a myriad of examples of alternative social orders, of relationships between humans and other beings that evolved according to various beliefs and practices, and through these examples, we might understand our agency and relationship with the world differently.”

Most recently, the triennial announced the two venues that it will be held at – the old Jubail vegetable market and the Al-Qasimiyah School, which is currently being renovated to form the triennial’s permanent headquarters.

The choice in venues was no coincidence, asserts Lahoud. They speak directly to the theme of the triennial. Both buildings are leading examples of the emirate’s 1970s and 80s architecture. And in the adaptive reuse of these structures, the triennial offers a sustainable approach and example of working with existing infrastructure.

“The mission of the triennial is to serve as a space for dialogue that supports an emerging generation of architects drawn from across the Global South and their diaspora,” said Lahoud. “Ultimately, we hope to prompt our audiences to rethink the potential of architecture – to interrogate existing models, disrupt dominant perspectives and consider the alternative ways of living that can be formed.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial will address climate change

“Inherent to the theme of Rights of Future Generations is a commitment to legacy building, and I hope to create a lasting community beyond the exhibition,” Lahoud said. “Physically, the school will serve as a central hub for architectural learning within Sharjah. For those based in other regions, texts and publications produced during the triennial will be available across a variety of online platforms long after the exhibition has ended, offering a globally accessible resource for those who wish to interrogate existing architectural discourse.”

(Images courtesy of Sharjah Architecture Triennial)

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Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Posted on July 29, 2019, and written by Whitney, an American traveller, is the following article titled Doha, Qatar… Epitome of Opulence. Having personally stayed in the country in the 90’s through to early 2000, I can confirm every single detail of the author’s story. The difference would perhaps be that I was leading a quasi-normal resident life whilst making a living through practising my skills of Architect. Indeed, today there is a bit of a situation vis a vis its surrounding neighbours, Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East but it was not exactly as enthralling as you might imagine in my early years but at least I had the privilege to see before my very eyes, the making of this city. I must say, I did contribute however modestly into the shaping of its skyline. But enough of me, here is Whitney’s.

A tidbit of information – Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East, allowing Transit Visas upon arrival for free, given you have a valid passport and return ticket. These Visas are valid for stays from 5 hours and up to 96. Additionally, Discover Qatar offers one-night free hotel stay in a variety of 5-star accommodations, or two to three nights for a fee of $100 in the same hotels. Given that the layover in Doha is a whopping nine hours, this was absolutely worth the extra money for a good nights sleep in luxury lodging.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Impressive Skyline

Unfortunately, I did not know that Qatar Airlines offered a stopover through Discover Qatar in Doha when Hubs and I initially booked our Maldives flights through Qatar Airlines (ranked the #1 airline in the world). We made this delightful discovery after we had already departed the States. However, the airline (for a fee, of course) altered our flights, and we made a two day pit stop in the incredibly wealthy, insanely hot, and bustling country.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The money flowing through Qatar is obvious before you even land at the airport. From the sky, you can see the intricate, man-made island. The skyscrapers litter the cityscape. Upon landing at the airport, a sparkling air-conditioned building greets you. We were met by a smiling gentleman driving a black luxury sedan. He ferried us the 25 minutes through Doha to our accommodations for the next couple of nights. He deposited us at our five-star hotel in the ‘City Center’, the Marriott Marquis.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Unlike US hotels, security has a much larger presence. We had to go through a metal detector upon returning to the hotel each time we left. They scanned our bags before allowing us access to the enormous lobby. The friendly, multi-lingual front desk checked us in, and we took the elevator up to our room.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Downside to vacationing in a conservative Muslim country… twin beds in hotel rooms.

We are actually married (at least in Slovenia), does that entitle us to at least a queen-sized bed?

Negatory!

However, we were at least provided a decent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the city center on the 11th floor.

Tiny little admission… I may have slept brilliantly while buried beneath the blankets in my personal feathery, comfy haven in the starkly cold room thanks to the wonderfully chilly air conditioning.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Snapshot from the harbor

We began our Doha exploration with a City Tour provided by Discover Qatar for a minimal cost of $24 a person. We were ferried around the city by a local gentleman, who regaled us with Doha facts throughout the jaunt. Doha is the capital of Qatar and boasts a population of about 2.4 million. It is located along the Persian Gulf. He informed us, water is more expensive than fuel in the wealthy country. And if we happened upon any green spaces (grass is a novelty there), it was likely watered every 30 minutes in order to survive in the extreme heat of the desert.

We cruised through the city in air-conditioned comfort in a van, just the two of us and our insightful guide. A few highlights and/or stops:

PEARL-QATAR

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island jutting into the Gulf, is a $15 billion (so far) project. It will be a stunning residential estate made up of luxury villas and commercial amenities. The project was originally to cost $2.5 Million, but clearly, that budget was a tad off.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

A colossal to-scale model of the not yet finished island takes up the first floor of a building, displaying a life-like representation of the what the man-made archipelago will look like upon completion.

The imitation even has people, boats, greenery, and lighting!

And it was so enormous that I could not even get a photo of the entire model in a single photo.

Moral of the story: Sorry for the disjointed photographs that do not portray the full enormity of this undertaking.

Yet another displaying of probably the most financially stable country I have ever travelled to. They successfully made the desert desirable.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

MOSQUE (Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name)

We also crept into a mosque. Thankfully, I had smartly packed a shawl and light sweaters to cover my provocative shoulders. I was also clad in baggy, white linen pants (thanks, Athleta for selling breathable and comfortable pants perfect for the occasion).

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Anywho… the lower floor, only suitable for men, was basically an open floor for praying. The upper balcony was where the women were relegated to. I was escorted outside to the separate entrance they were banished to. The much smaller space overlooked the men’s sanctuary below. After collecting our footwear, we returned to our Discover Qatar chariot.

MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Borrowed from the Museum’s website. My photos were nothing compared to this.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Our guide dumped us at the entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art. This free museum sports an unusual exterior facade. It is geometric and quite unique, looking vaguely similar to a stack of building blocks. Our chaperone challenged us to guess the significance. Stumped, he enlightened us that it is meant to resemble a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible. If you decide to visit the museum, abide by the conservative dress code, otherwise, you may be refused entrance. Little update: My recent perusal of the museum’s website showed there is now a fee in order to gain entry to the museum. You now… because Qatar is a poor country…

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The collection was fascinating, with pieces ranging from the 7th to 19th centuries, and included scrolls, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork, along with items of early mathematical importance. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and an exterior park. Don’t forget both male and female private pray rooms. The glass windows at the rear of the building provide an uninterrupted view of the water beyond.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

SOUQ WAQIF

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We were given 45 minutes to peruse the sprawling Souq Waqif by our chauffeur. The Souq is a maze of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to daily goods to birds to furniture. We could have spent hours wandering the alleys, and made a mental note to return later with more time to spare.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Fast forward several hours, and we returned by cab to the Souq. Unlike when we were roving the passageways earlier, most of the merchants were open for business at the later afternoon hour. The bazaar is organized into areas by means of the goods the shopkeep was bartering. Spice hucksters were in one section, while rug peddlers were off in another. I must admit, the souqs have become one of my favorite places to visit common in many Middle Eastern countries. We walked out of there is color footwear, mugs, spices, tea (cinnamon was my poison, but should one have consumed a few too many beans that day, flatulence tea was also an option), kitchen wares, and a chess set. Bartering is welcomed!

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We opted to walk the 5.5 km from the Souq back to our hotel. We strolled along the pathway ringing the water front. Due to the requirements of my gender covering up, it was quite the toasty saunter. Regardless of my clamminess, the walk provided quite the view of the very colorful skyline.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

And a handstand of course. I made sure to wait until there were no other onlookers, so that I did not offend anyone when my shirt dropped to my shoulders, revealing my stomach. GASP! I’m such a heathen.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

IPANEMA

During our exploration of the hotel, and the attached mall, we discovered several restaurants that were housed in the same building as the hotel. After perusing the options, Hubs decided we were going to splurge on our meal that evening. He settled upon Ipanema, a Brazilian-style steak house. Because… when in Rome??? I suppose we spent the previous couple weeks dining on Indian food, for the most part, we can branch out on our final night overseas.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The food did not disappoint. I could not tell you everything I ate that night since I felt like a whale upon departing. After getting a smallish sampling from the buffet (I had to save room for the immense amounts of meat to come), we purchased a bottle of wine, and awaited the first round of meats to be whisked by our table. For anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian steakhouses, you are given what amounts to a coaster – one side RED and the other GREEN. When you’re ready to gorge on whatever tasty hunk of meat the waiters are strolling by with, you flip your coaster over to the green side, prompting the servers to cut you a fresh slice off the slab they are toting.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

I swore I was not going to give into every delicious smell that wafted passed me, but alas, I was defenseless against the succulent fare, acquiescing to my cravings. I felt like I gained 30 pounds when we waddled out of there. Totally worth it, and I slept like a baby. Another note… I discovered grilled pineapple. The delectable fruit was blanketed in cinnamon. I was incapable of dismissing the servers when they came by with it.

Meat, meat and more meat. Brought to your table on skewers and chopped off with large knives.
Grilled pineapple… dessert, appetizer or main course… that shit made me happy.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Quite the scrumptious wine. A+

Random side note… Arby’s in Arabic present in the busy food court in one of the many malls. Along with the longest, flattest escalator, I have ever ridden.

Yes, us lame Americans dined here for lunch one day.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Alas, it is time to depart the warmth of Qatar and return to the cold, snowy climate of Virginia in November.

وداعا … Apparently, that is “goodbye” in Arabic. Back to reality (and winter).

How to keep buildings cool without air conditioning

How to keep buildings cool without air conditioning

According to an expert in sustainable design, how to keep buildings cool without air conditioning, is by no mean as impossible as it may sound.

The warmer it gets, the more people crank up the air conditioning (AC). In fact, AC is booming in nations across the world: it’s predicted that around two-thirds of the world’s households could have an air conditioner by 2050, and the demand for energy to cool buildings will triple.

Matt Hinsta/Flickr., CC BY-NC-ND

But unless the energy comes from renewable sources, all that added demand will generate more greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming – and of course, to hotter summers. It’s a vicious cycle – but buildings can be designed to keep the heat out, without contributing to climate change.

1. Windows and shading

Opening windows is a common way people try to cool buildings – but air inside will be just as hot as outside. In fact, the simplest way to keep the heat out is with good insulation and well-positioned windows. Since the sun is high in summer, external horizontal shading such as overhangs and louvres are really effective.

Sometimes it’s better to shut out the heat. Shutterstock.

East and west-facing windows are more difficult to shade. Blinds and curtains are not great as they block the view and daylight, and if they are positioned inside the window, the heat actually enters the building. For this reason, external shutters – like those often seen on old buildings in France and Italy – are preferable.

2. Paints and glazes

It’s now common for roofs to be painted with special pigments that are designed to reflect solar radiation – not just in the visible range of light, but also the infrared spectrum. These can reduce surface temperatures by more than 10°C, compared to conventional paint. High-performance solar glazing on windows also help, with coatings that are “spectrally selective”, which means they keep the sun’s heat outside but let daylight in.

There’s also photochromic glazing, that changes transparency depending on the intensity of the light (like some sunglasses) and thermochromic glazing, that becomes darker when it is hot, which can also help. Even thermochromic paints, which absorb light and heat when it’s cold, and reflect it when it’s hot, are being developed.

3. Building materials

Buildings which are made of stone, bricks or concrete, or embedded into the ground, can feel cooler thanks to the high “thermal mass” of these materials – that is, their ability to absorb and release heat slowly, thereby smoothing temperatures over time, making daytime cooler and night time warmer. If you have ever visited a stone church in the middle of the Italian summer, you will probably have felt this cooling effect in action.

Cooler inside than out. Blaster/Flickr., CC BY-NC-ND

Unfortunately, modern buildings often have little thermal mass, or materials with high thermal mass are covered with plasterboard and carpets. Timber is also increasingly used in construction, and while making buildings out of timber generally has lower environmental impacts, its thermal mass is horrendous.

4. Hybrid and phase change materials

While concrete has a high thermal mass, it’s extremely energy intensive to produce: 8% to 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions come from cement. Alternatives such as hybrid systems, composed of timber together with concrete, are increasingly being used in construction, and can help reduce environmental impacts, while also providing the desired thermal mass.

Another, more exciting solution is phase change materials (PCMs). These remarkable materials are able to store or release energy in the form of latent heat, as the material changes phase. So when it’s cold, the substance changes to solid phase (it freezes) and releases heat. When it becomes liquid again, the material absorbs heat, providing a cooling effect.

PCMs can have even greater thermal mass than stones or concrete – research has found that these materials can reduce the internal temperatures by up to 5°C. If added to a building with AC, they can reduce electricity consumption from cooling by 30%.

PCMs have been hailed as a very promising technology by researchers, and are available commercially – often in ceiling tiles and wall panels. Alas, the manufacture of PCMs is still energy intensive. But some PCMs can cause a quarter of the CO₂ emissions that others do, so choosing the correct product is key. And manufacturing processes should become more efficient over time, making PCMs increasingly worthwhile.

5. Water evaporation

Water absorbs heat and evaporates, and as it rises, it pushes cooler air downwards. This simple phenomenon has led to the development of cooling systems, which make use of water and natural ventilation to reduce the temperature indoors. Techniques used to evaporate water include using sprayers, atomizing nozzles (to create a mist), wet pads or porous materials, such as ceramic evaporators filled with water.

The water can be evaporated in towers, wind catchers or double skin walls – any feature which creates a channel where hot air and water vapour can rise, while cool air sinks. Such systems can be really effective, as long as the weather is relatively dry and the system is controlled carefully – temperatures as low as 14°C to 16°C have been reported in several buildings.

But before we get too enthusiastic about all these new technologies, let’s go back to basics. A simple way to ensure AC doesn’t contribute to global warming is to power it with renewables – in the hot weather, solar energy seems the obvious choice, but it takes money and space. The fact remains, buildings can no longer be designed without considering how they respond to heat – glass skyscrapers, for example, should become obsolete. Instead, well insulated roofs and walls are crucial in very hot weather.

Everything that uses electricity in buildings should be as energy efficient as possible. Lighting, computers, dishwashers and televisions all use electricity, and inevitably produce some heat – these should be switched off when not in use. That way, we can all keep as cool as possible, all summer long.

Aurore Julien, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Design, University of East London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Read more: Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly that could have been avoided


Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers are a great environmental folly that could have been avoided: Henrik Schoenefeldt, University of Kent.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly
New York restricts the growth of glass skyscrapers.
Shutterstock.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared that skyscrapers made of glass and steel “have no place in our city or our Earth anymore”. He argued that their energy inefficient design contributes to global warming and insisted that his administration would restrict glassy high-rise developments in the city.

Glass has always been an unlikely material for large buildings, because of how difficult it becomes to control temperature and glare indoors. In fact, the use of fully glazed exteriors only became possible with advances in air conditioning technology and access to cheap and abundant energy, which came about in the mid-20th century. And studies suggest that on average, carbon emissions from air-conditioned offices are 60% higher than those from offices with natural or mechanical ventilation.

As part of my research into sustainable architecture, I have examined the use of glass in buildings throughout history. Above all, one thing is clear: if architects had paid more attention to the difficulties of building with glass, the great environmental damage wrought by modern glass skyscrapers could have been avoided.

Heat and glare

The United Nations Secretariat in New York, constructed between 1947 and 1952, was the earliest example of a fully air-conditioned tower with a glass curtain wall – followed shortly afterwards by Lever House on Park Avenue. Air conditioning enabled the classic glass skyscraper to become a model for high rise office developments in cities across the world – even hot places such as Dubai and Sydney.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyThe UN Secretariat building. United Nations Photo/Flickr., CC BY-NC-ND

Yet as far back as the 19th century, horticulturists in Europe intimately understood how difficult it is to keep the temperature stable inside glass structures – the massive hothouses they built to host their collections. They wanted to maintain the hot environment needed to sustain exotic plants and devised a large repertoire of technical solutions to do so.

Early central heating systems, which made use of steam or hot water, helped to keep the indoor atmosphere hot and humid. Glass was covered with insulation overnight to keep the warmth in, or used only on the south side together with better insulated walls, to take in and hold heat from the midday sun.

The Crystal Palace

When glass structures were transformed into spaces for human habitation, the new challenge was to keep the interior sufficiently cool. Preventing overheating in glass buildings has proven enormously difficult – even in Britain’s temperate climate. The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park – a temporary pavilion built to house the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851 – was a case in point.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyPainting of Queen Victoria opening the Crystal Palace in London, 1851. Thomas Abel Prior/Wikimedia Commons.

The Crystal Palace was the first large-scale example of a glass structure designed specifically for use by people. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, chief gardener at the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Estate, drawing on his experience constructing timber-framed glasshouses.

Though recognised as a risky idea at the time, organisers decided to host the exhibition inside a giant glasshouse in the absence of a more practical alternative. Because of its modular construction and prefabricated parts, the Crystal Palace could be put together in under ten months – perfect for the organisers’ tight deadline.

To address concerns about overheating and exposing the exhibits to too much sunlight, Paxton adopted some of the few cooling methods available at the time: shading, natural ventilation and eventually removing some sections of glass altogether. Several hundred large louvres were positioned inside the wall of the building, which had to be adjusted manually by attendants several times a day.

Despite these precautions, overheating became a major issue over the summer of 1851, and was the subject of frequent commentaries in the daily newspapers. An analysis of data recorded inside the Crystal Palace between May and October 1851 shows that the indoor temperature was extremely unstable. The building accentuated – rather than reduced – peak summer temperatures.

A timeline of the temperature in the Crystal Palace, May to October 1851. Henrik Schoenefeldt., Author provided

These challenges forced the organisers to temporarily remove large sections of glazing. This procedure was repeated several times before parts of the glazing were permanently replaced with canvas curtains, which could be opened and closed depending on how hot the sun was. When the Crystal Palace was re-erected as a popular leisure park on the outskirts of London, these issues persisted – despite changes to the design which were intended to improve ventilation.

Chicago glass

These difficulties did not perturb developers in Chicago from building the first generation of highly glazed office buildings during the 1880s and 1890s. Famous developments by influential architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, such as the Crown Hall (1950-56) or the Lakeshore Drive Apartments (1949), were also designed without air conditioning. Instead, these structures relied mainly on natural ventilation and shading to moderate indoor temperatures in summer.

In the Crown Hall, each bay of the glass wall is equipped with iron flaps, which students and staff of the IIT School of Architecture had to manually adjust to create cross-ventilation. Blinds could also be drawn to prevent glare and reduce heat gains. Yet these methods could not achieve modern standards of comfort. This building, and many others with similar features were eventually retrofitted with air conditioning.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyChicago’s Crown Hall. yusunkwon/Flickr., CC BY-SA

Yet it’s worth noting that early examples of glass architecture were not intended to provide airtight, climate controlled spaces. Architects had to accept that the indoor temperature would change according to the weather outside, and the people who used the buildings were careful to dress appropriately for the season. In some ways, these environments had more in common with the covered arcades and markets of the Victorian era, than the glass skyscrapers of the 21st century.

Becoming climate conscious

The reality is that the obvious shortcomings of glass buildings rarely received the attention they warranted. Some early critics raised objections. Perhaps the most outspoken was Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who in the late 1940s launched an attack on the design of the UN Secretariat, arguing that its large and unprotected glass surfaces were unsuitable for the climate of New York.

But all too often, historians and architects have focused on the aesthetic qualities of glass architecture. The Crystal Palace, in particular, was portrayed as a pristine icon of an emerging architecture of glass and iron. Yet in reality, much of the glass was covered with canvas to block out intense sunlight and heat. Similarly, the smooth glass facades of Chicago’s early glass towers were broken by opened windows and blinds.

There’s an urgent need to take a fresh look at urban architecture, with a sense of environmental realism. If de Blasio’s plea for a more climate conscious architecture is to materialise, future architects and engineers must be equipped with an intimate knowledge of materials – especially glass – no less developed than that held by 19th century gardeners.The Conversation

Henrik Schoenefeldt, Senior Lecturer (US: Associate Professor) in Sustainable Architecture, University of Kent

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more:
A short history of tall buildings: the making of the modern skyscraper

The Conversation

Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Rima Alsammarae wrote in Middle East Architect of 17 April 2019 that:

According to Jordanian architect and founder of award-winning London-based practice OAOA, Omar Al Omari, architecture in the GCC has “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development across the region.

‘Architecture lost its direction’ in GCC, says Jordanian architect Omar Al Omari

“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.

Omar Al Omari, founder and director of OAOA

“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”

Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.

OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021

The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.

Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.

“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”

Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.

Read more by clicking :

Surviving climate change means transforming both economics and design

Surviving climate change means transforming both economics and design

Joanna Boehnert, Loughborough University

What could be more important than sustaining habitable living conditions on Earth? Climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental problems demand changes on an order of magnitude well beyond the trajectory of business-as-usual. And yet, despite accumulative social and technological innovation, environmental problems are accelerating far more quickly than sustainable solutions.

The design industry is one of many industries mobilising to address environmental imperatives. While sustainability-oriented designers are working towards change from many angles, addressing climate change and other environmental problems on this scale demands much more dramatic transformations in economic ideas, structures and systems that enable – or disable – sustainable design.

Put simply, designers cannot design sustainable future ways of living on scale without a shift in economic priorities. Human impacts on planetary processes in the Anthropocene require new types of ecologically engaged design and economics if the necessary technological, social and political transitions are to take place.

World making design

Design is crucial to this debate because it is key to the creation of future ways of living. Designers make new ideas, products, services and spaces desirable to future users. With the shape of a font, a brand, the styling of a product, the look and feel of a service, the touch of a garment, the sensation of being in a particular building, designers serve the interests of customers (generally, those with disposal income). They do so according the logic and modes of governance generated by what is valued by economic structures. Design is the practice that makes capitalism so appealing.

Designers make new products, services and spaces that shape future ways of living – and can use their skills to create sustainable options. But there is a dilemma here. The market rarely prioritises interests that do not pay the bills or otherwise bring capital to the table.

Design sits at the intersection of economic value and social values. Design transforms what economic systems value into new ways of living – which in turn produce certain types of social values. This work is generated by priorities in the design industry, driven by economic imperatives.

The cycle of cultural production.
© EcoLabs 2018, Author provided

Blind spots in conventional economics

Traditional neoclassical economics was developed in an era when all knowledge systems essentially ignored ecological concerns. In conventional economics, value – which is created by generating profit and accumulating capital for owners and investors – is systematically extracted from the systems in which economic systems are embedded: the social and the ecological systems.

Contemporary economic systems reproduce this tradition by rewarding individuals and companies for using (and often exploiting) resources to generate profit, regardless of the ecological or social consequences. The extractive and exploitative dynamics of capitalist economics generate economies locked into accelerating climate change, species extinction and other severe environmental and social problems. This economic system continues to produce ever greater degrees of crises as planetary boundaries are breached in ever more extreme ways.

Planetary boundaries.
Ecolabs, Tzortzis Rallis and Lazaros Kakoulidis, 2017, Author provided

But there are economic alternatives. Heterodox economic theory (such as ecological, feminist and Marxist economics) challenges the assumptions of mainstream economics. It has shown how neoclassical and neoliberal economics produce unsustainable economies that consistently devalue the natural world, women’s work and the labour of other groups historically denied equal access to capital.

For example, the Iceberg Model depicts a feminist economic framework where non-market activities, including the unpaid labour that buttresses capitalist economics, are made explicit.

The Iceberg Model.
Bianca Elzenbaumer/Brave New Alps, 2018, Author provided

The challenges of the Anthropocene demand that we overcome the exploitative and anti-ecological biases in neoclassical and neoliberal economics. One popular alternative is Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics. This would prioritise both social justice and environmental sustainability to create a safe operating space for humanity. Unlike conventional economics, heterodox economics takes the ecological context and planetary boundaries into account – while also addressing the interests of historically disadvantaged populations.

Ecological economics and design

The design industry, like most industries, is governed by economic ideas, structures and systems. Economic systems determine priorities in design studios and design education – including whether or not designers can focus on sustainable solutions.

And so economic factors govern whether designers can direct their energies towards making sustainable ways of living possible – or not. Few of us are employed to do tasks that make it possible to respond responsibly to environmental circumstances because the current political economy is not oriented towards prioritising the preservation of life on this planet.

When the priorities of an individual designer who is oriented towards sustainability conflict with those of the design industry, which is often governed by an economic system oriented towards profit, the designer finds it hard to make a living. If sustainable solutions will not generate profits, they will not succeed in this economic system (without either government intervention or charitable support). The design industry does not systemically prioritise the needs of the environment within this economic system because the way value is generated in contemporary economics depends on the systemic dismissal of ecological priorities.

Designing the future.
Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock.com

New design economies

Addressing this dilemma is a severe challenge. It is now evident that the economic system must be designed to reflect priorities and values associated with preserving habitable conditions on the planet. Climate change and other severe environmental threats require dramatic shifts in economic priorities. The fields of economics and design must be redirected so that economic services, structures and systems will support socially distributive and environmentally regenerative design.

Humankind already has the knowledge to make sustainable and socially just ways of living on this planet possible. What we do not yet have is the ability to make these transitions possible in the current political context. New types of design and economics could be a basis for systemic transitions.

Key to this transition is ecologically literate education in both design and economics. Both fields must be radically transformed to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene. With critical, ecologically-engaged design and economic education, new redirected design economies could facilitate sustainable transitions and make another world not only possible – but desirable.


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Joanna Boehnert, Lecturer in Design, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Rima Alsammarae report on Middle East Architect of 9 April 2019 that “Jordanian architect and artist Ammar Khammash is a 2019 laureate of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, along with four other architects including Dr Werner Sobek, Ersen Gursel, Rozana Montiel and Jorge Lobos.” 

Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash wins Global Award for Sustainable Architecture

Jordanian architects, Ammar Khammash, Sustainable architecture, Architecture awards, Architects from the Middle East, Architects from Jordan

Created by architect and scholar Jana Revedin in 2006, the international award recognises five architects each year who have contributed to sustainable development and created innovative and participatory approaches to meet societal needs. 

Royal Academy for Nature Conservation in Jabal Ajloun, Jordan by Khammash Architects

According to the award’s website, Khammash was recognised for his dedication to interdisciplinary scientific research, as well as his artisanal and artistic approaches to architecture.

Khammash’s projects include the Wild Jordan Center, the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation, the Darat Al Funun workspace and the Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman, as well as the Church of the Apostles in Madaba. His approach involves the use of locally-sourced, natural materials to achieve context-relevant designs. 

The Middle East Modern Art Space in New Badr, Amman by Khammash Architects

“It appears that there is a growing international trend to put architecture back on the track of social and environmental responsibilities, and away from being a hostage of powerful visual output that publishes well in the media,” he said. “Our philosophy and methodology of approach is entirely based on the role of architecture in solving problems, finding creative ways to co-exist with the larger context, which includes society and nature.”

Currently finalising two ecolodges in Jordan (one in Yarmouk Reserve and the other on the hot spring of Al Himmeh in Mukhaibeh), Khammash and his team are also working on a number of competitions in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He noted that the award will help him further his approach and convince clients who see things differently.

Heedan Visitors Center by Khammash Architects

“The recognition from this prestigious award will help me change the mentality of clients, politicians and students,” he said, “ensuring that architecture retains some degree of modesty and symbiotic relationship to people and nature, instead of overwhelming, overpowering and outsmarting the very reason we need to build for.”

Khammash will be speaking at the award’s symposium, to be held in Paris in May.

Ammar Khammash talks on CNN’s program “Inside the Middle East” about Feynan Eco-Lodge, designed by Khammash Architects, and which is one of the first Eco-Lodges in Jordan and the Middle East.
Watch the interview: Inside the Middle East
The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

Sustainable Architecture: The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

November 10th, 2018 by The Beam 


As we enter a more environmentally-conscious age, we are inevitably building more ecologically responsible and sustainable cities. Creating buildings with the lowest possible energy consumption and carbon emission production, while still being aesthetically pleasing, is a challenge bringing together great minds to change the way we think about our living and working spaces. Here are some of our favorite sustainable architectural projects coming out of Shanghai, Paris, Dhaka, and Barcelona.

The green hill

Shanghai, a wealthy city of 24 million people, has a varied complexity serving as a microcosm that contains a lot of what modern China is all about. Shanghai is also the city where Thomas Heatherwick is building his ambitious vision with the 100 Trees Complex in Shanghai, an immense project that will cover 300,000 square meters and transcend the mere notion of being just another skyscraper block in the Chinese metropolis. When completed, the building will house schools, residences, retail units, offices and a hotel within its nine floors and three-story basement. It will also comprise over 400 terraces, many set with plant beds and trees, to enhance the “3D forest” effect and encourage outdoor meetings and recreation. The city’s residents are already calling it their version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and we added it to our to-go list in 2018.

The vertical forest

France has swathes of vast woodlands, but not a single vertical forest. Italian architect Stefano Boeri aims to change this with his Forêt Blanche on the outskirts of Paris, a 54-meter-high tower fashioned from stacked wood and glass cubes with thickly planted edges. The facades of Forêt Blanche will be covered by 2000 trees, shrubs and plants, with a green surface equivalent to a hectare of forest, 10 times the surface area of the lot on which the building sits. Once finished, the site will host residential apartments on the high floors, offices and commercial services in the lower part, with a mix of terraces and balconies on the four sides of the tower. The east and west facing side will allow the passage of sunlight all day, giving natural illumination and ventilation to the apartments and an exceptional panorama on the landscape of central Paris.

The floating university

Among the densest megalopolises in the world, Dhaka’s rapid urbanization has resulted in the displacement of the city’s water bodies, vegetation, open and civic spaces by buildings and industries. Woha Architects will try to remedy this by building a floating university in the Bangladesh capital.

Sited on an urban lake, the vision is to present an innovative and sustainable inner city campus that exemplifies tropical design strategies in response to the hot, humid, monsoon climate of the region while demonstrating the sensitive integration of nature and architecture. Drawing inspiration from the Bengal basin’s Sundarbans mangrove forest that have separate ecosystems above and below tidal level, the design strategy is to create two distinct programmatic strata by floating the Academia above the lake and revealing a Campus Park below, thus reflecting the synergistic coexistence between mankind and mangrove. This approach minimizes the building’s footprint over the lake, and further maximizes space for facilities while opening up the ground level to activity generating interaction spaces and effective additional park land that creates an imageable milieu for a vibrant campus life.

Re-greening downtown Barcelona

If you have ever visited the Catalan capital, you know how warm, noisy, polluted, and busy it gets, especially in summer, when plenty of tourists visit to escape from their routine and catch up on some of the sun and brilliant Catalan atmosphere. The city has already proved its commitment to the environment, wanting now to move away from car hegemony and turn secondary streets into “citizen spaces” for culture, leisure and the community. The administration plans to create several micro projects that merge into green inner-city corridors by moving entire streets underground and banning cars from the center to create the necessary space for new parks. The city has even purchased industrial land for this goal of creating 108 hectares of new green space up to 2019. To involve the entire community, there are cash prizes for the most sustainable ideas from the citizens.

By The Beam Editor-in-Chief Anne-Sophie Garrigou

The Beam Magazine is a quarterly print publication that takes a modern perspective on the energy transition. From Berlin we report about the people, companies and organizations that shape our sustainable energy future around the world. The team is headed by journalist Anne-Sophie Garrigou and designer Dimitris Gkikas. The Beam works with a network of experts and contributors to cover topics from technology to art, from policy to sustainability, from VCs to cleantech start ups. Our language is energy transition and that’s spoken everywhere. The Beam is already being distributed in most countries in Europe, but also in Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Japan, Chile and the United States. And this is just the beginning. So stay tuned for future development and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Medium.

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Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Rima Al Sammarae wrote on November 4th, 2018 about how life carries on in the Palestinian territories, notably for a certain Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University.  Here is, courtesy to Middle East Architect how:

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses working with Peter Zumthor and persevering under a 29-year travel ban

“The most important and difficult competition that I have ever won was the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace,” said Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University. “It was launched by UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the jury was led by Peter Zumthor.”

The project, which was awarded to Habash’s office, called for a masterplan of one of Palestine’s most significant sites — the archaeological park of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho, and included the protective sheltering of the mosaic floors of the Grand Bath Hall, as well as other sensitive areas. During the three-part judging process, Zumthor led the participants around the site, questioning their thinking, allowing them to defend their proposals and engaging in discussions.

 

Habash with Peter Zumthor, as they worked together on the renovation of the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace

“It was a great opportunity to work with him,” Habash said. “I liked his way of thinking  —  he’s a genius. Later on, when we worked together to deliver the project, I realised we think alike in many ways. And the same thing happened when I met Rifat Chadirji and Rasem Badran, who both judged my graduation project. They really read between the lines and realised my intentions. They didn’t only judge what was on the paper. There was a connection between us, and I think that connection deals with the way we approach context.”

A purveyor of critical regionalism, a term originally coined in 1981 to counter the placelessness and lack of identity of international style, as well as whimsical individualism and the ornamentation of Postmodern architecture, Habash is committed to preserving context and the use of architecture as a political, cultural and social tool.

In a paper she recently published, ‘Architecture as Resistance’, which explores the use of architecture in Palestine as a form of opposition against the Israeli occupation, she wrote, “As architects, we have a social responsibility towards our community as we should be serving them rather than serving capitalist interests. I believe that architecture serves as a catalyst for social processes, at least in the limited context of local communities, and as expressed in the early twentieth century by Hannes Meyer, director of the Bauhaus School of Architecture, who stressed that as designers, we are servants to the community. Our task is a service to the people.”

 

Habash sitting with Iraqi architect Mohamed Makiya

 

Propagating her beliefs has not come without consequence. Having suffered a 29-year ban on traveling outside of Palestine by the Israeli government for being an “influence on public opinion”, which has spanned most of her career and was only just lifted in July 2017, Habash has proved to be a local hero of sorts. While she was stripped of regional and international opportunities, she persevered in propelling the field of architecture forward in Palestine.

Between 1986 and 1987, she helped establish the architecture department at Birzeit University, where she continues to teach today. While the university previously only had an engineering department, where architecture-related courses were taught, Habash and her colleagues organised a new curriculum that would, and continues to, bridge architectural philosophies with realistic practice.

“Teaching and my relationship with my students are very important to me,” she said. “And till today, my students tell me that I not only teach them the alphabet of architecture, but also how architecture is a tool for resistance and resilience to achieve sustainable development.”

In addition to co-establishing the architecture department at Birzeit University, Habash also helped launch the Union of Arab Architects, became the first women to head a regional branch of the Engineers Association, which spans Jordan and Palestine, and served as city councilor in Ramallah.

 

Before and after images of Bdelqader Abdelhadi Palace, rehabilitated by Habash Consulting Engineers

Her time with the Ramallah Municipality occurred between 2013 and 2017, and she led the committee of cultural heritage with the mission to protect the city from rapid development and international franchising.

“The urban expansion of Ramallah has been fast and vicious,” she said. “The city is very appealing for developers because it has always been known as a tourist destination within the region. They started affecting the scenery of the town with their international franchises and branding, and for me, this is horrifying. It is not authentic at all.

“The city was beginning to lose its character. While it’s not possible to stop them — they are big international companies, after all — we led the conversation on the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, which is a treasure for us. It is our essence. We need to protect it and base our development around it.”

Habash’s political engagement has always been managed in parallel with the work that comes in through her architecture office. Her extensive number of projects across Palestine include the rehabilitation of Arraba Palaces and the Old Road, the rehabilitation and addition to St. Nicolas Elderly Bait Jala, the rehabilitation of Mar Afram Children’s Library, the revitalisation of Bethlehem Old Market, Al-Istiqlal Park and the water reservoirs at Deir Istya and Kufur Abboush.

“The challenge of the water reservoirs was that they are located on the highest point of the village, in the middle of the historic centre, and I didn’t want to harm the traditional architecture there,” said Habash. “I designed new buildings to serve new functions, but with the vernacular architectural style so that they harmonise with the surrounding environment. And this is how I deal with all of my projects — I study the context very well and I specify what elements of architecture are used in the specific village.”

 

Habash working on the model of the Grand Bath Hall of Hisham Palace

At the moment, Habash, who has been shortlisted for a Tamayouz Excellence Award for Women in Architecture and Construction, is nearing the completion of another rehabilitation project — the Vernacular Heritage Pilot Enhancement Project in As-Samou’, located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, just south of Hebron.

Intending to rescue the built heritage of As-Samou’ and revive its weaving-based economy, the project consists of a number of interventions that will enhance the local vernacular architecture, such as the consolidation of 12 traditional ahwash located in the historic centre, and the rehabilitation of a hosh that will create a Cultural and Youth Centre. The rehabilitation of the hosh supports the training and capacity building of young craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas.

“We have renovated many places in Palestine,” she said, “and there are many other institutions here who do similar work. But this project was particularly special for us — the people in the area are very happy and due to their training, they are distinguished from other craftsmen. We gave them this chance, and that feeling is very special.”

 

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?

Genoa motorway bridge collapse 4 days ago was a catastrophic one, creating a scene, rescuers compared to the aftermath of an earthquake. Italy declared a State of emergency while agreeing that the collapse of the Morandi Bridge was an “immense tragedy”.

Why did the Genoa bridge collapse?
Engineering experts were immediately in the limelight weighing in each one with explanations but are too soon to know why a bridge of that calibre collapsed. Satellite images revealing the extent of the devastation after the shocking collapse as it happened, have made it, as it were worse, i.e. while in use by vehicles.
The Economist Construction technology on August 18th, 2018, in its Print edition of Science and technology proposed this article after the disastrous collapse of the Genoa Morandi Bridge last Tuesday.

Crumbling infrastructure is a worldwide problem

A bridge too far

 

The first bridges were likely to have been built by early man shoving a fallen tree across a stream. Since then, construction techniques have come on a bit—from wood to stone, wrought iron and then steel. In the 20th century, reinforced concrete appeared. Concrete is an immensely strong material, especially when coupled with steel. But the sudden collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa this week (pictured), with a tragic loss of life, adds to the concern of civil engineers that many bridges around the world which use reinforced concrete are deteriorating faster than was expected.

The Genoa bridge is based on a design called a cable-stayed bridge, although it is a somewhat unusual variant. Such a bridge uses one or more towers, from which run cables that support the deck of the bridge. This is different from a suspension bridge, such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in which the cables holding up the deck are suspended vertically from a main cable anchored at either end of the bridge. Cable-stayed bridges are widely used, mainly for spans shorter than those crossed in one go by a suspension bridge.

A familiar feature of a cable-stayed bridge is that the cables form a fan-like pattern emanating from the supporting tower. If one of the cables is damaged or breaks, it should be obvious; the loading on the bridge is calculated so that the remaining cables will be capable of holding the structure up. The Morandi bridge is different because it was supported by pre-stressed concrete tendons. The tendons are made from bundles of steel wires tightened to produce compressive strength and then encased in concrete. The bridge was designed by Riccardo Morandi, a proponent of this type of bridge. Only a few have been built around the world.

Concerns about Genoa’s bridge had been raised in the past. The Italian media has reported that in 2016, Antonio Brencich, a specialist in reinforced concrete at the University of Genoa, described the bridge as a “failure of engineering” and that sooner or later it would have to be replaced. Daniele Zonta, a civil-engineering expert at the University of Strathclyde, in Britain, says that since the opening of the bridge in 1967 the tendons have required continuous monitoring and maintenance.

Although the design of the bridge is unusual, it is much too early to say if that played any fundamental part in the collapse. And in other respects, the Morandi bridge is far from atypical. All around the world bridges built long ago, particularly those using reinforced concrete, are deteriorating. Even back in 1999, a study found that around 30% of road bridges in Europe had some sort of defect, particularly corrosion of their steel reinforcing or pre-stressed tendons.

A report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in January is even more sobering. It reckoned that 54,259 of that country’s 612,677 bridges are “structurally deficient”. These problem bridges have an average age of 67 years and are crossed by vehicles 174m times every day. At the present rate of repair and replacement, it will take 37 years to remedy all the problems, says Alison Premo Black, the organisation’s chief economist.

What is going wrong with these bridges? The difficulty is that concrete, or rather the steel used to reinforce it, can fail in a number of ways. Salt, ice and the pounding of weather can cause tiny fractures in the concrete’s surface. As these cracks creep inward, they let in water. Once the water reaches the steel reinforcing or tendons, it corrodes them. This enlarges the cracks, which can cause the concrete to fall apart. That this is happening is evident from rusty streaks on crumbling concrete.

Heavy traffic

Other factors compound the deterioration of bridges, such as a constant cyclic vibration from traffic, says Mehdi Kashani, an expert in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton, in Britain. This is troublesome for bridges designed in the 1960s, when traffic flows were lower, cars were smaller and lorries much lighter. On top of that, extreme weather can take a toll, with heat and cold expanding and contracting the structure, floods eroding away foundations and high winds buffeting the bridge. This is why regular inspections and maintenance are essential.

New methods of monitoring structures are available to help engineers spot problems before they become critical. Instead of the arduous task of climbing up bridges or erecting scaffolding, camera drones can easily take a close-up picture of just about any part of a bridge. Electronic sensors can provide regular readings of any movement in the structure. And laser scanners are capable of picking up fine details and displaying them as a three-dimensional image. All this should help, but only if regimes exist to ensure that careful monitoring and preventive maintenance take place. If such tasks are skipped, for whatever reason, the result could be disaster. “The Genoa bridge is not the first to fall down,” says Dr Kashani. “And unfortunately it will not be the last.”

Repair or replace?

Monitoring and repair are not the only options. When bridges were being built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, many were expected to last for more than 100 years. But the decay of reinforced concrete leads some civil engineers to think that such bridges may have a life of only 50-60 years. That means thousands of bridges are coming to the end of their days. Refurbishment is possible, but it is slow and very costly. It might end up being more expensive than building a new bridge.

New structures can also take advantage of advances in engineering. There has been huge progress in materials science, so much so that it is now possible to tinker with the internal structure of substances to make concrete more robust and steel better at resisting rust. Ultra-high-performance concrete is already being made in some countries to toughen buildings against such things as earthquakes and bombs. Apart from just sand and cement, other ingredients are added to these super concretes, such as quartz and various reinforcing materials. In some tests, the addition of plant fibres has been shown to produce markedly stronger concrete.

Self-healing concrete is also being explored. Different methods can be used, but the basic idea is that, should cracks appear in the surface, they will trigger a chemical reaction that seals them up again.

Wholesale replacement of elderly bridges would be an expensive exercise, however. The Governor Mario M Cuomo Bridge, which opened as a replacement for the old Tappan Zee Bridge which crosses the Hudson River in New York, is expected to become fully operational later this year. It is also a cable-stayed bridge, but one of a more traditional design. It is expected to cost some $4bn. The old bridge, built largely from steel and concrete in the 1950s, was knocked up for some $60m, which in today’s terms would be a bargain $564m. The Tappan Zee Bridge was predicted to have a lifetime of only 50 years; it managed nearly 62. Its replacement is supposed to last for a century. Time will tell.