Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Headquarters: The First Positive-Energy Building in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy

As previously reported on Carboun, Masdar City – the $22 billion project of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) – is currently under construction and is due to be completed in 2016.  As the the first zero-carbon emissions and zero-waste city, the master plan for Masdar City integrates many passive design and planning strategies with renewable energy production to achieve its ambitious sustainability goals.

At the center of Masdar City lies its first building, the Masdar Headquarters, which will become the new home of Abu Dhabi’s Future Energy Company, as well as the secretariat of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The building – together with other key building -will act as an anchor and a catalyst for the development of the city.

Image 1. Rendering of Masdar HQ. Copyrights: Adrian Smith+ Gordon Gill

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KAUST: A Sustainable Campus in Saudi Arabia

Karim Elgendy

UPDATED – The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) at Thuwal (near Jeddah) in Saudi Arabia was recently announced as one of the winners of the American Institute of Architects’ Top 10 Green Buildings awards for 2010.

The new international graduate-level research university was established by the government-owned Aramco, the world’s largest energy corporation, to drive innovation in science and technology and to support world-class research in areas such as energy and the environment. The campus project was designed by HOK Architects and was completed in September 2009.

KAUST’s new campus is Saudi Arabia’s first LEED certified project earning a Platinum certification, the highest rating in the United States’ green building rating system At 496,000 Square meters, the project also represents the world’s largest LEED Platinum project.

Image 1. Night view. Copyrights J. Picoulet and HOK

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Riyadh Tower Design adapts a Traditional Middle Eastern Shading Strategy

Image 1. A night view of the design showing the shading enevlope and the spiraling forms behind. Copyrights: Perkins+Will

Image 1. A night view of the design showing the shading envelope and the spiraling forms behind. Copyrights: Perkins+Will

In February 2010, the design for Al-Birr Foundation Headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been named as the winner of the 2010 Architectural Review / MIPIM Future Projects Awards under the ‘tall buildings’ category (Image 1). The unbuilt project, designed by Perkins+Will’s New York Office, was commissioned for Al-Birr Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at alleviating poverty and caring for disadvantaged families and children.

The Design

Of the many features of the design of the 59, 000 sqm tower, perhaps the most interesting is how it was concieved as a sustainable urban tower that responds to the environmental characteristics and the microclimate of the city of Riyadh, which is a challenging climate to address given the extreme solar exposure and the heat conditions of Riyadh.

Faced with these climatic conditions and a deep plot of 1000 x 1200m, the projects’s designers response was to rethink the high rise typology in this context. The design’s most visible response to the climate is the building’s envelope which was designed as a large rectangular frame of brise-soleil enclosing the occupied parts of the building. This shading frame  was designed to respond to both the different amounts of solar radiation received by each elevation as well as the interior spaces behind it. To achieve this  result, a mapped shading mesh was devised to provide varying levels of openness for different locations of the different elevations depending on its solar exposure and its spatial/contextual influences. The result was an envelope that resembles a mesh of varying densities surrounding the building and simultaneously protecting and revealing the activities behind it.

This proposed design solution thus helps the building reduce its solar heat gain while maintaining its views towards the city (FIgure 1). In addition to this shading effect, the mesh-like dynamic treatment of the envelope has also helped animate the building’s expression with the dense and sparse zones of the facade adding a dynamic effect to what otherwise may have become a static pure form.

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A California Building Revives Traditional Middle Eastern Designs

Karim Elgendy

The Carnegie Center for Global Ecology in Stanford is a research facility that combines Laboratories and office spaces. The 1100 Sqm building was built on a previously developed plot of 7.4 acres. The client’s main concerns were lowering the carbon  emissions tied to the building’s energy use as well as the embodied carbon emissions of building materials. Flexibility over the short and long term was also of utmost importance to the client who wanted to allow for the expansion and contraction of research teams.Like Many of the Climates of the Middle East, Stanford has an arid climate with a long dry summer season, and benefits from northwest breezes.


Image 1. View of the Eastern facade of the Carnegie Center showing the wind tower and the naturally ventilated entrance lobby. Copyright: Peter Aaron / Esto

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The First Low Energy House in Jordan

Aqaba House, Copyrights Joseph Zakarian, Jo Magazine

UPDATED – Jordan’s first low energy house in Aqaba is a residential project designed with the intention of creating a prototypical low-cost energy efficient building that achieves substantial energy use reductions without incurring additional construction costs.

After launching a design competition for a prototypical energy efficient house the house owner – a Jordanian environmental researcher- in collaboration with the Jordanian Center for the Study of the Built Environment, chose to proceed with a practical low energy design with an architecture that resonates with local aesthetics.

The competition’s winning scheme by the Dutch architect Florentine Visser, was based on a 3-floor design that included the many spaces required by the owner’s brief (including 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a car garage, and a basement) in a house with a total area of approximately 420 sqm.

In her approach to designing an energy efficient house, the  house’s architect used a combination of passive low energy design strategies and efficient active systems. Passive strategies are strategies that use design to reduce the need for heating and cooling. In the context of the Middle East passive design mostly refers to passive cooling strategies since the cooling requirements of middle eastern buildings far exceed their heating requirements.

Active systems, on the other hand, are mechanical systems such as heating, ventilation, and Air conditioning units (HVAC) efficient active systems use less energy to heat, ventilate, or cool buildings.

Most successful low energy buildings use a combination of passive strategies, active systems, and renewable energy generation to reduce their energy use ,with some buildings achieving the ultimate target of net zero energy, which essentially means that a building -or a  development- generates all the energy that it consumes.

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Masdar City Masterplan Reviewed

Masdar City Masterplan. Copyright Masdar, Foster+Partners

When Masdar City was first announced in 2007 by the Masdar Initiative, it claims that, when completed, it will become the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste development, while maintaining the highest quality of living. Foster + Partners and a team of environmental consultants including WSP and Transsolar have been appointed by Masdar to design the masterplan and the first stage of the project which broke ground in February 2008.

Masdar City’s Master plan is claimed to “meet and exceed” the principals of One Planet Living (OPL), a set of ten guiding principles of sustainability, proposed in a joint initiative by WWF, the global conservation organization and Bioregional Development, whereby everyone lives within their fair share of the Earth’s resources. The principles include Zero Carbon, Zero Waste, Sustainable transport, Sustainable materials, Sustainable water, and Sustainable culture and heritage.

The project also comes in the context of a rapidly increasing population and an economic boom in Abu Dhabi which -, together with new laws opening the emirate’s real estate to the free market- led to speculation  and a housing shortage estimated in 2008 to between 35,000 and 50,000 dwelling units. This shortage has prompted the state to allocate billions for the construction of residential buildings, especially for foreign workers and western expatriates. This housing shortage has also resulted in rising house prices, which led to discussion of legislations that would introduce a 20 per cent quota for low-income housing in future developments.

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