How Sustainable is Your Oasis?: A Review of Water Resources in Middle East Cities

Karim Elgendy

Liwa Date Farm, UAE. Copyrights: Google

Liwa date farms benefit from some of the freshest ground water in the UAE. Copyrights: Google

Those who visit the Middle East and North Africa from more temperate climates are often struck with how hot and dry the region is, and how scarce its rainfall. Some wonder why cities became established here, and how they continue to exist despite the lack of renewable freshwater.

These concerns are not entirely groundless. Yet these cities’ existence is not in any way miraculous: it’s merely an example of what can happen if cities fail to strike a sustainable balance between growth and limited resources.

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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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