Kuwait is planning to build a city in the desert for 2,500 residents, and the Sabah Al-Ahmad Culture Center will be its nucleus. Albeit materially extravagant, BDP. has proposed a design that takes energy conservation very seriously. And in this relentlessly hot and humid seaside environment along the Gulf, that won’t be easy.
Integrated with photovoltaic panels, a lily pad roof hovering over the center will provide both power and shading, while cooling and ventilation towers combined with high thermal massing will establish a comfortable microclimate for what is expected to be a vibrant public gathering space brimming with educational, entertainment, research and exhibition opportunities.
Cool it on the concrete
The new cultural center will be built out of heavy masonry and concrete, which is justified for its high thermal massing. Of course, this is not our favorite aspect of the project, nor are the faced titanium and glass crystalline facades. However, despite failing to incorporate sensible material choices, BDP. has gone to great lengths to reduce the center’s energy load.
In addition to the energy-generating lily pad roof panels, BDP has proposed to build cooling towers on either edge of the site which will use recycled or treated gray water to cool the building. Ventilation earth tubes will facilitate circulation. Combined with narrow streets and plenty of vegetation, these interventions should ensure that the enclosed facility will be cool year round.
Convincing Kuwait to go solar
Given Kuwait’s potent irradiation, BDP. has also proposed an off-site concentrated solar plant that could be used to power the entire city. Whether or not the Public Authority of Housing Welfare (PAHW), which has approved the existing schematics, will take the bait remains to be seen.
After reporting on Dubai’s “sustainable city,” we are beginning to see a trend moving through the Gulf states, perhaps spurred by the widespread popularity of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City project: new enclaves of “sustainable development.”
Rather than sinking to the modest approach of Britain’s transition towns or Copenhagen’s discipline and self-sufficiency, these projects resemble the high-tech compounds of Margaret Atwood’s dystopic novels, in which wealthy people shut themselves off from the world and rely on technology to artificially sustain them through the apocalypse.
We’re not convinced that technology absent a tangible human scale is an appropriate solution to our development challenges, but we definitely can’t complain that there has been a not-so-subtle paradigm shift along the oil-soaked Arabian peninsula. At last, even the wealthy nations are beginning to acknowledge the inevitability of a post-carbon era.
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