The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may still be considered as one of the most conservative from a religious standpoint. But with the opening of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, otherwise known as KAUST, a new era in academic learning, combined with new innovations in ecological architecture and design, has begun in which both men and women students will benefit jointly.
The new campus opened its doors in September, in the Red Sea city of Thuwal, 80 km north of Jeddah. It is considered to be the most environmentally innovative campus of its kind in the Kingdom. Constructed in a manner to utilize the maximum benefit of sea breezes for cooling, the buildings themselves have been constructed in order to screen out a good deal of the heat that is generated by the hot Arabian sun; making the internal environment more sustainable for the students.
Built close together, the buildings themselves are designed to shade each other, making the internal temperatures much cooler.
From an academic standpoint, the university will offer degrees in 11 fields of study, including Environmental Science and Energy Development, Biosciences and Bioengineering, Industrial and Chemical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, and Computer Science. One of the most innovative aspects to the new KAUST campus, for Saudi Arabia anyway, is that both male and female students will study together in the same classrooms; something that has not been common in other Saudi campuses.
Mr. Bill Odell, of HOK Architects, and one of the two principal designers of the project, noted that the design of the campus, in which the buildings were built close together to provide natural shading for each other, was taken from traditional forms of Middle Eastern architecture in which buildings are built close together to lessen the heat of the sun’s rays.
This concept, together with using modern concepts of air conditioning, as well as utilizing the effect of the Red Sea breezes, will make the climatic environment within more comfortable while reducing energy costs.
Building designs from universities all over the world were studied, especially ones in hot climates, in order to find the right kind of architectural “model” that will accommodate the students in both classroom and research environments, as well as in residential ones. Each building incorporates a “solar tower” (another “innovation” used in early Islamic architecture) that heats the air, causing it to rise and pull in the sea breezes from the outside.
The residential part of the campus provides environmentally friendly living accommodations for both students and faculty members, and includes plenty of green spaces, shopping, health and recreational facilities. Special electric shuttle buses and other vehicles, including golf carts and two wheeled “Segways” will ferry students and instructors to and from classroom and residential facilities.
Being situated in a country where Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam is a way of life, women students still have adhere to all aspects of attire and other requirements for living in the Kingdom, even while being on campus. But being able to study and conduct research together with male students is at least a small beginning in a country where women are usually completely separated from men; even in an academic study environment.
We suppose it will be interesting to see a woman student, dressed in full Wahhabi dress, tooling along on her Segway on the way to class.
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