Students from the American University of Cairo designed SLIDES – a solar-powered modular home that is slated to compete in next years Solar Decathlon, but lack of financial support could keep this groundbreaking project from being realized.
When students from the American University of Cairo were accepted to compete in the 2012 Solar Decathlon design competition in Europe, they literally made history (we posted the details of their SLIDES project and how it can save Egypt from Climate Change earlier this year.)
Never before has a North African or Middle Eastern team won the opportunity to showcase the best in homegrown eco-architecture and clean tech – mostly because they have lacked the developmental tools to compete with more privileged European schools. And now that we do have a group of exceptional students with the requisite dedication and skills to see this project to the end, it is very possible that a lack of funding will prevent them from making it to Spain next year. Are we going to let that happen?
It’s impossible to over-state the value of AUC’s solar decathlon submission. With financial backing, Egypt could be the first MENA country to create a viable solar-powered, modular housing prototype that can replace the boring concrete buildings currently devouring this region’s landscape.
Our future architects and engineers are working hard to create a sustainable building material that will mitigate the carbon and fiscal expense of importing comparable materials from abroad. And the mechanical engineer on the team, Nayef Haidar, is developing a clever new mechanism that will allow the perforated double screen, which reduces solar gain and promotes natural ventilation, to slide back and forth depending on the home’s heating and cooling needs.
These are Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems – a crucial step that will make the country more stable in the face of climate change and diminishing resources. Not since Hassan Fathy, the Father of Sustainable Architecture, has a real pioneer in green building stepped out of the shadows. Until now.
We recently met Dalia Wagdi, Nada Tarkhan, and Nayef Haider, who are only a small handful of the students working on the Solar Decathlon Project, at the American University of Cairo, along with their patient advisor Dr. Lamyaa El-Gabry.
Dr. El-Gabry explained how deeply she worries that her students won’t have the financial resources to make it to Spain, where the competition will be held next year. The university has put forward some funding for this project, she says, but much more is needed.
AUC students are swimming upstream against the same issues that threaten sustainable development throughout the MENA region, including the absence of a viable supply chain and skills and insufficient moral and financial support from municipal and national leadership, and they are doing so in the context of the worst insecurity Egypt has experienced in decades.
Although the country’s revolution ended Mubarak’s decades-long control earlier this year, a dearth of clear leadership has emboldened military abuse and lawlessness, which continues to escalate, but that has not stopped Wagdi, Tarkhan, and Haider from working long hours to make their striking prefab home a reality.
Haidar – the fellow responsible for the sliding mechanism – was so sick he could barely talk, but he refused to miss our meeting, revealing his commitment to success despite the extraordinary odds stacked up against him and his team.
And in a country where women are frequently marginalized, the female students involved spoke to me with unparalleled clarity and humility about the various components of the project that still have to be realized – giving us hope that indeed, the Arab Spring can promote eco-feminism.
It would be devastating to their morale and to the future of not only Egypt but the entire region if this project fails because of money.
If we really mean for the Middle East to become a pioneer in renewable energy and sustainable development, we have to support the youth who are pitting their green ambition against hopelessness.
And if we hope to survive climate change and harness our extraordinary natural energy sources, we need to put the weight of our intentions behind the people who are not only dreaming about solutions, but also doing the work to see those dreams manifested in reality.
If you would like to support the AUC Solar Decathlon team, or know someone who is in the position to do so, please contact Dr. Lamyaa El-Gabry at lelgabry [at] aucegypt [dot] edu.
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