Few elements are more distinctive to Middle Eastern design than the ancient Mashrabiya screens used to keep homes cool, and now recent strides in technology have completely revolutionized how the concept is used.
Commissioned to design the 25-story Al Bahar Towers on Abu Dhabi’s eastern flank, Aedas Architecture worked with Arup Engineering to create a computer-controlled mashrabiya that wraps around the Abu Dhabi Investment Council’s (ADIC) new headquarters. They move in accordance with the sun’s position in the sky, reducing solar gain by a whopping 50%!
Perhaps more than any other Gulf nation, Abu Dhabi has taken enormous steps towards securing its residents against an inevitable end to their oil wealth. Naturally we don’t necessarily agree that building giant skyscrapers is the most sustainable defense against resource depletion and climate change, but at least the Emirate is making an effort.
Heat is one major challenge faced by all Gulf nations. This year during Ramadan, when many pilgrims flock to the holy sprawl that Mecca has become, Saudi Arabia will experience temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. It’s not much cooler in Abu Dhabi, so energy-intensive air-conditioners suck up all of the nation’s most important export commodity (ie. oil).
The software-designed mashrabiya screens help to mitigate that problem by deflecting solar gain, thereby significantly reducing the buildings’ overall cooling load. These screens almost envelope all but the northern flank of either tower, adding an aesthetically-pleasing geometrical dimension to the glass buildings.
This is one step in the right direction. But can we bring the buildings down a few stories and start building on a more human scale?