Thousands of folding glass panels cover the southern facade of the Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi (above). Reacting to sunlight, they form a protective skin to decrease interior solar gain. It’s a modern riff on the best known element of Arabic architecture, in play since the Middle Ages. Meet the modern mashrabiya.
The intricate wood screens that protected windows throughout the Arab world are increasingly being reinvented – often at massive scale and using computer technology – to cover tall buildings as an oriental ornament, but also as a major element for sun-shading and passive cooling. Building owners report lowered maintenance costs too, as the screens minimize cleaning (and reduce water use).
The perforated aluminum skin of Qatar’s Doha Tower (aka The Burj Doha) in variegated depending on north, south, east and west exposures, in order to control day-lighting and provide bespoke interior shading. The metal screen also reduces sand and grit build-up on underlying glass panels.
Saudi’s Breakwater Beacon is a honeycombed lighthouse that guides ships approaching the Red Sea port of Thuwal. This structure is loaded with imagery: it acts as an Arab wind chimney or “wind-catcher”, and the hexagonal precast concrete blocks are reminiscent of traditional mashrabiya screens and endangered native coral.
Louvre Abu Dhabi reinvents the classically vertical screen into a horizontal roof, which in turn – during daylight hours – casts a virtual mashrabiya pattern onto the museum’s walls.
Lusail District a mixed use development in Doha made harmonious in part by a common screen structure on the taller towers.
Windows projecting from the facade of residential buildings in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute are protected by latticed concrete panels which control interior heat gain and minimize building maintenance.
Mucat’s Muttawar Lifestyle Community is a planned residential complex that incorporates classical elements of the Arabic courtyard house. Balconies, central gardens with water features, and mashrabiya screens sustainably maximize passive cooling.