Monday, October 17, 2011

Innovative and Environmentally Friendly Architecture

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
A few weeks ago, Physics Today (a highly respected monthly magazine of the American Institute of Physics) published an article titled “A sustainable house in Tlemcen, Algeria” presenting an innovative and economically attractive architectural project.
The article was referring to a paper recently published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy by energy physicist Mohammed El Amine Boukli Hacene, of Abou Bekr Belkaid University in Tlemcen, Algeria. The author presented the design of a model house which aims at reducing energy consumption, using renewable energy, and providing natural ventilation.
The house is to be built with cellulose wadding and flagstone within a wooden framework; it faces south to enable a maximum collection of solar energy (using heaters and photovoltaic cells).
The important energy savings are achieved by implementing the following ideas: a) wood's low thermal inertia, low construction cost, and low thermal transmission; b) double-glazed windows and airtight external doors to help increase insulation; c) solar-powered heaters photovoltaic cells; and d) ground cooling.
The proposed house is estimated to need no more than 15 kWh/m2/yr for its heating, with a total energy demand of about 50 kWh/m2/yr. This is less than a quarter of what a conventional house needs. Although building the house would cost more than a conventional one, the extra cost is estimated to be recovered in about ten years; in fact, in countries where fuel is much more expensive (say in southern Europe) but where solar energy is relatively abundant, this kind of project can prove to be extremely interesting.
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Also a few weeks ago, in a blog post on “Science and a politically assertive Turkey”, Salman mentioned an article on the first mosque in Turkey designed by a woman and posted a few nice pictures of the architectural design. (I particularly liked the mihrab.)
I would like to present a few other innovative plans for mosques to be erected in various places in the near future, while showing a few more pictures (or artist’s impressions) of those.
1.  The Mosque in King Abdullah Financial District
The architectural plan for this mosque was produced by the New York-based firm FXFOWLE; it won an award and much praise at various architectural competitions and professional venues. The mosque is to serve the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and it is supposed to integrate the business, social, and religious activities of the community in the district.
The structure is covered with white marble (a simple of purity), and it is surrounded on all four sides by water; the interior is then accessed through “floating walkways”. The modern geometry (note the absence of a dome, in particular) makes it fit seamlessly into the business district’s environment, while the water sets it apart. Do also note the neat minaret…

In times when Germany is turning away from nuclear energy and toward renewable forms, the proposed eco-friendly mosque in Norderstedt, near Hamburg, has been hailed for its innovativeness and environmental and economic attractiveness. Indeed, the plan proposes to put two wind turbines on top of the two tall minarets and hence use wind energy to power the mosque, reducing by one third the typical cost of such a building. The mosque is proposed to be 1300 square meters large and would cost some 2.5 million euros to build.

3.  An Islamic center in Mulhouse, France
This ambitious Islamic center proposes to include all of the following facilities: a large prayer hall, a multi-purpose room, a media library, an exposition hall, a reception room, ten classrooms, a children’s learning playroom, a computer room, a gym, a swimming pool, a sauna, a Jacuzzi, and a traditional “hammam” (Turkish bath). And in order to help the project achieve financial independence, the plan also calls for a minimarket, a halal-meat butchery, a travel agency, a hair salon, and more.
The project is estimated to cost 11.2 million euros. Almost half of that is reported to have been raised. It is hoped that the center will be completed and ready to open for Ramadan (July) 2012.


Gary said...

In Malaysia everybody builds in concrete and the modern trend is large areas of glass. All this means the buildings are great heat sinks and fail to cool down at night so air-conditioning often runs 24/7. The worst offenders are apartment blocks where the air-conditioners discharge their heat into the common internal areas of the building turning everything in to an even more extreme sauna than usual. Sadly the traditional Malay building style of a wood house raised high off the ground with lots of shutters to block direct sunlight and encourage good ventilation is a thing of the past. That style of house was in vogue in the late 19th-early 20th century in Australia's northern tropics and are much sought after today because of their efficiency in keeping cool without a lot of energy use.

I recently had a discussion with my wife's nephew who has turned his attention to designing environmentally friendly buildings here. It is a difficult brief because many of the methods which take advantage of the variable temperature ranges of the temperate regions don't work in the more fixed temperatures of the tropics. It means developing new approaches from scratch.

I remember many years ago seeing a design proposal for a mosque in Sweden. It was basically a low UFO style dome set over an artificial lake which was used in the heating and cooling of the building. Access was via a raised walkway. The dome itself was divided by a full length glass skylight to provide natural light and was oriented in the direction of Mecca. The single thin minaret was set in the focal point of sunken external amphitheatre and looked as though it doubled as a sundial. It also had a crosspiece which could be adjusted to indicate prayer times. Beautifully simple lines, in harmony with the environment, optimum use of space and incorporating the necessary plus some traditional Islamic features. Unfortunately this was only a design proposal and I don't think the ultimate Ikea mosque was ever built.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Dear Gary,
Thanks so much for your great additions. Yes, indeed, the "norm" of concrete has spread everywhere; it's the same thing in Algeria, and with the higher and higher density of buildings, the heat (inside and outside of the buildings and houses) forces A/C's everywhere. Until just 5-10 years ago, A/C's were unheard of in Algeria, and now they're almost the norm...
In the UAE, it's even worse: concrete is rather extensively used, and big windows are the norm, and so this (bad heat insulation, little ventilation, and bad building materials) forces constant cooling almost through the year.
Yes, globalization has forced everyone to build the same way and thus to live with A/C's many months of the year, with all kinds of negative effects, from health-related to environmental.
One last comment: last March I took part in a conference on Islam and Environment, and among the ideas I promoted was the "green mosque". First, I was stunned to find so few examples on the web, and second I was surprised to see many people praise me for having "introduced" this great idea...