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  • Writer's pictureJocelyn Valles

Hot Buildings

Al Bahar Towers - Aedas Architects, 2012, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Built in Abu Dhabi in 2012, the Al Bahar towers keep their cool by combining traditional cooling techniques with cutting edge technology. The mashrabiya is a traditional Islamic sunscreen that has been used to reduce heat gain in the middle east for millennia. These tessellated sunscreens are both effective architectural tools and highly detailed works of art.

The Al Bahar towers combine this traditional mashrabiya with contemporary technology, creating a 21st century mashrabiya made of a screen of petals that open and close. An intricate computational system calculates the orientation of the sun and opens or closes each cluster of petals in order to minimize solar radiation and the resulting heat gain. This adaptive, kinetic mashrabiya is estimated to reduce solar heat gain by more than 50%, dramatically reducing the operational costs of cooling the building with mechanical air conditioning equipment. Additionally, the reduction in direct solar radiation allowed the architects to use windows with a more natural tint, improving the quality & quantity of natural light in the interior and minimizing the need for artificial lighting systems. This modern mashrabiya is a prime example of how traditional cooling strategies can be combined with 21st century technology to create architecture that is both of its time and deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of its context.

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Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano de Medellin (EDU) - PVG Architects, 2016, Medellin, Colombia

Completed in 2016 in Medellin, Colombia, the new Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano (Urban Development Company) headquarters is a contemporary high rise that “breathes.” Like the Al Bahar towers, the new EDU headquarters also combines traditional cooling techniques with contemporary technology, but it uses a different tactic than the Al Bahar towers: while the towers focus on blocking solar radiation and minimizing heat gain, the new EDU headquarters focuses on maximizing the breeze and uses thermodynamics and thermal buoyancy to boost ventilation and the comfort of the occupants, even when there isn’t a breeze at all! The building utilizes a permeable facade (made using precast glass reinforced concrete panels) in combination with a chimney that runs the full height of the building to generate a constant breeze that creates a comfortable environment in a very hot climate without the use of mechanical air conditioning equipment. This system capitalizes on the laws of thermodynamics and thermal buoyancy (basically, the fact that hot air rises while cold air sinks), in order to create a constant breeze that cools the interior spaces, maximizes the effect of the thermal mass of the heavy concrete materials, and does all of this even when there isn’t a breeze in Medellin.

For a more rigorous description of the science behind this design, please check out the link below!

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