Designed for the desert: architecture must adapt to rising temperatures, say experts

About 47 per cent of Earth’s land mass is made up of desert and drylands

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - November 7th, 2017: Two gentlemen walk towards the Louvre. Louvre press Day. Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 at Louvre, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Desertification is described as one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time and, like camels and cacti, buildings need to adapt to survive.

To help reduce the effects of climate change, experts at Expo 2020 Dubai's Urban and Rural Development Week said modern architecture has to respond to and work with the environment around it.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [says] about 47 per cent of Earth’s total land mass is made up of desert and drylands,” said Daniela Ottmann, from the Abedian School of Architecture at Bond University in Australia.

With three billion people estimated to be living in arid climate zones, this is a driver for designers and architects to develop more responsible infrastructure that works with existing natural resources
Daniela Ottmann, Bond University, Australia

“With three billion people estimated to be living in arid climate zones, this is a driver for designers and architects to develop more responsible infrastructure that works with existing natural resources.”

In the Middle East, she said, there are some good examples of how buildings have been designed to “harness traditional wisdom with contemporary dependences”.

From stone floors and wooden cladding to keep buildings cool, to intricate roof panelling that captures air and circulates it, Ms Ottmann said architecture has no choice but to change to help tackle the impact of climate change.

Here, The National lists some modern buildings in arid environments that complement the environment.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE

When it opened to the public in 2017, many people remarked how the building itself resembled a piece of art. But more than simply looking impressive, the design and planning that went into Louvre Abu Dhabi all had a purpose.

The museum creates a comfortable microclimate and incorporates elements to cool it, which are inspired by traditional architecture.

The large dome that encases the building helps to reduce the overall energy consumption by shading the outdoor and indoor plazas from the sun.

The patterned roof permits daylight to enter without too much heat passing through, and features such as the stone floor and wall cladding keep the building cooler for longer as the day warms up.

Surrounded by water, the museum and its visitors can also enjoy the refreshing breeze and mist from the sea on cooler days.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s design has achieved a coveted “three pearl” design rating under Abu Dhabi's Estidama classification system.

King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Shaped like honeycomb, this modern desert laboratory was designed to keep energy demands to a minimum.

Scientists at the centre, located in a region renowned for its extreme heat, research the most effective use of energy for the future, so it made sense that the building itself echoed this vision.

The modular honeycomb formation means that it can adapt and expand as the campus grows. And, similar to the dome at Louvre Abu Dhabi, the roof is covered in angular cut-outs allowing for constant ventilation and less reliance on air conditioning.

The campus entrance opens to the north and west, encouraging winds from the north to cool the courtyard during high temperatures months.

Wind catchers integrated into the roof on the south sides of each courtyard also help to circulate air throughout the building.

The building has recorded a 45 per cent reduction in energy performance as a result of the design and 40 per cent of the construction materials were sourced from within 800 kilometres, including 30 per cent of which were recycled content.

King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

At a distance, this building, which is split into several components, appears to be boulders rising from the desert.

Rendered in concrete and stainless steel, the facade gives the building a soft, shimmering gleam but avoids attracting vast amounts of light that a metal building usually would. The concrete element acts as a form of cooling to the exterior.

At the heart of the building is a 98-metre tower that is hollow throughout and is used for concerts and conferences. The tall structure allows heat to rise, keeping the standing area below cool.

Most visible of all is the facade’s veil, which is made up of more than 350 kilometres of thin, stainless steel pipe.

It is wrapped around the structure, like a metal skin, which again helps to reflect the sun.

Updated: November 07, 2021, 4:25 AM