Research on Passive Design Strategies in New Gulf Architecture Presented at Qatar National Library
Efficiency and Identity: The (Re-)Discovery of Passive Cooling Strategies in the Architecture of the Gulf Region
German University of Technology in Oman Department of Urban Planning and Architecture email@example.com
revised version October 2018
reviewed and presented at The Gulf Traditional Architecture Conference at the Qatar National Library, Historical Research Section, Doha/Qatar, 23-24 April 2018
Keywords: Gulf Region, Architecture, Modernism, Identity, Energy-efficiency, Passive Design Strategies, Patterns
The current architectural discourse in the Gulf region runs in two parallel streams, both of which are derived from the larger societal questions of identity and energy-efficiency. One stream of the debate is about creating regional and national identity through architecture and is mainly focused on the appearance of buildings. The other is about the energy-efficiency of architecture and aims at enhancing the performance of buildings in the climate of the region (e.g. ADUPC, 2010). Looking at the current production of architecture in the Gulf region the split between these two debates is apparent. On the one side there are many examples of prominent projects, especially public buildings, that use powerful images for their appearance, however, these images sometimes shrink to metaphoric one-liners, such as, for example, a palm leaf, a falcon wing, a sand rose, or a desert snake. On the other side there are more and more technically advanced buildings, often commercial entities, whose performance with regard to energy-efficiency is audited and certified, but more often than not disappoint with rather generic and mediocre designs. While the identity debate tends to be strongly image-driven, the efficiency debate is mainly technology-driven and the problem is that these two streams of the discourse on architecture are disconnected.
This dilemma is not new and also not restricted to the Gulf region. In the post-war era, when modern architecture was built increasingly in newly modernizing countries the clash between an expected locally-rooted imagery and a required technical performance of a modern building became obvious. This is expressed, for example, in an architect's description of his design for the Istanbul Hilton Hotel built in 1955 as "a salubrious blend of strong Turkish architecture and American plumbing and heating" (Lefaivre & Tzonis, 2012). This contradiction between a superficial design imagery and a generic - and not very energy-efficient - building technology would hold true for many of the architectural projects in the Gulf region as well - even until today. The issues of architectural identity and energy-efficiency often seem to be like non-intersecting lines of thought. The result is a building culture that often looks as if stage-design meets mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, the potential of architecture to serve as both, an efficient mediator of climate to provide comfortable spaces and, through this, to be a source of identifiable regional and cultural meaning, is not sufficiently exploited.
However, there are exceptions from this trend and the aim of this essay is to identify these successful examples. Since the connection point where the discourses on energy-efficiency and identity intersect is form - the tangible core of architecture - the focus of this research is thus on the formal elements of architecture, which result from the so-called passive cooling strategies that are applied to minimize the heat gains, in contrast to the mostly non-form-related active cooling strategies that optimize technological components and operational systems. With this focus on form "the proven solutions to recurring problems" about building comfortable spaces in the challenging climate of the Gulf region, as shown in the examples, are distilled and articulated as so-called patterns (Alexander, 1978) in order to build up a repertoire of concepts for future architectural designs in the region. Through this approach the currently disconnected discourses on identity and energy-efficiency could be re-connected.
Full paper available upon request