Sustainable Egyptian desert campus offers model for green building

Sustainable Egyptian desert campus offers model for green building

Architect Sarah El Battouty of ECOnsult leads the sustainable design of Bahareya Village, an eco-friendly compound for farm workers in the Western Desert of Egypt

A collection of sandy blocks are set on a rugged desert landscape some 450 kilometres outside Cairo. The Bahareya Village is home to the farming community engaged by organic tea producer, Royal Herbs. Its solar powered sustainable campus is nestled beneath a mountain range in Egypt’s western desert – and it’s the very essence of green living for agricultural workers. 

Gravel manufactured from recycled construction waste provides the base for the minimalist concrete structures. These buildings, housing up to 150 people, contain a cafeteria, medical facilities, mosque and communal spaces. Cacti scattered throughout the campus offer splashes of greenery without compromising on a commitment to water efficiency.

The design was led by Sarah El Battouty, the founder of Egyptian-based sustainability-led architectural firm ECOnsult, who was tasked with creating natural cooling through thoughtful design.

El Battouty studied the natural airflow and sunlight on location over time, discovering ways to manipulate the breeze and enhance shade. Cantilevered shelter is adopted for walkways leading to entrances; deep shaded areas in dark colours help to reduce temperatures by controlling the amount of air exposed to light. 

The discovery of a nearby limestone quarry was a triumph for the architect. Due to the thermal quality of the stone, it remains cool even at the height of the afternoon sun, rendering the material ideal for cladding. Rooftops were built with light reflective elements and recycled concrete tiles were laid within rooms due to its ability to resist heat. 

A technique El Battouty borrowed from desert communities – raising the foundations of the buildings to create distance between the floor and therefore the rising heat from the land – reduced indoor temperatures by eight to 10 degrees. ‘Sustainable housing has existed in indigenous communities for millennia,’ El Battouty says. ‘They include the elements in everything that they do.’

The design was recently shortlisted by Ashden, an organization that runs an award scheme for innovative solutions to tackle climate change. The judges were impressed by the smart approach to building in hot climates, eliminating the need for carbon generating air conditioning systems. The considered design showcases the potential of low technology, sustainable solutions and could potentially become a prototype for creating natural cooling around the world. §

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