CAIRO: Students of the American University in Cairo are setting forth the practice of revolution as they take Egypt’s notions of housing to entirely new levels of innovation.
AUC students, who form the bulk of the Sustainable Livable Interactive Design (SLIDES) team, have been working on developing a fully self-sustaining, solar-powered house with which they have earned themselves a spot in the prestigious, inter-collegiate Solar Decathlon competition held in Madrid, Spain. AUC is the first university in the Middle East and Africa to participate in the Solar Decathlon Europe.
Temperatures in Egypt are spiking due to global warming caused by the continuous pollution of the environment. Energy demands are at an all time high, and will threefold by 2030 according to UN reports. With many obstacles out of the way of Egypt’s science and development agenda, AUC has taken full advantage of this new dawn to face these environmental challenges with their SLIDES project.
The Solar House is completely energy self-sufficient, gaining energy from the sun through photovoltaic cells and solar thermal panels on the roof. Modern technology and techniques have been tested and applied to the solar house to address the main challenges it may face in Egypt: cooling and water shortage.
Through the house’s innovative architecture, natural ventilation and cooling will be maximized and the need for electricity for air-conditioning will be reduced. In order to save water, conservation measures are taken including the integration of a water filtration system that supplies recycled water for drip-irrigation and toilet flushing. The house’s thermal mass flooring system and insulated walls are designed specifically to both trap heat when possible and to emit that heat when necessary. Passive techniques like these are exploited to decrease energy consumption and thus create a more sustainable living environment.
Though adapted to accommodate modern times, the Solar House is inspired mainly by Ancient Egyptian architecture. Students of architecture have been working on applying traditional techniques to the house in different ways; yet maintaining a modern exterior and interior. An ancient technique used by the Egyptians is the interlocking of stones. This concept is transformed to takes the form of a Voronoi diagram – the structure of which is resonated throughout the exterior and interior of the house. The purpose of this structure is both technical and aesthetic as it contributes to the house’s functionality and its modern façade. The SLIDES architects claim to have aimed at reviving history while preserving Egyptian culture by presenting it in a contemporary form.
One of the most important aspects of the Solar House is its screen – a parametric design created to regulate exposure to the sun. Taking on a modern form of the traditional Arabic “mashrabia,” the screen is to function as a double-layered perforated skin over the Solar House. This is an essential part of the entire design as the Solar House is constructed in a way so as to optimize solar gain. The purpose of the double layer is to allow for the ability to control the size of the perforations in the screen, permitting optimal sunlight penetration at any time of day; thus creating optimal living conditions.
The interior of the house echoes the same concepts as the exterior of the house, namely functionality and efficiency. The house is divided into zones which optimize circulation and ventilation as well as privacy. Space is maximized through the integration of customized and built in furniture that folds into walls, utilizing otherwise idle space.
Project manager and AUC research assistant, Mohamed Aly, stressed that the entire process, from the testing to the application, and from manufacturing to building, will be done as responsibly and ecologically as possible. The estimated cost of this two year project is LE 6.9 million. The team is still looking for sponsors, but prominent candidates have already shown much interest in this innovatively fresh project.
The architecture and engineering of the Solar House reverberate sustainability and environmental amenability. With this project, the students of the SLIDES team hope to raise awareness, and promote responsibility towards Egypt’s deteriorating environment.
The project and its entry in the Solar Decathlon Europe will enhance interdisciplinary learning and inter-professional training, leading to applied research projects and possibly collaboration with industry and professionals. It is also likely to have a great impact on the Energy Industry in Egypt as it opens many doors to research and development in the field.
Upon asking the participating students how they see the future of their SLIDES project unwrap, they answered, with hopeful optimism, that besides their full intention of winning the Solar Decathlon, they believe the SLIDES Solar House has the potential to turn into some of Egypt’s most innovative and ecological business ideas.
The SLIDES Solar House will be presented at the Solar Decathlon Europe in June 2012. The jury will evaluate the house based on ten criteria; hence the contest being a decathlon. The criteria include: functioning of the house, energy efficiency, electrical energy balance, architecture, engineering, innovation, comfort conditions and sustainability as well as communication and social awareness and industrialization and market viability.
The students say they intend to win the Solar Decathlon in 2012.