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EPFL Middle East Students Adapting To Their Climate Share Share

Aesthetic Considerations in Architecture

EPFL Middle East Students adapting to their climate

Aesthetic considerations in architecture tend to trump sustainability; there is not much difference between skyscrapers built in Chicago and Dubai, in spite of the enormous differences in climate and energy demands. One way for buildings in hot and arid climates to reduce energy consumption is to adapt facades to the constraints of the scorching sun—all the while improving user comfort—, but if these adaptations are not aesthetically pleasing there is little hope that they will be integrated.

One of EPFL Middle East’s axes of research is to establish sustainable architecture in the region, and 17 students are embarking on a scientific adventure in the Master in Energy Management and Sustainability (MES) this semester—the first of such programs for EPFL Middle East. Professor Marilyne Andersen, Head of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Performance-Integrated Design (LIPID), will be working with six of the new MES students to develop discrete and attractive technologies that lend themselves to climate-adapted architecture.

Andersen’s research projects with the MES students range from techniques drawing from traditional architecture to avant-garde window design and studies on bio-rhythms tied to our exposure to sunlight. Among the subjects to be explored is the adaptation of a traditional sun-screen, called a mashrabiya. These screens decorated with perorations are an important source of light in many Arabic buildings, but techniques could be developed to allow them to follow the sun’s path or let more light in without increasing the temperature inside.

NOMAD – Modular architecture for research

This wide range of interdisciplinary design will not only take advantage of EPFL’s resources on the Lausanne campus in engineering, architecture and light physics but will also benefit from opportunities to test the research in the United Arab Emirates desert; experimental structures in the form of two small attached buildings are to be installed in both Lausanne and Ras Al Khaimah. These movable structures, called NOMAD—built in collaboration with The Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Technologies (LAST), will provide data concerning temperature and light presence in two radically different climates but also offer an occasion to study architecture’s most demanding criteria—comfort. By building an identical double structure with modular facades designed for testing external building envelopes, one room can be filled with captures and other devices for measuring, and the second can be free of these encumbrances to offer the user a more objective experience.