By Jody McCutcheon
Egypt is famous for its pyramids, of course, and now a new architectural wonder is going up in Cairo’s Heliopolis District. But despite an extravagant appearance, it has some serious green sensibilities.
In order to achieve a decreased carbon footprint, the sprawling, 450,000m2 multi-use complex seeks to exploit the region’s bioclimatic variables and also its renewable energy sources. Designed by Parisian firm Vincent Callebaut Architectures, the innovative Gate Residence marries passivhaus principles and sustainable energy technology in the creation of a vertical, hyper-connected ecosystem whose lofty goal is a fifty percent reduction in energy use.
In theory, the innovative design—one that combines trees and buildings in seeking LEED Gold Plus certification—is an enthusiastic attempt to raise awareness about sustainable, green architecture. In reality, it will be an urban oasis that makes the battle against global warming a bit easier for the next generation.
The architectural complex will be composed of one thousand residential apartments (which will enjoy comprehensive hotel services), plus offices and a shopping concourse that will include a health spa and gym, Kid’s Club, medical centre, pet care, bank services, restaurants, cafés and fast-food courts. Everything will be laid out around a main boulevard, with the residential apartments housed in rectangular buildings along this boulevard and surrounded by commercial and retail space. Construction has just begun, with the massive project expected to take four years to complete.
Many comprehensive eco-features allow the Cairo Gate Residence to tread lightly on the environment. Most of these features are integrated into the structure’s roof and walls. The roof incorporates helical wind turbines and photovoltaic panels to produce electricity, solar water-heating tubes to deliver hot water to kitchens and bathrooms throughout the complex, and community gardens—complete with playgrounds, sports arenas and swimming pools—to grow fresh produce and provide social outlets and a means of exercise for residents and visitors. The roof’s solar panels will provide shade for the patios, balconies and streets below, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation systems.
The roof’s other main feature is the series of nine “Megatree” wind-catchers funneling down into the complex. This traditional Persian architectural element, known as “Malqaf,” channels wind downward to provide passive cooling (further supplanting the need for mechanical ventilation), as well as green vertical gardens, for the interior patios and inner streets during the warm season.
Speaking of green vertical gardens, the Gate Residence will be surrounded on all sides by them. Also known as living walls, the surrounding plant-covered surfaces (walls and roof) will reduce Gate Residence temperatures by as much as five degrees Celsius, thus mitigating the effects of urban warming. Imagine balconies as suspended gardens and courtyards overflowing with falling cascades of greenery, and perhaps you’ll agree that the idea of vertical gardens is both beautiful and refreshing.
Another refreshing benefit of living walls is the facilitation of water reuse, as slightly polluted water (e.g., greywater) is purified through the absorption of dissolved nutrients. Verticality will also allow water to better circulate, so it’s less likely to evaporate than it would in a horizontal garden.
The Gate Residence further manages internal climate by geothermal means, while gill-like façades on either end of the apartment blocks serve as sunshades. The final eco-touch is an energy-saving, smart-home, automated interface in each residential apartment that controls temperature, ventilation and lighting. The Gate Residence leaves no stone unturned in the quest to reduce its carbon footprint.
The prevailing belief is that luxury exacts a heavy eco-toll. But with a little care, consideration and creativity, we can change perceptions. Once the design is in place to exploit regional natural resources, all the heavy lifting is virtually done. In which case, luxury most certainly can be easy on the environment.