Computer Controlled Sunscreens for the Al Bahar Towers

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Al Bahar Towers

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Global architectural firm Aedas has designed a computer controlled sunscreen to respond to optimal solar and light conditions that can shade the Al Bahar towers when required, and open up when not. The screen is composed of origami triangles made of coated fiberglass and is located two meters away from the exteriors of the building. Each triangle is programmed to open when the sun appears and close when the sun is gone.

This unique idea is inspired from old techniques–the Middle East has used complex shade-producing wooden lattices called masharabiya for hundreds of years–but has been revamped with a modern twist. The logic behind using a masharabiya is fairly straightforward: Prevent the sunlight and heat from getting into the building so you can lower the emphasis on cooling a building.

Aedas shares on their website:

The Masharabiya shading system, based on a traditional Arabic shading lattice-work, is one of the main concepts of the winning competition entry for the ADIC headquarters towers in Abu-Dhabi.

Developed by the Computational Design team, our work consisted in finding a parametric description for the geometry of the actuated facade panels and simulating their operation in response to sun exposure and changing incidence angles during the different days of the year.

Architect Chris Wilkinson, a juror for the Tall Building Innovation Awards, described the screen is a “dynamic façade on Al Bahar, computer-controlled to respond to optimal solar and light conditions” and that something like this “has never been achieved on this scale before.” Wilkinson also adds that “the expression of this outer skin seems to firmly root the building in its cultural context.”

What is the benefit of such a system? The requirement for air conditioning, a must in the Middle East, is significantly cut down and reduces the offices’ dependance on artificial light. The mashrabiya moves in accordance with the sun’s position in the sky and is said to reduce the impact of the sun by 50 percent. Springwise reveals about the air conditioning angle:

And whereas most buildings in the region feature heavily tinted windows — relying largely on artificial interior lighting instead — Al Bahar Towers was able to reduce that necessity considerably, allowing a much better level of natural light inside. Photovoltaic cells on the south-facing roofs of each tower, meanwhile, generate roughly five percent of the buildings’ total required energy.

This project, which is reportedly to be completed in the next few months, has recently won an award for innovation from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). And rightfully so. The project could be a great source of inspiration for buildings around the world that have high air conditioning and energy costs. That is, assuming that building a high-tech mashrabiya is cost efficient and does not produce too much carbon emissions to counter the benefits.

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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