Seen from the air, the National Museum of Qatar looks like a spectacular desert rose spreading its 539 petals along the Doha coastal road. Officially inaugurated last March 28, 2019, this masterpiece by Ateliers Jean Nouvel is astonishing in terms of its remarkable architectural achievements. Imagine: 52,000 sqm of exhibition space dedicated to Qatari art and craftsmanship, 76,000 fiber-reinforced concrete panels... and nearly 900 tons of ready-mixed mortars supplied by Weber Middle East!
In Qatar, as in all desert areas, buildings are not constructed in the same way as they are in New York or Paris! Why? The answer is temperatures that regularly approach 40-50°C / 104-122°F. Such conditions require building materials to benefit from exceptional physical properties (flexibility, breathability, etc.) in order to withstand such extreme high temperatures. But climate isn’t the only issue; there’s also the nature of the soil to contend with. In the Gulf regions, the soil is, by its nature, far from being appropriate for supporting such structures, since its surface is composed mainly of sand.
Demanding challenges for R&D
Such conditions pose real challenges for R&D departments, which are redoubling their innovation efforts to develop non-standard materials. Take concrete, for example. In hot countries, concrete sets very quickly and is subject to a faster deterioration as a result of severe weather conditions. That’s why we use innovative products like Epsilone, developed by Sodamco-Weber as a new generation of admixture that extends concrete performance and durability.
Glazing is another case in point. In the Arabian peninsula and the Gulf in general, it is essential that glass provides thermal insulation to avoid indoor temperatures soaring to unbearable levels. Designed by Saint-Gobain, SageGlass® electrochromic glass delivers an effective response to this challenging issue. So how does it work? SageGlass® is electronically tinted in response to sunlight levels, to deliver optimal visual and thermal comfort. The result is a significant reduction in energy consumption as a direct consequence of the lower need for intensive air conditioning.This is one of the major challenges we have to face in those regions, where the energy demand continues to grow. Buildings alone, consume up to 80% of the total electricity generated mainly used in air conditioning. On the other hand, 70% of the residential buildings lack for proper thermal insulation due to absence of regulatory norms, until the year 2008 where sustainable construction regulations were first introduced in The United Arab Emirates, then followed by the neighboring countries.
Traditional houses and the city of the future
The major challenge is therefore to limit energy consumption to the lowest-possible level, and from this perspective, houses of the old tradition could hold the answer.
The fact is that in many hot countries, all the older houses were designed to facilitate natural temperature adjustment. Small windows, mashrabiya pierced screens, inner courtyards, wind towers... All of these old construction methods were efficient in limiting the sunlight and providing air circulation.
So how can methods like these be applied in today’s more urban environment?
A good example is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Constructed in the middle of the desert, this city of the future, where Saint-Gobain products and solutions are largely part of its construction, combines traditional architectural techniques with new technologies through the use of photovoltaic panels, wind tower and narrow streets that provide shade and pleasant air circulation.
In the very near future, Masdar City will host the first Multi Confort house of Saint-Gobain in the Middle East. This 400 sqm construction, true demonstrator of the Group’s know-how, is wholly adapted to the climate in hot countries and will be conceived as a showroom for Saint-Gobain solutions and a training center to our professionals and customers.
External thermal insulation system, designed by Saint-Gobain Weber, will be among the innovations applied in the MCH, tinted glass as well and of course the GLASROC X, latest innovation by Saint-Gobain Gyproc, coupled with the Ecobuild by Saint-Gobain Isover, strengthening hence the Group’s strategy in the collaboration between entities.
This monument which will house Saint-Gobain local teams, is expected to be inaugurated by early 2020.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, another architectural and energy challenge is emerging: the one-kilometer high Jeddah Tower surpassing Burj Khalifa tower in the race of building the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and where, once more, Saint-Gobain solutions will make the difference.
Photo credits: Shutterstock