Eco building means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Can a skyscraper or a building in Israel be truly “green” or do we have to go back to living in tents in the desert? In the truest sense the expression green building technology is an oxymoron. Any action that humans make in the built environment will lead to habitat destruction for wildlife and plants and will leave a semi-permanent or permanent scar on the landscape. In a sense the greenest builders were the nomadic peoples of our world, the ones that left no trace.
In Israel they are the Bedouin who lived in tents made from goat and camel hair and who now are confined to staying put in settlements; and in North America we had First Nations people who built wigwams or teepees or long-houses. Very little remains from those impermanent structures and settlements today. And that is a good thing.
As progress goes, the ones who push for development are the bankers, and the bankers work with venture capitalists and real estate developers who work with millionaires and billionaires to grow more money. These guys, because let’s face it, 99.9% of the decision makers in this space are men and guys love gadgets and toys and love to fund audacious projects like Silicon Valley startup (potential unicorns) like Soylent (so we don’t ever have to eat real food again). Sometimes they fund great ideas like Waze, and sometimes they fund great ideas with awful execution – like Uber which pays peanuts to its drivers.
The only way the Middle East can wake up to the reality of the impending disasters brought on by climate change is to be habitat resilient. I am not against technology persay, but we just see that when technology is used for technology sake (rather than function or purpose or to make wads of cash), we create a useless pile of junk (see Masdar and why its green building technology has been a wasteful investment of $18 Billion in Abu Dhabi).
The only way we can go forward in green technology and design is by going back. And for this, anyone from Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq… are you listening? Let’s look at 5 draw-dropping natural inventions from the Middle East that are green building applications that require no energy or actually reduce or remove the need for heating and cooling using electric energy.
Yemen’s Manhattan of the Desert “Shibam” is an awe-inspiring city made from mud in Yemen. No one knows why it was built or who did it exactly, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site secret is not a real secret anymore. It is one of the impressive examples of earth architecture in the world. The Shibam district found in the Hadramaut province boasts 437 tall clay towers, of which 400 are still habitable. Construction of at least one of the mosques probably started during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Harun al Rashid.
Nader Khalili was still kicking it less than 20 years ago and his innovation in green building which he brought from Iran to California still impacts people in their 40s and older, because that generation actually got to work with him building his adobe earthbag construction fit for space.
Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian visionary architect who used local building materials to create relatable, affordable, comforting green buildings. Many people in the world consider him the foremost personality on green building and he should be revered for his functional living quarters and aesthetics.
Mashrabiya is one of my favorite inventions of all time. It is an aesthetic building concept in the Middle East. Made from cement, wood, or clay, these functional design elements are a facade that creates shade and privacy, passively cooling and actively keeping peeping eyes from outside in.
The Windcatchers of Yadz are a very unique invention from Iran. The wind rolls above them, and it gets sucked underground through a wind tunnel which cools the wind as it passes through buildings. No water or electricity needed. The name also sounds like it could be the title of a best-selling novel.