After oil ushered in an era of excess, many people in the Middle East stopped building sensible homes adapted to harsh weather conditions. But a group of students from Oman are bridging the distance with a sustainable design with which even the most traditional Arab can identify. Here's the thing: many homes in the Gulf region in particular have separate quarters for men and women (who aren't a part of the family), making them rather large. Whether or not westerners agree with this, it's a fact of life here - so the Higher College of Technology found a brilliant way to satisfy this requirement while slashing the home's overall footprint by roughly two thirds. Then they added a slew of other sustainable features and a crown of solar panels, resulting in a super villa that is 100 percent powered by the sun and generates three times the energy it needs to run.
Mona Al Farsi, the HCT GreenNest Eco House project manager, told Inhabitat the students wanted to demonstrate that less is more. To that end, they rejected a few of the attributes common in Arab homes, which prioritize privacy above all. Instead of solid walls and curtains that suffocate the interior, they opted for shaded openings wrapped with vegetation and oriented towards the north to optimize natural light and ventilation. Al Farsi said this gives residents a moving framed image when they look outside as the seasons unfold and a greater sense of well-being as their connection to nature is thereby deepened.
The western wall is covered in greenery, creating a colorful habitat for pollinators and other creatures. Elsewhere on the site, which is located on the HCT campus in Muscat as an educational showcase that is now being incorporated into the architecture department’s curriculum, the students installed an insect hotel. They’re also growing food on site, including the citrus for which Oman is notorious. All around the house are shaded recreational areas that extend the living space, a particularly important feature for a people accustomed to entertaining many visitors.
About 60 percent of the home’s water is recycled for irrigation, a sensible conservation strategy further bolstered by low-flow fixtures. These are especially progressive features for homes in such a water scarce region. The rooftop PV array comprises 76 solar panels that feed energy to the city grid. Al Farsi says 50 panels would easily generate enough energy for a family of six.
At 1,300 square feet, the three-bedroom, double story home is roughly 1/3 as large as a typical home, and yet it still provides all of the functions an Arab family needs. A charming shaded courtyard allows guests to congregate upon arrival. Once they enter, the men turn right to the majlis, where they can watch television, eat, and socialize, while the women will head left, closer to the kitchen. Their living room features a couch that folds out into a bed in case guests want to spend the night. Again, westerners may not understand this separation of the sexes, but HCT has done a fantastic job of catering to their specific market rather than grinding against the grain – though they very gently introduce a few new ideas designed to help people return to their self-sufficient roots.
GreenNest was the winning entry in Oman’s inaugural Eco House Design Competition. The students are required to monitor the home’s performance, in part to help the government transition to more sustainable housing that is also financially feasible. They are measuring temperature, humidity, energy generation and experimenting with different plants and crops as part of this year-long followup study. It’s not easy to find a sustainable home design modern Arabs can embrace (they’re not going to squeeze their families into tiny homes anytime soon). Now, after many years of searching, I think I’ve finally found a winning model.
All images via Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat