Balancing act...

26 Feb 2010

Plans for sustainable university building in Kuwait's challenging climate combine community and comfort with low energy use

The benefits of campus life—the sense of inhabiting an academic community, the chance meetings that evolve into intellectual explorations, the shared experiences that help cement pluralistic and humanistic values—are not currently available to students at Kuwait University. With this understanding, the University identified four principal needs for the new College of Arts building: state-of-the-art facilities to support the liberal arts curriculum; a generous provision of shared and common study and gathering spaces to encourage community; LEED-NC Silver certification or higher; a visual signature that reflects both the College’s modern approach and regional traditions.

Kuwait’s large swings in temperature (from 35ºF to 145 ºF) and relative humidity (from 5% to 85%) challenged the design team to find innovative ways to balance community and comfort with low energy use and environmental sensitivity. The design solution addresses these goals by lifting the mass of the building off the ground plane, using the building’s own mass to create a publicly accessible sequence of self-shaded, passively cooled student study and gathering spaces.Interior courtyard spaces with inward-sloped glass walls create self-shaded vertical ‘tents’ and ‘tent gardens’. The sloped glazed surfaces of the ‘tents’ provide shared internal views and daylight to each floor. In the ‘tent gardens’, terraced stadium seating provides informal study space that promotes community awareness and interaction.

The design team looked to traditional desert shelters for tested ideas of passive sustainability. The Bedouin Dewaniya tent, a traditional gathering place, holds a special significance in the region. Its social function, materiality, form, and environmental performance are sophisticated responses to specific environmental and cultural conditions. The combination of self-shading building mass, a chimney effect at the 'tents', operable fold-up walls, and vegetated grilles and walls passively ventilate and cool the heavily programmed ground level ‘gardens’, with informal study areas, student lounges, café, student gallery and other student-focused learning support spaces.The project is expected to earn a LEED-NC Silver rating when complete in 2014. In total, the male and female colleges comprise 58,809 sq ft of built-up area (38,960 sq m).

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