The southern face of the headquarters will be covered in photovoltaics to capture energy from the sun during the day, while a courtyard at the base will draw cool mountain air into the building at night. Archivio Mario Cucinella Architects
A new office building in Algeria is designed to perform in harmony with the surrounding environment to reduce energy use and emissions—while still providing appealing aesthetics.
August 13, 2013—Hydrocarbons are the cornerstone of Algeria’s economy. According to the Central Intelligence Agency website, the North African nation boasts the 10th-largest natural gas and 16th-largest oil reserves in the world and ranks sixth in gas exports. Hydrocarbons account for approximately 60 percent of Algeria’s budget revenues, 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), and more than 95 percent of its export earnings. So it may be surprising to learn that when the Algerian government held an international design competition for a new headquarters for its telecommunications authority, one of its primary requests was that the structure be environmentally sustainable.
The government launched the competition for a new Autorite de Regulation de la Poste des Telecommunications (Authority for the Regulation of Telecommunications Post) headquarters in 2012. The building will be located near the southeastern edge of the Algerian capital of Algiers, surrounded by a new urban park. After reviewing eight design proposals, Algerian officials awarded the project to Mario Cucinella Architects, a firm based in Bologna, Italy, for its design of a gracefully curved structure that takes into account both the nation’s culture and climate. Algerian officials “were looking for a new icon for the authority because it is a very important agency, dealing with international companies,” says Mario Cucinella, the president of Mario Cucinella Architects. “But at the same time they were looking for a very high-efficiency internal space.”
The shape of the new headquarters for the telecommunications
authority in Algeria was inspired by the sand dunes of the nearby
desert. Archivio Mario Cucinella Architects
Cucinella and his team designed the building in accordance with the principles of bioclimatic architecture, a concept that draws from traditional design methods to create harmony between a building and the surrounding climate and environmental conditions to achieve optimal thermal comfort without relying solely on mechanical systems. To that end, the new headquarters will not only be equipped with renewable energy systems—including photovoltaics and thermal activation cooling—but its form and orientation on the site will also play key roles in helping to reduce the amount of energy the building consumes and, in turn, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions it releases, Cucinella says.
Inspired by the sand dunes of the nearby desert and mimicking the shape of the pointed arches common to traditional Mediterranean architecture, the 25,200 m2 headquarters will curve in form as it rises from the landscape—nine levels above grade and three below. The building’s shape is designed to deflect the hot, humid north winds that blow from the Mediterranean Sea, while a ground-floor courtyard carved into the building’s south side will capture the cool winds from the Atlas Mountains at night, said Alberto Bruno, an architect for Mario Cucinella Architects, in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. That cooler air will travel into the building and ventilate a full-height atrium space immediately adjacent to the building’s south face. Plants and a small water feature in the courtyard will also help naturally cool the space through evaporation. “We designed this atrium [to have] like a chimney effect, taking fresh air from the bottom, and we create natural ventilation to the top of the building,” Cucinella explains.
The headquarters resembles the pointed arches commonly found
in traditional Mediterranean architecture. Archivio Mario Cucinella
The building’s north, west, and east sides will be clad in a double-layer facade system, also designed to aid in temperature control. Integrated with the building’s structural system, the outer facade will comprise prefabricated concrete elements arranged in a grid pattern. The concrete will provide a thermal mask, while the grid arrangement, along with a series of large screens, will shade the windows to limit solar gain and reduce the need for air conditioning, Cucinella says. “Thanks to its high thermal inertia, the envelope absorbs excess heat during the daytime, and it releases it during the nighttime, thus reducing temperature swings and overheating risks by passive means,” Bruno added. The inner facade will comprise colorful ceramic tiles inspired by traditional Arab mosaics. These tiles will brighten the interior space while also defusing daylight that penetrates the structure.
The building’s south face will be inclined toward the sky to maximize the amount of sunlight that strikes the photovoltaic panels embedded within the glass cladding. While this side of the building will also feature screens to reduce overheating and glare, a skylight will pierce the facade, sending daylight down through each level of the building, limiting the need for artificial light. “Especially when we talk about an office building, the quality of light and ventilation are the two key elements,” Cucinella says. “The balance is to use the technology while creating a relationship with the environment.”
The project is in design development, and construction is expected to begin next summer. Completion of the project is anticipated within three years. Cucinella says he looks forward to showing the people of Algeria that it is possible to design a building that is at once attractive and sustainable without the need for a lot of mechanical systems. “They feel [sustainable construction] is important, but if you don’t make the building as an example, nobody believes it is possible,” Cucinella says. “I’d like the end of the story to show there is another way to make buildings in relation with environmental strategies, with reduced energy consumption.”