Through a combination of applied research, architectural design, and educational outreach, the Desert Architecture and Urban Planning unit addresses the issue of building in the desert - particularly the Negev Desert of Israel.
Researchers identify, study, and formulate solutions to specific problems of desert habitation, which stem both from natural conditions, such as resource availability and climate, and from human issues which take on special significance in an arid environment: thermal comfort, energy consumption, construction technology, urban form and regional development.
In addition to research, the staff engages in the design of selected architectural projects. These innovative works allow the expertise accumulated to be applied to actual design problems. Completed projects are utilized for monitoring and analysis, and for demonstration of the possibilities of bioclimatic architecture in the desert.
The publication of research findings and exhibition of architectural projects are part of the ongoing effort to disseminate knowledge about desert architecture to both practitioners and the general public. Other means include professional consulting, academic instruction, international conferences and professional seminars.
Why Desert Architecture? Despite the environmental implications, man’s dependence on non-renewable energy resources continues to increase. In Israel, the equivalent of some three tons of oil per person is expended in a single year - and as in most developed countries, some 40% of this energy is consumed for heating, cooling, and making buildings habitable. When the energy costs of building construction and materials, on the one hand, and urban transportation, on the other, are added to this basic load, it becomes clear that most of society’s energy use is influenced by architects and planners.
The burden of resource use in buildings or urban settings can be minimized in many ways, and the first requirement is a basic understanding of climate and local conditions. This "bioclimatic" approach to architecture may be applied in the desert as elsewhere, and its pertinence is in fact amplified:
o Often characterized as an "extreme" environment, the desert makes considerable inputs of natural resources, such as water and energy, necessary to provide acceptable levels of human comfort.
o The opportunities for utilizing "natural energies"- solar radiation, night ventilation, evaporation, or nocturnal sky radiation - are among the many passive systems and design strategies whose effectiveness is especially pronounced in an arid climate.
With sparse population and low rates of development, arid regions have typically received little attention from planning professionals. This means that standard building methods are predominantly adapted for non-desert conditions. However, overcrowding in the heavily populated centers of many countries is causing intense pressure for the development of "peripheral" regions such as deserts - and accomplishing this in a sustainable manner is an imminent challenge.