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Dubai's Burj al-Taqa: A Zero-Energy Tower in the Desert
Sarah Rich, 21 Jun 07
Article Photo

Given the rate of growth in Dubai, we're seeing an endless stream of media reports about building plans and strategies there. At Worldchanging, we've also had a relatively consistent trickle of news about Dubai and the UAE in general, but the green and sustainable projects we talk about here represent only a tiny fraction of the total activity there, most of which races ahead on unsustainable ground. Little by little, though, an assortment of models are emerging, from office parks to housing developments to skyscrapers. It may not be long before the UAE has a full package of potential sustainable designs for future architects to learn and work from.

One new arrival on the scene comes from a German architect, Eckhard Gerber, who currently holds CAD drawings for the tallest zero-emissions, zero-energy skyscraper in the world. As Der Spiegel reports, the Burj al-Taqa ("Energy Tower"), is "a giant 68-story building projected to rise to a lofty height of 322 meters (1,056 feet), which would make it number 22 on the list of the world's tallest buildings."

Together with engineering company, DS-Plan, Eckhard designed a cylindrical building in order to expose the least possible area of the façade to sunlight, and plans to use state-of-the-art energy efficient materials to make it feasible to keep the mostly-glass structure comfortable inside while still using no outside energy.

The tower's façade is to be built from a new generation of vacuum glazing that will only come on the market in 2008. The new top-quality windows are meant to largely shield the interior of the tower from outside heat -- indispensable in a region where outside temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.

The article on the project makes the German designers and engineers sound markedly immodest about their talents and technological know-how, but in spite of their pride in their own country, they have chosen to incorporate some ancient building strategies native to the Middle East -- namely, the use of wind towers atop buildings that suck cool air in and down from the roof, pushing warmer air out. For this building, there will be openings along the vertical face of the building and a duct system that will move fresh air in, and hot air out.

Besides passive efficiency strategies, the building will also actively generate electricity for itself with solar.

A 60-meter (197-feet) turbine on the tower roof and two photovoltaic facilities with a total area of 15,000 square meters (161,459 square feet) will produce sufficient electricity to meet the building's needs. Additional energy is provided by an island of solar panels with an area of 17,000 square meters (182,986 square feet), which drifts in the sea within viewing distance of the tower.
The excess electricity will be used to obtain hydrogen from sea water by means of electrolysis. The hydrogen is then stored in special tanks. At night, the energy facility uses fuel cells to generate electricity, keeping the tower working through the hours of darkness. In the daytime, on the other hand, highly reflective mirrors on the roof direct the sunlight onto a cone of light that goes through the center of the building and provides its various floors with plenty of natural light.

It's a complex plan, and it sounds as though the structure itself will ultimately be as unconventional and eye-catching as the many other new and planned buildings in the area -- a necessary consideration where flashiness and sensationalism win bids. Eckhard says that there will be no way to test the efficiency and energy generation of the building before it's completed, which makes the commitment to sustainable building seem less than firm. Once it's built, it's built, and if it doesn't live up to the green hype, too bad. But setting aside skepticism for the moment, the plan sounds very exciting and the building could be an important role-model in an area where size and sex appeal are central design goals and sustainability hasn't yet claimed a solid stake.

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Is that spire meant to double as a helical wind turbine?

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 21 Jun 07

At least in the photo, the tower looks to be a long way from anything else. I wonder who will work there, and how they will get there.

Posted by: Jan Steinman on 22 Jun 07



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