In Abu Dhabi where, like Malta, temperatures peak at well over 38°C, keeping high-rise buildings cool without using massive amounts of air-conditioning is a challenge.
Konrad Xuereb, 37, headed the structural engineering team behind the sustainable Al Bahar towers project, which made it to Time Magazine’s list of the 25 best inventions of the year thanks to its highly innovative technology.
The €200 million project featured alongside such innovations as the NASA’s Curiosity Rover and James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger submarine.
The towers, which were designed by architects from the London studio of Aedas in collaboration with the engineering firm Arup, feature a façade with intricately designed shades that open and close in response to the sun, reducing heat gain by more than 50 per cent.
Mr Xuereb, an associate with Arup, describes this adaptive façade as a “modular mashrabiya”, a contemporary interpretation of the carved and perforated lattice screens that traditionally provided shade and privacy to Islamic houses throughout the Middle East.
The massive latticework consists of 1,050 triangular fabric panels per tower, arranged in a hexagonal pattern. Each hexagonal cluster acts as a single unit that opens or closes in response to the sun.
“This results in a responsive and dynamic ‘skin’, able to react differently according to the sun’s orientation and to adapt to different external conditions throughout the year,” Mr Xuereb explains.
“It allows for an optimal balance between provision of shade and light penetration.
“Consequently, the appearance of the building itself is always changing, reflecting the natural daily and seasonal rhythms.”
Using less air-conditioning helps reduce the towers’ carbon emissions by an estimated 1,750 tons per year.
Mr Xuereb led the structural engineering team from the concept through to the construction stages.
This included leading the analysis and design of the buildings and coordinating the interface between the adaptive façade and the towers.
The whole development was completed in just over three years, with construction on the site starting in April 2009.
“I was delighted that the project was named as one of the top innovations of 2012. Our innovative solution helped create sustainable high-rise buildings in a challenging climate.
“The beauty of the system conceived is that it can be used for buildings facing similar challenges in other countries, including the Mediterranean region.”
Mr Xuereb is currently reading for a PhD in the field of structural engineering and sustainability at University College London.