This PhD by design thesis offers an alternative perspective on sustainable design bringing forward
a broader reading to environmental technologies in hot countries in the Middle East. It focuses particularly
on a range of design proposals for Iran and Palestine. I aim to show that for environmental design to be sustainable, a fundamental re-orientation needs to emerge -- away from the current obsession with purely numeric game, which fails to address the social values of a particular place and people. Instead, I argue for what I call the ‘invisible’ technologies that are embedded in socio-cultural practices and informal daily habits, within the spatial realm.
There are currently two intensive activities taking place within the world of architecture. On one
hand, we find a concern about the use of technologies that promote energy efficiency and ecological
sustainability, most of which rely upon complex technological devices and a universal approach,
affordable only to wealthy corporations or institutions. On the other hand an increasing number of
architects, theorists and politicians – although not yet enough – are looking into affordable technologies
that are more embedded in older cultural practices.
From London to a myriad of developing cities across the world, a series of mayors, developers and
architects now take cover under the umbrella of ‘green building’, but in truth still propose projects that
are as culturally alien as ‘non-green’ developments. All seem to hunt for icons and postcard buildings
to sell their city in the global marketplace. For certain architects, it provides a chance to explore their creativity, whereas for others it is merely to stamp their mark or get more work. In the specific context of the Middle East, whose oil- and gas-producing (and consuming) countries have dominated the world’s energy market since the 1970s, the subject of energy use is now a major economic and political
The role of architecture, and of architects, in regard to global energy demands has been much debated. However, perhaps the most crucial questions about sustainable design projects are, firstly,whether they actually address the crucial issue of affordability, and secondly, whether they can work at a local level. How familiar are users with the energy-saving techniques they are being expected to use? Does the architecture share any belonging with its physical and cultural context?
This doctoral thesis hence takes sustainable design away from the purely technical basis on which
it is usually discussed, and demonstrates that in our day-to-day activities we need to have far more
to do with locally identifiable requirements and practices. Many of these everyday habits still survive,
whereas others are disappearing due to changes in modern lifestyles. My research explores an
alternative, hybrid approach to sustainability that is proudly rooted in cultural practices. The ‘technocultural tools’ that I have developed for projects in Iran and Palestine are in many case invisible, but taken together they can be seen to be culturally responsive, affordable and socially inclusive.