Thursday, August 16, 2007

Green Building in the Arava--Part I

I recently traveled to the hottest part of the desert (unless you count the Dead Sea)--the Arava. This was a field trip with my department to see some of the principles of desert architecture in practice. Our first stop was Neot Smadar, a kibbutz. The first picture is a view of the kibbutz from the top of their orchard. You can see the hyper arid desert that surrounds the kibbutz, and the trees and pond that they have created.

The kibbutz was founded in 1989, by a group of friends living in Jerusalem who decided they wanted to form a community together. Another kibbutz called Shizafon that had been formed here did not work out, and was abandoned. The group of friends moved in and began planting trees with water pumped in. The purpose of our trip was not to evaluate the sustainability of their farming, although it was clear that they do what they can to reuse water, and to find uses for saline water. Also their agriculture is organic.

The reason we went to Neot Smadar was that they construct their own buildings, and try to incorporate passive cooling techniques. The most remarkable example of this is their arts center. They built a blue and pink building that looks bizarre from far away, to house their resident artists and eventually to contain a cafe and serve as a spot to sell their artwork. Unfortunately, my picture from far away did not come out well, but I was able to take pictures of many details. And what details. From afar it looks strange, so it is missing something of Gaudi's harmony, but from up close the details are breathtaking. It is cooled by a high cooling tower in the center, so that air conditioning is not needed. The members themselves planned and constructed the building, with some help from an outside engineer. a couple of the details (like for the cast iron railings) were executed outside the kibbutz.

I always love artwork that incorporates natural themes, especially animals, so as you can see this was right up my alley. I just loved their bull designs. It is incredible to me that a community of non-specialists could create such beautiful things. They also have delicious ice cream (possibly from their goat milk?). Join me for Part II, where I will show some pictures of the grassroots green architecture from kibbutz Lotan.

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