Aqaba Residence Energy Efficiency in Jordan

Last June the first sustainable building in Jordan opened to the public. Dutch Architect Florentine Visser was responsible for the design of the Aqaba Residence Energy Efficiency (AREE) project.

Sustainable building is a recent phenomenon in Jordan. Due to rising energy prices there is growing awareness among the public of the need to save energy. Water efficiency is also important for Jordan, as it is listed among the four poorest countries worldwide in terms of water.
The biggest challenge for sustainable building in Jordan is, however, the use of materials and the reduction of construction waste. Environmentally friendly materials are scarce and local suppliers are often unfamiliar with material specifications. On top of that, Jordanian contractors are unaccustomed to working with these materials and to building from drawings.

A building has more impact than a brochure. That’s why Tariq Emtairah, a Jordanian working in Sweden, took the initiative to build a pilot project to demonstrate the advantages of sustainable building and the economic feasibility of lower energy costs.
Together with the Center for Study of the Built Environment in Amman, he organised a private competition. My architectural design was selected to inspire conventional design and construction practice and to improve the environmental impact of the building.

AREE is not only a residential complex but also an information centre for sustainable building design and construction. In addition, guest researchers can work here. The total floor area of 420m2 covers three levels and comprises living room, kitchen, study, family room, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, car garage, storage, and basement.

Aqaba is located in the south of Jordan, where summer temperatures rise above 40ºC. Winters are mild and there is therefore little need for heating. The design is based on a passive cooling strategy that prevents heat accumulation in the summer and heat loss in the winter. An analysis of sunshine, wind conditions and views on the site, together with the most common construction methods in Jordan (plastered blockwork and stone cladding), formed the starting point for the architectural concept.

Architectural design is the first step in the strategy for energy and material efficiency when it comes to sustainable building. The passive use of solar energy is optimized by the orientation and layout of the house. Spaces used for brief periods (bathrooms, garage, corridor) are located on the south-west side, the hottest area in the house. They thus create a buffer that helps cool the main spaces such as bedrooms.
Each floor has an attractive and comfortable outdoor space that is shaded and enjoys a refreshing breeze. Here, occupants can spend the day during the hot season, in a manner similar to the local Bedouin tent tradition.
Natural ventilation is improved by carefully positioned windows, doors, ventilation openings and the main staircase, which is designed to work as a ‘wind tower’. Movable shades prevent solar warming in the summer period, but allow for solar heat to enter during the winter to minimize the heat load.

The north-facing main volume accommodates the bedrooms to reduce the cooling load. This part is finished in traditional plasterwork with added straw, which further minimizes the cooling load by decreasing the heat transfer. The use of cement is reduced too, an environmentally important aspect, and the result is a nice texture that will improve by aging in time.

A continuous zone featuring oriental ornaments and uninterrupted floor finishing accommodates the kitchen and dining area and connects interior and exterior spaces through a transparent elevation. This zone connects to the lower building containing the living area, which is clad in recycled stone from the local stone companies. The roof garden above offers a fine view to the front and an outdoor terrace. Since the 40-cm-deep garden soil has a great heat accumulation capacity and the plants provide shade, the roof garden also contributes to a lower cooling load.
The architecture improves construction and forms part of the second step in ‘Solar Passive Design for Cooling’. Shades prevent interior spaces from receiving solar heat and construction techniques improve the insulation and heat accumulation capacity of the building envelope.
The cavity walls are insulated by blocks with volcanic and perlite aggregate and insulation materials such as rockwool and polystyrene. In addition, the roof structure is insulated, which is uncommon in Jordan. Even more unusual for Jordanian construction practice is the insulation of the ‘heat bridges’ at the floor-wall connections.
The heat accumulation capacity is increased by the north cavity wall filled with sand, the natural stone in the interior wall finishing, and the roof garden.
All design and construction elements were easy to plan on the drawing board, but they required a lot of discussion with the structural engineer and contractor on site.

The design and construction method saves 30% on the cooling load when compared to conventional practice. To ensure significant savings on electricity bills, the installations are the last step in the strategy for energy efficient design. The energy efficient lighting design provided by Philips is one installation aspect. Another is ‘solar cooling’, a sustainable cooling concept based on hot water from solar panels as a source of energy for an adsorption chiller that produces chilled water to cool the space. This is the first application of a solar cooling installation in Jordan and is a promising concept. The sun heats the water needed to run the cooling system.

All new developments have a learning curve in their early stages, and this new technology faces its own challenges to achieve optimal performance. The local supplier is therefore working on the second prototype. In the meantime, an imported adsorption chiller has been installed and is currently being tested achieve the most effective cooling capacity in the dry hot climate of Jordan.

The solar cooling system means that total savings on electricity costs are estimated at 72%. Taking in consideration the additional investment cost, the expected payback time is less then nine years.
To make AREE almost self sustainable in terms of energy supply, the design provides the possibility to incorporate photo-voltaic panels to generate electricity and provide shading for outdoor spaces. The total savings could then reach 93%. However, there is no funding currently available for this.

Energy saving is important, but water saving is essential for the future of Jordan. AREE is the first residential project in Aqaba equipped with a dual plumbing system for grey and black waste. Grey water from showers and sinks is filtered by a sand-gravel bed with bamboo and supplies the required water for the garden irrigation.
In her garden design, landscape architect Matilda Nilsson selected water-efficient plants and trees that are suitable for the Aqaba climate and minimize the need for irrigation. Together with water-saving taps, toilets and showerheads, the total expected saving on water consumption is 51%.

A good architectural design and improved building technology and installations are not enough to achieve sustainable building. Cooperation and communication are essential in both the design and execution phases to achieve an integrated project.

AREE offers a model and ‘lessons learned’ on the possibilities and challenges in the field of sustainable building in Jordan. Hopefully, AREE is also an inspiring work of architecture and pleasant homes.

Florentine Visser (Netherlands)

garden design
Matilda Nilsson (Sweden)

Tariq Emtairah (Sweden)

address project
Aqaba, 9th area, Jordan

residential complex and information centre

1st sketch
October 2005

start of construction
January 2007

juni 2009



cost of construction
120.000 JD (ex. koelinstallatie)