The inherent sustainability of context-driven architecture

For some, it may feel like it’s been a long time coming – the recent, overwhelming understanding within the industry that regional vernacular architecture can provide a number of solutions to modern-day challenges. I’m not just referring to courtyards, wind tunnels and perforated screens, which we’ve seen inserted into projects left and right as a way to ‘reference the context’. When researched thoroughly, architects can learn quite a lot from local building techniques, and if they’re clever, they can find ways to incorporate them into projects in contemporary ways.

This month’s cover story is the National Bank of Oman (pg 26), designed by LOM Architecture and Design to reflect the local architectural language and respond to regional environmental challenges.

In doing so, LOM partnered with Buro Happold to incorporate a series of sustainable features that ensure the building will consume 65 percent of the electricity of comparable buildings in Muscat.

The substantial reduction in electricity usage will be achieved through various specific measures, the architects said, including the design of a façade that is sympathetic to the local environment, the integration of high-efficiency thermal wheels, the use of variable speed pumping, and the sourcing of all principal façade materials from the local area.

“This reflects the quality of the building design and its internal environment,” read a statement by LOM. “As a comparison, this figure is only marginally higher than the typically expected electrical consumption for a Grade A office building in the UK, where cooling demands are minimal. As lighting, pumps and fans are some of the largest consumers of energy within a building, focusing on how these can best be integrated into the overall design has brought significant benefits, underpinned by an effective controls strategy.”

According to the architects, the Muscat Municipality — the planning authority behind the National Bank of Oman — are keen to see key buildings across the country bearing a distinctive local identity, setting them apart from other prevailing architectural styles that can be found in the GCC. While there are a number of factors that likely led to this decision, I find that it has a range of effective benefits, and sustainable building practice is chief among them.

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