The Blaustein International Center for Desert Studies

The International Center complex constitutes the main public facility of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Sede-Boqer, located at the heart of Israel's Negev desert. The building is located astride a proposed main pedestrian artery that will connect the existing campus with its future expansion, and functions as an integral part of it. The building houses a cafeteria and lounge, classrooms, administration and eight housing units for students and visitors, totaling approximately 800 square meters.

Several design strategies were adopted in order to create an agreeable microclimate with a minimal investment of energy for heating and cooling. Most prominent is the enclosed central courtyard, which the complex surrounds from all sides. An integral part of the pedestrian system of the campus and the major focal point of the International Center, the courtyard is covered with a glazed roofing system supported by a steel framework, and functions in various modes according seasonal conditions.

In the hot, dry summer months, the roof covering acts as a shading device for the courtyard. The material used for glazing, a selective-surface polycarbonate sheet, reflects most of the direct solar radiation which is incident at a near-normal angle to its surface. An interior fabric canopy increases the shading effect. Air within the courtyard is cooled by a large down-draft evaporative cool tower, which uses an electric fan and water sprayers to create a flow of cool air into the lower part of the courtyard, while warmer air is exhausted through operable upper windows. Excess water spills into a terraced pool which is the centerpiece of a network of water channels and landscaping that also promote evaporative cooling.

In winter, the courtyard functions as a solar greenhouse: The prismatic glazing material on the sloped roof transmits a large proportion of the direct solar radiation, which has a lower angle of incidence at this time of year. Heated air rising by convection is drawn from the warmest part of the atrium near the roof ridge, and ducted to the apartments on the two upper floors. The main structure as well as the courtyard are sunken approximately two meters below grade, with earth berms covering the exterior walls of the entire ground floor level and part of the first apartment level. Earth sheltering increases not only the building's thermal insulation, but its heat storage capacity as well, providing thermal mass to stabilize the extreme temperature swings characteristic of the desert climate. All exposed exterior walls are covered by a 5cm layer of expanded polystyrene insulation and smooth exterior plaster painted white.




For more details see:

Pearlmutter D., Etzion Y., Erell E., Meir I.A., Di H., "Refining the use of evaporation in an experimental down-draft cool tower," Energy and Buildings, Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 191-197, 1996.

Etzion Y., Pearlmutter D. Erell E., Meir I.A., "Adaptive architecture: Integrating low-energy technologies for climate control in the desert," Automation in Construction, Special issue: Intelligent Buildings, Vol. 6, pp. 417-425, 1997.