An average of 100,000 Egyptians and non-Egyptians hurtle on a daily basis to the infamous Mogamma’ El Tahrir in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to get their paperwork done by 30,000 government employees packed into 1,350 rooms in the 14-story building. The Mogamma’ (Arabic for complex), is the biggest, most popular administrative building in the Egyptian capital and is famous for its red-tape, slow-paced workflow.
Situated in the heart of Cairo, The Mogamma’ was built in the late 1940s and inaugurated in 1951. The building provides office spaces for several government authorities, and is the place where paperwork for taxes, immigration and passports, among other things, is completed.
Imagine smaller-scale replicas of the Mogamma’ scattered citywide, populated by employees who have the same lack of eagerness to get work done. Adding to the ordeal is the fact that the buildings that house these institutions are not designed to accommodate ever-growing populations.
Dr. Ahmed Abou Zeid, a construction engineering professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC) – a university that has a campus footsteps away from Mogamma’ – argues that green technology and architecture have much to offer these buildings. In spite of being built tens of years ago, he explains that structures like the Mogamma’ can still be transformed into smart buildings that are responsive to the needs of both citizens and employees,
In a seminar titled, “Our Future Buildings: How Smart Will They Be?” Abou Zeid argues that the way public buildings are built often makes them fertile ground for transferring microbes and diseases. The professor, along with a number of colleagues and students, has worked to develop a coating made out of metal salts that can either be applied over the paint on the walls or mixed in the building material itself. “This coating would kill a very high percentage of germs. I can never give you a guarantee that each and every germ, bacteria, fungus or virus would be killed, but the coating would reduce it drastically,” Abou Zeid explains to Progrss. “However, we will want to revisit to inspect how effective [it] is, to check if the coating needs to be re-added or not.”
One of Abou Zeid’s suggestions to make Cairo’s government buildings smarter is to apply green roof systems. In a city where summer temperatures can rise to 45°C (113°F), he argues that green roof systems can replace excessive air conditioning use with natural cooling systems, lowering electricity costs.
Chicago City Hall’s rooftop has been green since 2000. The 11-story administrative building’s rooftop has been conceived as a demonstration project, as a part of the City’s Urban Heat Island Initiative to test and demonstrate the benefits of green roofs and how they affect temperature and air quality.
Urban heat island effect is the high-temperature dome created over an urban or industrial area by hot air layers forming at building top or chimney top levels. This dome is usually 5°C to 7°C (about 40°F to 45°F) warmer than air above it and the ground level temperature, and traps pollutants in its confines. As green roofs and walls reflect less solar radiation and absorb less heat than regular roofs and walls, they have the effect of reducing the urban heat island effect. Urban heat island effect decreases air quality and increases the production of pollutants such as ozone. It also decreases water quality as warmer waters flow into area streams and put stress on their ecosystems.
“You put a very thin layer of cultivated soil on top of the roof of the building, place the seeds and plants you want to grow – if you’re going to plant small crops like citrus fruits and vegetables, you don’t need much soil, only the insolation of the roof,” Abou Zeid explains.
Another smart tool suggested by the professors to save energy and cut costs is “absence detection” – a system whereby the movement of employees is tracked with a sensor so that if a room is empty, the sensor automatically switches off the lights, air conditioners, etc. accordingly. Other applications could include light sensors that would give a signal to open the windows in case a room goes dark, for example. The building would effectively be responsive to the employees’ unspoken needs.
Sarah ElBattouty, presidential advisor on sustainability and founder and CEO of ECOnsult – an architectural consultancy firm on environment and sustainability – also believes that Cairo can convert its governmental buildings into more sustainable office spaces. She argues that if employees treat their workplace with the same attitudes that they exercise at home, things would drastically change. “Sustainability is a cultural paradigm shift. We have a belief at ECOnsult that if we enable people to exercise change in their workplace just as such as they do at their homes, sustainability would be reached,” ElBattouty tells Progrss.
“Being part of the change is a form of empowerment,” ElBattouty says, explaining that employees have to be involved in this change so that it continues with them. She explains that she has a complete strategy that she uses during her work with both the private and public sectors.
On average, Cairo consumes 8.0 gigajoules of electricity per capita, compared with the Index average of 6.4 gigaojoules. “In order to see how much energy you are using and wasting, you have to measure what you’re consuming. They must know how the building works, in terms of machinery, number of AC’s, number of rooms, shading devices, any form of technology and how people behave in it in order to know how to improve it,” ElBattouty goes on.
When all that has been done, a plan has to be developed. “The plan should start with allocating someone to be responsible for this; there must be a sustainability manager hired who has measurable targets,” she says, concluding that once this point is reached the workforce will acquire a holistic way of moving towards a more sustainable community within a more sustainable building.
“Unfortunately, green architecture has a reputation of being another way of tricking people into paying a lot of money in vain,” she says. To fix this reputation, ElBattouty is working on raising the credibility of green architecture in Egypt by affiliating everything produced with a certificate.
ECOnsult are currently building a sustainable village in the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert, which is the only Tarsheed – a LEED rating – rated project in Egypt so far. Developed by The Egypt Green Building Council to assess Egyptian buildings on green architecture grounds, the Tarsheed rating system was established in 2016.
Municipalities (link in Arabic) recently announced that the governmental district planned for the new Administrative Capital will be fully-equipped with smart technology, although they did not specify how smart these buildings would be, other than using the rooftops to store solar energy via solar panels.
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