Housing Design for Hot, Arid Regions

SARID, May 2003

By Javed Sultan, AIA, Kinoo Inc. (sultanj@kinoo.com), Executive Director, SARID & Ilyas Bhatti, P.E., The Bhatti Group, Massachusetts, USA


Following a review of submitted housing plans and given the hot, arid, climate of Mali coupled to the desire to have a cost effective solution, the following Physical Design is recommended:

1. Internal Courtyard
the design should incorporate an internal courtyard. The courtyard concept has several advantages:

a. Cross Ventilation: A strategically placed courtyard allows cross ventilation in an otherwise harsh and dry climate. If it is a well defined, well planted, contiguous to other rooms, etc., it will provide for natural cooling.

b. Infant Play Area: It is helpful to have the courtyard where small children can play. An enclosed area is preferred to an open one as it is more secure, so that the care giver goes about her/his household chores.


2. Kitchen
A kitchen on one side of the courtyard, traditional in many indigenous configurations (although not in European housing design with colder climes), allows a mother to keep visual contact with her child while cooking.


3. Exterior Wall
The traditional walls in hot, arid climates were made of mud, which provided a great degree of thermal insulation. The use of concrete masonry units, a low maintenance high strength material, results in significantly higher room temperatures and hence uncomfortable habitation. Use of lightweight concrete of higher insulation value should be explored that wouldl reduce the quantity of concrete per cubic yard and offer greater thermal value. This will not compromise the structure’s ability to grow vertically as the overall design can be incorporated in a concrete frame construction.


4. Furnishing
Furnishing is always an added cost and in resource limited regions, some of the interior furnishing such as closets, bed base, seating, table tops, etc. can be incorporated as part of the structure, thereby reducing furnishing cost. Again some of the furnishing could be made in such a way that they can be removed eventually without too much additional expense.


5. Roof
The roof is one of the most crucial building elements and is a source of considerable radiant heat. The roofing system, which may include a plenum concept, needs to be designed so as to be self-ventilating or cooling and to be constructed of materials that have a higher thermal value. In developing countries, European designers have often promoted the use of corrugated metal roofing, which tends to overheat and is extremely uncomfortable.


6. Sanitation/ Hygiene - Master Plan
Very often design proposals do not address the maintenance of external/ communal spaces. Hence neighborhoods become unkempt and a health hazard. The housing schemes ought to incorporate a master plan at a macro level for trash disposal/collection. Areas external to dwelling, communal spaces such as play areas, community centers, etc. should be carefully designed. A policy of responsibility/ accountability for maintaining side streets and contiguous areas is critical.


7. Electricity/ Water Purification
As part of an overall housing project other options for power generation ought to be explored, especially if housing is built in remote areas where an electrical grid is not available for electricity. Alternative approaches, such as wind farms using micro-turbines for electrical power, as well as UV (ultra-violet) purification of drinking water should be explored.

A design concept which incorporates the above suggestions will add to any housing scheme advocated for hot, arid climates.


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