In the affluent suburb of Heliopolis, Cairo, a smart, multi-use and green complex is rising and is slated to be complete by 2019. The Parisian architecture firm, Vincent Callebaut Architectures, has been working on the development project since 2014 and construction started officially on March 2015 for the Egyptian client, Abraj Urban Developments. The development, called “The Gate,” is spread out over land encompassing 450,000 square meters and is also among the few buildings in Cairo certified by LEED.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system designed by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transitions toward sustainable architecture.
The Gate project has an investment capital of EGP 4.5 billion (around $250 million). But despite the billions pumped in this project, it will not contribute in saving low-income Cairo residents from the housing crisis that plagues it and the rest of the country. The starting price of apartments in The Gate exceeds one million Egyptian pounds ($68,046), in comparison to an average salary of $26,000 per year. Egypt’s housing ministry has estimated that 500,000 new housing units need to be built every year for five years to keep up with the expanding population and to address the estimated backlog of three million housing units.
With 1,000 apartments, a business center and a shopping mall, The Gate aims to create a sustainable landmark in the city by transforming this efficient building mass and multiplying the views on the streets, effectively creating a huge urban oasis. The complex also comprises an underground parking area of four floors. One floor will be dedicated to supermarkets and three floors to commercial stores. The thousand apartments will be grouped on nine floors of housing, integrating three floors of offices along the inner street.
The Gate project wants to create a new prototype of inhabited ecosytem that combines passive house (passivhaus) standards and renewable energy technology to ensure 50 percent energy savings. Passivhaus is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in building that ultimately results in the reduction of the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. The buildings in the complex are designed to decrease its carbon footprint and to recycle a part of its own waste via processes like grey water treatment.
To achieve this goal, the architects are unfolding a grid of solar panels that looks like a mathematic mesh above all the buildings composing the complex. Vincent Callebaut’s design enables the integration of photovoltaic cells on the roof, the thermal tubes and the vertical living walls. The horizontal surface of the roof will be turned into giant trees in order to pull down the loads of the structure towards the basement.
The first LEED-certified building in the country, as well as Africa, is the HSBC Cairo Processing Center standing in the Cairo-Alexandria road, built in 2010. Its total built area is 25,305 square meters and it scores 10/14 in sustainable sites, 3/5 in water efficiency, 9/17 in energy and atmosphere, 6/13 in material resources, 11/15 in indoor environmental quality, and 5/5 in innovation.