Eco Haus Architects In Oman & Global EVRT Advocates Learn From Each Other: Part 1

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The round Eco Haus sits on the edge of the campus of the Germany University of Technology in Oman. Beside it, mud brick-making equipment and a fleet of electric vehicles complement each other. That fleet is here for the Global EVRT (Electric Vehicle Road Trip). As part of the unveiling of EV charging stations in the Middle East, about 20 participants in the Global EVRT met with staff at the GUtech Eco Haus to share expertise and insights.

This 2-part article reveals the details and conversations of the 2 sustainability groups. Here in part 1, Professor Nikolaus Knebel of GUtech describes the history, architectural context, and fundamentals of the Eco Haus in Oman.

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The Eco Haus as Symbol of a Renewable Energy Future

Over the last 15 years, universities in the US, Europe, and China have taken part in solar decathlons, in which houses are designed to be energy neutral. The Department of Urban Planning and Architecture at GUtech, which offers a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Architectural Design, elected to participate.

A team of GUtech students, led by Associate Professors Nikolaus Knebel and Martin Werminghausen and joined by Assistant Professor Aurel von Richthofen, won the first prize in the Eco-Friendly House organized by the Research Council Oman. The house was built on the campus premises in Halban and features a radical design to minimize heat gain, including passive and active energy-efficient technologies and the use of local materials. The building today serves as guest house for visiting faculty coming to Oman as well as a research facility.

As they began to design their entry, the GUtech team changed the designation of the decathlon from “temporary” to “permanent.” The idea was to build an energy neutral residence on campus, powered by renewable energy. Teams were comprised of students, faculty, and external experts.

It was important that the project involve student voice, problem-solving, and decision-making. “We are very proud of them and their achievements,” Associate Professor Knebal, adviser to the project, smiled.

eco haus

The house was made by “3rd semesters,” according to Knebal. “The house is round because the students could a) choose the location on campus and b) choose their own design. It should have a protective shell, like a hand gesture.” Here, Knebal cupped his hands. “The idea is to show certain strategies that anyone else in Oman can adopt to build an eco-house.”

The Eco Haus incorporated the following engineering strategies:

  • Hydrolic cooling
  • Energy recovery
  • Efficient equipment
  • Solar powerBuilding management system

eco haus

Strategies in Combination Work for Sustainability in Eco Haus

Sustainability and efficiency were at the center of all Eco Haus design decisions. “A new wave of optimism about solar has hit us in Oman in the last year,” Professor Knebel began, and the energy supply to the house is obtained through solar panels. A cylindrical form also minimizes solar gain and helps to maximize the length of time the home can stay cool without using energy-intensive air-conditioning.

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Design elements for sustainable results in the Eco Haus were divided into “active” and “passive” categories. A house that relies on a combination of passive/ active strategies can sustain itself over the course of the year, according to Knebal.

  • Compact volume
  • Optimal orientation
  • Protective envelope
  • Natural ventilation
  • Thermal zoning

Functionality as Integral to Eco Design

“We should not be constrained by a discussion of ‘what’s measurable,’” Knebel argued. “Rather, ‘What does the measurement imply?” He outlined a series of visual principles that are generally considered when building an eco-house: economy, ecology, and social factors. “Now we’ve added ‘sufficiency,’ or how many square meters are sufficient? We don’t waste any space or have any circulation space that is unusable.” The Eco Haus has no hallways but, rather, a series of rooms that flow into each other in circular structure that creates a feeling of fluidity and airiness.

A series of other design considerations contribute to the efficiency of the Eco Haus. “We use recycled or recyclable materials like mud brick.” These compressed earth bricks are very similar to those Omanis have used across generations in traditional architecture.

“White plastic pipes contain 18-20 degree water temperature,” Knebal illustrated. “The return temperature is 24 degrees. It runs through an endless loop.”

“We treat our wastewater in the house in a reed bed,” Knebel continued to the assembled group from the Global EVRT. “Black, brown, yellow: all goes into the pit, with no differentiation. We have no grass because you can’t use treated water in above-ground irrigation, only sub-soil.”

Even cardboard boxes that protected materials in shipping were reconstituted as stackable seats and storage containers.

Adults and Children Learn about Eco Home Construction

The GUtech team recognizes that the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. Therefore, sustainable urban development is a major challenge for societies. Urban planners and designers are in high demand, especially on the Arabian Peninsula — a region with continuously strong population growth and rapid urbanization processes. Sharing the possibilities within urban design to a variety of visitors is part of the Eco Haus mission.

Visiting guests to the Eco Haus include adults like the Global EVRT participants but also elementary-aged students. Children learn about recyclable materials when visiting the Eco Haus by participating in a series of interactive opportunities:

  • building a house out of cardboard furniture;
  • mixing mud mortar and constructing a wall with mud bricks to experience sustainable building materials;
  • examining native plants and learn about the value of water and local vegetation; and,
  • sketching the facade of the building.

Continue to read about the Eco Haus in Part 2, when the Global EVRT participants became the instructors, offering insights into urban mobility solutions.

Two CleanTechnica writers, Carolyn Fortuna and Steve Hanley, joined the Middle East Global EVRT 2018. CleanTechnica director Zach Shahan was also part of the launch event and joined the initial leg of the road trip briefly. This is one in a series of articles that resulted from the excursion.

eco haus
Interior gathering spaces at the German University of Technology in Oman

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

Carolyn Fortuna has 1282 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna