Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Campus Sde-Boker
Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Ami Ran

The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR) in Sde Boker was established in 1978 as a branch of Beer Sheva University. Humbly existing alongside the Sde Boker college for about 30 years, the desert campus’ significant structures were the Institute building planned by the Unit for Desert Architecture, and the Tzin neighborhood for the staff families, whose cubic houses reflected various experimental efforts to relate to the extreme climate of the Negev.

A donation of 50 million dollars received from Germany 8 years ago totally changed the status of the campus, thus promoting the realization of Ben Gurion’s vision of establishing an international center for desert studies in the Negev.

The new campus currently houses about 20 research institutes, some of which are world-wide leaders in their fields. Among these are: the Center for Water Resources, the Center for Desert Ecology, the Center for Studies of Solar Energy, the Unit for Environmental Microbiology, and the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, welcoming research students from all over the world.

The connection between a unique climatic environment and an academic body studying its characteristics has granted the campus planners an opportunity to plan functional climate-aware buildings, using the nature of the surroundings as a creative component.

At the center of the campus stands the historical building of the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, which had been planned at the time by the Unit for Desert Architecture, and recently renovated by architect Prof. Yair Etzion.

Currently serving as the administrative center of the campus, this building contains the building-stones of passive climate-aware planning, which are: neutralizing the effects of direct radiation through the mantle - insulation, sealing, openings directed to north and south; using walls that absorb heat during the day to radiate it inwards at night; ventilation via a cooling tower.

The master-plan was first prepared at the Guggenheim-Bloch office, but then underwent re-planning at the office of Ramy Gill Architects. At the center of the campus there is a broad protected central court along which stretches a shaded path. At the present, the shadings are made of cloth, but these are intended to disintegrate as the foliage develops over the next few years.

Ramy Gill also planned the Biology building and the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. It was only natural that the subject of climate would be a central factor in the planning of both these buildings. The Zuckerberg building makes use of insulated heat-retaining walls, with lattice and shading devices for the western windows.

The Biology building was planned with an atrium covered with a serrated roof, which provides filtered light in the summer while letting the sunshine in, in the winter. It is, however, the shading components - changing their orientation according to the facades - which lends the building its architectural nature. While on the southern facades the orientation of the shades is horizontal to prevent direct radiation of the high summer sun, the east and west facades have been covered with vertical shadings to prevent radiation of the low sun. In reality, the resolution has proved efficient, and thermal comfort is achieved with an economic system of air-conditioners that operate on need.

Planned by Guggenheim-Bloch (with Daniel Mintz), the George Evans Auditorium has a more symbolic reference to the climate. Though the southern façade has a prominent metal shading-net and the building is insulated and sealed, the planning particularly emphasizes the regulation of the desert light as a means of supporting the functional continuum of the spaces - from the entrance court, through the lobby and waiting corners, to the hall.

Planned by Rahamimoff Architects, the International School for Desert Studies contains an administrative structure including classrooms, and a 68-unit dormitory for post-graduate students. One of the founders of the Unit for Desert Architecture, Salme and Arie Rahamimoff aspired to plan buildings that would have no need for air-conditioning. Rather, thermal comfort would be achieved by massive walls for insulation and heat retention, and orientation of the buildings east-west exploiting the desert winds to get rid of the heat. The dormitories, completed about three years ago, house students from all over the world who experience the efficiency of the buildings almost all year round.

Planned by Mati Kones who specializes in ecological architecture, the Sonnenfeld Center for Environmental Physics is based on self-shading, where each storey on the southern façade juts out about 75 cm. beyond the one beneath it. Although not optimally, it does reduce direct radiation on the openings in the summer, while allowing it in during the winter.

As all the campus planners relied mainly on passive shading devices and heat retention, not one of the new buildings has active shading devices which could be optimally adjusted to the climatic conditions the year round, and thus significantly increase energy saving.

Illustrations ahead

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