Desertification affects about six to twelve kilometres of land on the earth, thereby threatening about one billion earth’s inhabitants with further desertification. Desertification can be defined as the degradation of land in semiarid, arid and sub-humid environments leading to the loss of biological productivity either by climatic factors or by human activities making once fertile land more arid. The largest deserts in the world were formed as a result of natural occurrences taking place over a considerable period. These deserts were not created as a result of human activities on them. The most widely known deserts around the world are formed over a long interval of time by natural processes. Deserts have widened or become smaller, separate from human activities. A lot of places in the world cope with issues of desertification which results in the loss of biodiversity, water, salinization and fertile land. Overgrazing and deforestation expose the soil, encouraging wind and water erosion due to the removal of tree covering and plants which bind the soil. Desertification reduces the food security of countries, making them more reliant on food imports instead of self-production. Global warming is increased by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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Dunes of Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert_©Luca Galuzzi

There are seven major types of desertification around the earth, classified by the weather pattern and their geographical location. Trade wind deserts are caused by dry winds, which drive away cloud covering, enabling more sunlight in this part. The Sahara desert, which is the largest desert in the world, is a major example of the trade wind desert. The mid-latitude desert is also a major type of desertification located in the subtropical high-pressure zones, with the Sonoran Desert as an example. Rain shadow deserts are another type of desert formed due to the clouds prevented from reaching areas on the protected side due to tall mountain ranges. Coastal deserts are created due to the cold ocean currents around the coast, with the Atacama, the driest desert, as an example. Monsoon deserts develop as a response to the temperature variations between oceans and continents; the Rajasthan Desert is a type of monsoon desert. Polar deserts are located in the earth’s polar region with the mean temperature all year less than 10°c, covering five million square kilometres. Palaeo Desert is a former desert area currently in non-arid environments, with the Nebraska Sand Hills, located in the United States of America, as an example.

Dune Architecture

Desertification: The role of Architecture - Sheet2
Rub’ al Khali_©Nepenthes

A dune is a landform collected by wind-driven sand forming a ridge, hill, or mound. Dunes are mostly developed in the desert due to poor growth of vegetation as a result of lack of moisture, which interrupts dune development. Dune architecture is an adaptive building technique used to create a climate-conscious building to respond to the extreme environments of the desert. This type of architecture is an innovative method to resist desertification, which forces inhabitants to migrate due to harsh weather conditions. The Bee’ah Headquarters and Xiangshawan Desert Lotus Hotel are examples of dune architecture.

Bee’ah Headquarters

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Beeah Headquarters_©Hufton_Crow

The Bee’ah Headquarters is the new headquarters of the Bee’ah Group, an environmental management company located in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The headquarters was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects using the design idea of undulating desert dunes, with the building achieving LEED Platinum standards. It was commissioned by the Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi on March 30th, 2022. The structure covers an area of nine thousand square metres and a higher percentage of locally sourced building materials.

Desertification: The role of Architecture - Sheet4
Beeah Headquarters_©Hufton_Crow

The building is designed to respond to the environment using a series of dunes interconnected, shaped and oriented dunes to optimize the desert’s climate conditions. Bee’ah Headquarters is embedded in the Al Sajaa desert, taking the form of the concave dune’s shape of the desert’s landscape formed by the prevailing wind. This dune ensured that all internal spaces within the building were provided with abundant daylighting and limited the impact of the sun on the building. The headquarters have two main dunes, which host the management and public department with the administrative zone. These different departments are interconnected by a central courtyard that is integral to the natural ventilation system of the structure and serves as an oasis within the building. The building is a dome which is fifteen metres high, allowing passive daylighting into the building and creating room for natural ventilation enhancement. Bee’ah headquarters also includes an auditorium, an immersive visitors centre and a smart meeting room.

Xiangshawan Desert Lotus Hotel

Xiangshawan Desert Lotus Hotel_©PLaT Architects

Located in the Xiangshawan Desert, China, is a Lotus Hotel built by PLaT Architect, which is eight hundred kilometres west of Beijing and in the middle of Baotou and Ordos. The hotel covers an area of thirty thousand square kilometres, with the project covering a period of five years from 2009 to 2013. The lotus hotel was designed using innovative and new construction techniques, which enabled the structure to look floating on the desert’s dune landscape. The structures were built to form a resort which will turn the desert into a popular tourist attraction.

The Lotus Hotel form blends with the dune shape of the desert, forming another dune in the large desert, and the structure shows the power of itself and the environment. The traditional Chinese idea of ‘Zhen’ was displayed by the architects by repeating the same elements across the building. Local materials were also used in building the Lotus Hotel to give a better experience of the desert throughout the hotel. The construction of the hotel utilized prefabricated load-bearing panels, helping to reduce pressure on the structure’s foundation. This innovative idea is a lightweight solution and does not require the use of concrete or water. The hotel’s form was strengthened by the replication of the triangular framework, which was repeated throughout the lotus hotel.

References:

  1. Wikipedia contributors. (2022, August 2). Desertification. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Desertification&oldid=1101898060
  2. Thelwell, K. (2019, July 25). The Damaging Effects of Desertification. The Borgen Project. https://borgenproject.org/effects-of-desertification/
  3. Types of Deserts. (n.d.). Usgs.Gov. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/types/
  4. Causes, Effects and Solutions to Combat Desertification. (2015, August 23). Conserve Energy Future. https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-effects-solutions-of-desertification.php
  5. Dune Anti-Desertification Architecture. (n.d.). Eartharchitecture.Org. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from http://eartharchitecture.org/?p=552
  6. Ossenbach, S. (2020, June 15). Desert Dwellings: Ingeniously Designed Architecture in Drought Regions. EN – Dormakaba Blog. https://blog.dormakaba.com/desert-dwellings-ingeniously-designed-architecture-in-drought-regions/
  7. Wikipedia contributors. (2022, August 5). Dune. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dune&oldid=1102558966
  8. Pintos, P. (2022, March 31). BEEAH Headquarters / Zaha Hadid Architects. ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/979479/beeha-headquarters-zaha-hadid-architects
  9. Crook, L. (2022, April 1). Zaha Hadid Architects completes dune-like Beeah Headquarters in Sharjah. Dezeen.Com. https://www.dezeen.com/2022/04/01/beeah-headquarters-zaha-hadid-architects/
  10. Gaete, J. (2012, November 22). Xiangshawan Desert Lotus Hotel / PLaT Architects. ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/296725/xiangshawan-desert-lotus-hotel-plat-architects
  11. Designboom, P. S. I. (2013, December 9). PLaT architects develop lotus hotel in chinese desert. Designboom | Architecture & Design Magazine. https://www.designboom.com/architecture/plat-architects-develop-lotus-hotel-in-chinese-desert-12-09-2013/
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Chukwuebuka is an architecture student and an amateur writer using his skills to express his ideas to the world. He has written a few articles for DAPC Uniben and he is adventuring to become a popular writer.

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