Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

In Muharraq, the lack of public space is perpetuated by the extreme climatic conditions and the streetscape has evolved into an important form of public space for the citizens of Muharraq. When temperatures drop during the night, the streets transform into the social hub of the town with citizens who emerge from their homes and gather along stoops for conversation and people watching. However, the streets of Muharraq are mostly lit from lights within storefronts due to the lack of street lamps and as a result, these social activities mostly occur in the dark.

Breathing Streets is an urban intervention that changes the microclimate of the street and reinvents the streetscape. The urban intervention works as a system that shades, lights up, and cools down the streets.

The system begins with of a steel ring textile membrane structure placed in an open plaza within Muharraq. The ETFE textile provides a canvas for light projections during the night and filters diffused light during the daytime. Within the membrane, a mechanically pumped pneumatic vessel distributes cooler air to the adjacent streets through textile tubes that extend along the street. This membrane structure also functions as a heat chimney that allows hot air from the ground to escape into the urban canopy thereby cooling the space beneath the membrane.

In addition to these textile tubes, the streets are shaded with a multilayered textile canopy which diffuses the sunlight. This canopy can be customized with angled light wells that control the amount of direct sunlight depending on the season.
The use of thermal bimetals in combination with ETFE textile allows for the microclimate of the system to self-regulate. The textile tubes are fitted with bimetal nozzles that open and close in response to the temperature of the environment. Heat causes the metal to curve and open while cooler temperatures leave the material unaffected.

This system can be placed in plazas all throughout Muharraq to eventually create a network of cooler plazas and breathing streets. The cooler streets encourage pedestrian mobility around the historic city throughout the day by mitigating the harsh climatic conditions while the membranes in the plazas light up the city at night. The space beneath these membranes also serve as a new form of public space in the city wherein citizens and visitors alike can socialize with one another. Apart from the function of the space beneath the structural membranes, they also brighten up the city. The LED lights within the membrane use solar energy collected throughout the day and activate at night. Within the urban environment, they become large concentrated light sources that diffuse light through the dimly lit streets.

Breathing Streets is a system that generates an artificial breeze throughout Muharraq. A wind analysis in the historic city located plazas that experienced the least wind flow as possible locations for implementation. The simplicity of the system allows Breathing Streets to be implemented in one pilot location to test the effectiveness of the system. Over time, the system can spread to more locations around the city and eventually create a brighter and a cooler Muharraq.

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