By tracking the sun’s trajectory, Tabanlıoğlu Architects created a shading system to cool and camouflage a high traffic building in a tropical climate
In their overview of the Sipopo Congress Center that Tabanlıoğlu Architects built last summer in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial New Guinea, the Istanbul-based firm noted its importance as the first of what they predict will be a wave of “new innovative and prestigious buildings” constructed as a result of the country’s growing oil revenues and wealth of natural resources. Prescient though that may be, we noted its stunning facade, a staggered system of metal mesh screens designed to protect the building from the area’s intense heat and solar radiation. Not only do the screens deter direct sun while still allowing in a pleasant amount of sun-dappled light, the web-like pattern of the screens and their careful arrangement around the building act like camouflage, making it seam as if the Sipopo Congress Center is part of the landscape.
The disappearing act isn’t completely unintentional, though. One of the goals of Sena Altundag, a principal at Tabanlıoğlu, was to design a system of screens inspired by Malabo’s immediate environment, “listening to the waves and oscillation of the trees” for inspiration. He did such a good job that the envelope masks the building into the backdrop of trees. Its more practical applications were designed in response to Malabo’s location on the Earth’s equator and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, requiring solar deflection as well as weatherproof cladding.
To shield the building from the extremities without completely blacking them out and resorting to cranking up the AC, Altundag designed a screen that wraps only around the sides of the building that come into direct contact with the sun. The layering of the screens varies, with up to four layers in the sunniest areas. Using calculations based on recorded data of the sun’s movement as well as averages of the local temperature and wind, Altundag designed a staggered effect achieved by arranging the panels in various angles and levels, determined in accordance with “the direction of light in the north-east relevance to balance shadows. To obtain optimum day light in the interiors [Altundag] used an uninterrupted sheer glass wall on the lower levels to merge with the scenery and environment.” This focus on passive cooling is echoed in other aspects of the project’s criteria, which demanded “innovative wasterwater technologies, water use reduction, landscaping [that] requires minimum irrigation…the use of paint and adhesives with low volatile organic chemical compounds…and construction that leaves the minimum carbon footprint.”
After developing the staggered screen system based solely on calculations, Altundag and his team created a mock-up, which they installed on-site to test out prior to final construction. Once they perfected the arrangement of the panels, the had the gray-bronze aluminum triangular plates made in Istanbul and shipped to the site, where they were bolted to the side of the building. The underlying glass wall system allows for the maximum viewing area without horizontal or vertical mullions to obstruct sightlines. “For a state building welcoming the presidents of the world,” Altundang said, “the use of the glass wall is also a metaphor symbolizing directness and openness.”