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Mashrabiyas: a model of sustainable architecture in Algeria

Outside view of the Swiss embassy in Algiers. The building is a white rectangular cube. The façade consists of a large lattice design of intersecting beams.
The new Swiss embassy building in Algiers, completed in 2013: a blend of Algerian and Swiss architectural traditions. (© FOBL)

Construction of the new Swiss embassy in Algiers was completed in 2013. The simple, elegant building combines Swiss architecture with Algerian construction and utilisation techniques as well as local materials. The combination of Algerian and Swiss traditions makes the new building perfectly suited to the local climatic conditions. The carefully planned building is an example of sustainable construction.

A building that combines tradition and sustainability

The three-storey pavilion was designed by one Algerian and two Swiss architects. The outer shell represents Algerian culture and is reminiscent of a mashrabiya, the decorative wooden latticework used in traditional Islamic architecture for lattice panels in mosques or for window grilles. The extensive irregular latticework in front of triple-glazed windows produces plenty of shade. This provides a natural way of keeping the temperature cool inside the pavilion, thus reducing the need for air conditioning. The special pattern produces the most shade when the sun is at its strongest. As well as cooling the building, the exterior façade with its special structure also provides protection against earthquakes. This is indispensable as the embassy is located in an earthquake zone.

The building materials used for the façade are also sustainable: the concrete consists of white granular material from the Algiers area and was poured on site in collaboration with local façade specialists. The lattice is made of galvanised steel. This prevents rusting and increases the structure's lifespan. The lattice motif and the local building culture are echoed inside the embassy. For example, the pavilion floor is made of cement using traditional local methods.

Interior of the Swiss embassy in Algiers. The lattice façade creates a shaded interior space.
Inside the embassy, the lattice design of the façade provides cooling shade. (© FOBL)

A heat pump provides additional cooling – required despite the lattice – and heating in the cooler months. Therefore, as well as an architectural masterpiece that brings together cultures, the pavilion is also a sustainable energy-saving building. 

Challenges for sustainability in everyday life

The embassy is committed to increasing recycling, although it is currently something of a challenge to find a company capable of properly recycling and disposing of waste materials. It has finally found a way to recycle plastic bottles and green garden waste.

In order to conserve resources, employees are educated on sustainable paper consumption, economical use of the cooling and heating system and the sparing use of water. Water, in particular, is a valuable resource in Algeria due to its scarce availability.

Last update 26.01.2022