How should the Netherlands present itself in the architecture of its embassy in Amman, its diplomatic outpost in the Middle East?
Should it use modern architecture in brick, aluminium or glass? In the Netherlands this is often a way of demonstrating respect for an environment in which modernity already has the status of tradition. But Amman is entirely made up of buildings in local natural stone, not only the rich neighbourhoods but also poorer districts, and not only homes but also offices, hotels, museums and shops. In this sea of stone a ‘normal’ Dutch building would be alien, a sign of a sharp contrast between cultures. Is that the desired image here? There have already been culture clashes enough, from controversial books and films to cartoons, and this while culture is in fact born out of respect, interaction and inspiration, so contributing to empathy and understanding, diversity and cohesion. Making contact presupposes a balance between adaptation and confrontation.
Western architects have earlier created inspiring buildings that were faced with local restrictions in technology and materials and inspired by climate and culture: Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, India (*2), Louis Kahn in Bangladesh and the parliament building by Jorn Utzon in Kuwait (*3), all of them examples of interaction between cultures.
The Dutch embassy project concerns the renovation of a villa within a walled garden. The entrances and the various consulate functions are situated on the ground floor, while a new structure above this houses the public section of the embassy. The building as a whole is ‘crowned’ by a portico made of Jerusalem Stone, with a ‘parasol sheet’ above. This framework shades the building from the heat of the sun, so that the embassy staff can enjoy the fine views of their garden without the discomfort of excessive heat. It forms the new face of the embassy, as symbolic as the Acropolis in Athens or modern interpretations such as Oscar Niemeyer’s Mondadori building in Milan (*4), but now expressed in the structural vocabulary of Amman. Classic modern architecture as a new and contemporary image, adapted to the local context of building tradition and climate.
Sustainable installations for a mild microclimate
The roof and south portico, with their ‘parasol sheet’ and solar cells, act as a screen against the heat of the sun. The ‘parasol sheet’ on the eastern side can be opened up like a curtain in the afternoons once the morning sun has moved on. The existing swimming pool is reused for thermal storage: to this end cooler water is generated by radiator panels above the parking spaces in the summer nights, and stored in the swimming pool. In the winter, conversely, sun collectors provide warmth so that the temperature variations between day and night are tempered by the embassy’s under-floor water channels.
'A brief note from Royal Haskoning' Taking advantage of nature's quirks -- combining a solid indoor climate with the extraction of nature's forces -- The embassy is adapted to the typical Amman climate conditions, which are -- compared to western Europe standards -- characterized by warm summer days, cool summer nights and mild winters. Firstly, the building is designed to minimize solar heat access in summer and to minimize heat losses during winter. The roof and south portico, with their 'parasol sheet' and solar cells, act as a screen against the heat of the sun. The 'parasol sheet' on the eastern side can be opened up like a curtain in the afternoons once the morning sun has moved on. The HVAC system takes advantage of the large daily temperature fluctuations from night to day. During the cool Amman summer nights chilled water is efficiently generated by the heat pump system and by the radiative panels above the parking space. The existing swimming pool is reused for storing the chilled water during day time. In winter, conversely, the solar collectors provide heat to the storage system, which is used as a heat source for the heat pump. Fancoil units provide pleasant indoor climate conditions with a wide-range individual temperature control and a quick response to setpoint changes. Most of the ventilation and fan coil units in the building are located in the technical void between the ground floor and the upper floor in order to ensure an efficient ducting lay out system is combined with an easy-acces maintenance.