Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
T-Wall Housing in Al Qurnah, Basrah, Iraq by New World Design LLC
February 9th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
The T-wall—a freestanding precast concrete panel with a footing cast into the base—is perhaps the most ubiquitous architectural element in Iraq’s security landscape. Used to create barricades around secure military zones, T-walls are scattered across the country by the millions, and as American forces draw down their forward operating bases in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of these T-walls will be either discarded or crushed. Due to their steel reinforcing, most T-walls will be banished to so-called T-wall graveyards, to be stored for an indeterminate amount of time for an undetermined purpose.
Rather than waste these materials, which are strong enough to serve as structural members for low-rise construction, this project intends to use them to address one of the most pressing socioeconomic problems facing post-war Iraq: the housing shortage. Millions of Iraqi families are currently without housing, and by repurposing the orphaned T-walls to construct rapidly assembled, high-quality, low-cost housing, this project has the potential to transform one of the most omnipresent visual symbols of the occupation into physical spaces of hope and rebirth for the people of Iraq.
The design of each house emerges from a careful study of traditional Iraqi dwelling patterns while capitalizing on its urban configuration. All the homes feature a traditional forecourt, which projects a sense of dignity for visitors and homeowners alike, and each L-shaped house is coupled with its neighbor to form an internal courtyard where children can safely play and women can freely interact with each other. By coupling the homes, it is also possible to combine housing units for large and extended families, which are common throughout Iraq.
The interiors of the homes are organized in order to segregate public and private spaces, with the dinning and kitchen area acting as a hinge between the two zones. To minimize the costs of heating and cooling, careful measures have been taken to maximize both the thermal massing properties of the T-walls (each T-wall has a potential R-value of 14, analogous to a conventional CMU cavity wall) and the natural ventilation of the spaces. The design of each home incorporates a large, double-height wind tower—a traditional design found on indigenous buildings throughout the Middle East—over the front sitting room, which dramatically improves the home’s ventilation and imparts a sense of grandeur to the public sitting room while recalling traditional Arabic building typologies on the exterior.
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