Amman is a city of limestone buildings. The houses and tall apartment blocks that crowd the steep hillsides all look much the same. Jordan’s capital doesn’t feel like a city that’s ready to embrace architectural innovation.
But one person is on a quest to change all that by trialling some radical energy-saving architecture and by introducing greenery and other natural elements in its buildings.
Architect Hanna Salameh has a vision for the city he loves. He has designed several important new houses and office buildings which he says are beginning to “change the conversation” about design and sustainability and the place of traditional architecture in Jordan.
The 29-year old, who has only been practising as an architect for eight years, says he wants Amman to become “one of the world’s leading environmentally friendly cities”.
“I’m lucky. I live in a city that has one of the best climates in the world,” he says. “It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold, which allows me to use natural elements of design to their full potential.
“I am in love with this city. I feel I have duty to stay here and fix this city.”
As well as designing buildings, Salameh hosts a reality TV program called May o Taqa o Fraata (Water Energy and Change), in which he visits houses across the country and explains how they can become more efficient by introducing greenery and other passive energy ideas.
The television program grew from humble origins.
“We’re [the community] not involved in the planning of our city, so to raise awareness amongst the people I released a video,” he says. “Luckily it went viral and has given us the vision for how great our city can be.”
“I’m lucky. I live in a city that has one of the best climates in the world,” he says. “It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold, which allows me to use natural elements of design to their full potential."
He particularly likes rooftop gardens and the way some modern Australian houses are efficiently open planned which also enables them to free up space and harness “the power of the natural elements”.
"What we have to learn from you [about Australian house design] is to open up our houses."
He says using natural ventilation in the summer and capturing the sun’s UV penetration in the winter to heat up spaces is essential to efficiently design environmentally friendly buildings.
“There is now no excuse for architects in this region not to think this way,” says Salameh, who confesses that he has watched lots of episodes of Grand Designs Australia.
“The environment is the first reason we are supposed to be designing green,” says Salameh, but “luckily going green means saving money which is unfortunately what people care more about than the environment.”
Water scarcity is a major problem in Jordan. The country also imports much of its energy from neighbouring countries.
Although the Jordanian Government is trying to highlight these issues, and promotes energy and water conservation, he says “the awareness amongst the Jordanian people is still not large enough”.
“Amman is a very urban city. We need to incorporate physical greenery into our architecture instead of just designing a normal house and later on incorporating energy-saving technology.”
Salameh is known for several novel buildings across the Middle East and Northern Africa, including the Central Hospital in Sudan and the Centre D’Oncologie De Tangiers. In Amman he designed the Edraak building, the new home of the Queen Rania Foundation. It’s a bold building that features many of the elements he values in his architecture.
“Amman is a very urban city,” he says. “We need to incorporate physical greenery into our architecture instead of just designing a normal house and later on incorporating energy-saving technology.”
Another motivation for Salameh is Amman’s increasing urban sprawl. He says there is a misconception that if the city continues to spread at its current rate the traffic will somehow drop.
He argues that if the city embraced higher density-living, its notorious traffic jams would be reduced.
“We are not only lacking parks and urban plazas we also need to make it less of a car city and more of a walking city.”