‘Wow,’ these word silently escaped from my lips as I wiped my forehead and continued gazing at the great pyramid of giza, also known as the pyramid of Khufu. The sun was out in full blast and tourists were milling all around me. Some of them were my Egyptian friends, who had taken me to the West Nile location of the world’s oldest wonder.
Said to have been built over a twenty year period that concluded around 2,560 BC, the pyramids before me have a lot of history buried within them. Part of that history is as green as the lush Congo forest. It is even more sustainable than the much acclaimed UNEP complex in Nairobi.
According to the Egypt Green Building Council, pyramids are just as green as they are historic. For starters, any structure that can remain standing for nearly five thousand years is sustainable. If it were a housing block, a lot of money, resources and energy would have been saved since generation after generation would have lived there. This has been the case in Kenya’s Lamu Old Town, which has been in existence since the medieval period. Many houses in the old town were built with sturdy coral stone and have stood for centuries, hosting families for generations.
The Egyptian pyramids are without doubt the epitome of structural durability. In a contemporary world where structural longevity is dearly missed in many buildings, the pyramids whisper from the ages that it is possible to erect a building that will stand the test of time, with minimal maintenance.
The pyramids also adhere to a sustainable structural system with natural lighting and ventilations systems. The great pyramid of Khufu had air shafts connecting the King’s chamber to the outside. Considering the mammoth size of the pyramid, carving out the air shafts was no easy task.
The natural material used ensured that the pyramids blended with their natural surroundings and did not stand out. The approximately 2.3 million blocks used to build the great pyramid were not imported from Miami or Paris. Rather, they were locally sourced with the farthest said to have been transported from Aswan, about 800 kilometres away.
Today’s average dwelling house, not to mention the office blocks and skyscrapers, contains large percentages of imported construction material. Buildings contribute three percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. This may not be as high as the thirty percent that industries emit or the eleven percent the transport sector emits but it is still insanely high for innocent buildings.
Lurking within the sturdy, cute buildings is another more worrying statistic than the three percent - approximately one third of global energy end use takes place within buildings. This explains why when it comes to indirect emissions, the contribution of buildings quadruples to twelve percent.
It is time for the contemporary building sector to take a long, hard look at Egypt’s pyramids and decipher the green building messages therein.