Salt Up

by Joris Šykovas and Andreas Mitsiou


This project focuses on enhancing vernacular building techniques by introducing cooling technologies into the building structure itself. The group shared an interest in achieving a sustainable cooling mechanism by utilizing possible water deposits in the Saharan underground; the aim is to bring moisture up into the building shell, distribute it through its mass and let it evaporate to lower the temperature. In order to reach that outcome a single module would have to be developed and repeated throughout the architecture.


Areas with high aquifer productivity were identified and eventually a region in the south part of Morocco was chosen for developing the idea.

The Souss-Massa region sits right on top of one of the mapped water deposits.

The small town of Tafraoute is a sort of cultural and social center in that region. Locally known as “the capital of Anti-Atlas”, the town sits in a valley between the mountains. Rivers flowing in the area throughout the year in combination with the town’s relatively high altitude are valuable aids in testing the proposed technology.


Tafraoute, Souss-Massa region, Morocco

The site (marked with a square on the map above) chosen sits close to the heart of the city, adjacent to the central mosque but still enjoys a north-west opening facing the mountains, river and wilderness. Orientation is key to the development of the architecture, allowing the utilization of a sustainable closed-to-the-south, open-to-the-north design.


Site position in Tafraoute

For creating the project’s core module and integrating water distribution capabilities, research was directed to trees, capillary action, osmotic pressure and evapotranspiration. After eliminating several time and resource consuming methods, an in-situ abundant resource was chosen to do the job: salt. By enclosing a tube network  in the building shell, extending it to the underground aquifers and filling it up with salt, several positive effects could be achieved


Day / Night Behavior

Once the network is all filled with salt and water, it would start behaving as a liquid under tension does in nature: water evaporates from the open network tops being under constant sun light; pressure differences at the cooler lower parts push more water upwards; the higher salinity solution enveloped in the building pulls more water in from the underground and the cycle goes on. In addition to that, a water-filled casing would function as a sort of “thermal battery”, storing heat during the day due to increased thermal mass and releasing it to warm up the interior during the night [see: Graph on the right, Wall Section at the end of the post]. The high salinity of the liquid also ensures resistance to possible mid-winter freezing temperatures.

The modules themselves are designed in a way to make sure that distribution is maximized while at the same time their morphology gives the building shell self-shading properties.


The Final Brick Module

Several construction methods were tested out during a prototyping workshop. The brick is made of clay; a mold is used to shape and mass-produce the object, which is then drilled, laid out and treated as needed [see Graph below].

Graph 2

Production Process

Apart from the aforementioned self-shading function, stacking the bricks also results in some interesting mashrabiya-esque patterns that reflect the local vernacular architecture. The lighting pattern can be used as an open mesh design with a one-ply wall but when laid side by side to create a three-ply 500mm wall it results in a solid, opaque wall with surface relief.

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The proposed program is a double residence with shared environmental education function. It is divided into three parts: a garden in the north, living area in the middle and educational facility in the south.

Two separate entrances in the south and east lead to public and private spaces respectively.

Spaces are treated according to their suited levels of privacy as shown in the graph on  the left in shades of red.

The southern facade attracts most of the sunlight so it is equipped with the largest surface area, with curvature and height applied on the wall.


The building volume is situated in a way to complete the empty patch of the urban fabric around it, its height and general mass impact dictated by the neighboring buildings. The corner at the south-east end is treated as a sort of beacon, with a tower and tunnel underneath to invite a flow of passers-by and trigger their curiosity for the educational facility. The sun is blocked out of the courtyard and living quarters by raising the southern facade higher than the northern parts.








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