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What If We Turned Ancient Monuments Into Greenhouses?

Combine pyramids with biospheres and get a structure that can produce water and slow down desertification.

Picture the Sahara Desert, and you might not think of farming. But some of the first agriculture in the world was born in ancient Egypt on the desert’s edge, helping launch a civilization that could afford to build massive pyramids.

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Now, a group of architects proposes using the pyramids to help agriculture survive in the area. By turning the pyramids into biospheres, the monuments could produce water to help slow the quickly spreading desert and make it possible to grow more food.


“We wanted our building to latch on to an existing globally recognized icon, extend it’s recognizable form and language, and infuse it with existing sustainable technologies to become ecologically productive,” say architects David Sepulveda, Wagdy Moussa, Ishaan Kumar, Wesley Townsend, Colin Joyce, Arianna Armelli, and Salvador Juarez, via email. The architects created the concept for the 2015 eVolo Skyscraper Competition.

The idea isn’t necessarily meant to be built–and since the pyramids are protected World Heritage Sites, it’s pretty unlikely to happen. But the designers wanted to use the iconic symbol of the pyramids to draw attention to the potential of biosphere technology to help the area.

“The decision to link our project to the pyramids is above all else a statement which can also be looked at as a marketing strategy for our bigger environmental idea,” they say.

Inside, the new structure is designed to harvest water, taking advantage of the intense heat and sunlight to create condensation. “We imagine the interior as an eco-techno structure of mixed-use typologies, a ‘living machine,'” say the architects. Solar panels would generate energy to keep the microclimate running, and as the water flows around the system, the movement of the water would also be turned into more energy. The water would be used to keep a mini-farm of lush plants alive.


“In areas of the world where the natural ecological territories are not as habitable for humans to thrive, one of the major benefits to creating an enclosed space is that we have the ability to create a microclimate,” say the designers. “Microclimates are unique to their geographic location and are capable of producing resources that are not readily available for human consumption. In our project, the Sahara location provides ideal opportunities to exploit the sun for solar energy, vegetation growth, and water capturing.”

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Technically, the project wouldn’t be difficult to build. “In terms of construction, if finances weren’t an issue, this project is highly feasible as all the technologies are already out there even though the opportunity to build over the pyramids may not be,” the designers say.

Biospheres could be useful in a place like Egypt, which only has a tiny sliver of land available for agriculture now–about 3%–and loses an area of farmland bigger than West Virginia each year, in part because of encroaching sand dunes. Water is another challenge, as countries like Ethiopia and Uganda want to draw more from the Nile River.

The designers see the bio-pyramid as a symbol for technology that could be used throughout the region. “The Giza Plateau would be understood as a trigger point for a new particular type of development across the Western Sahara,” they say.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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