The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research is one of several campuses of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Here, the curriculum focuses on how to live and work in this expanse of sand and in climatic extremes that range from scorching hot to bitter cold. Ben-Gurion himself put it concisely: “In the Negev will the people of Israel be tested.”
Nearly 60 percent of Israel is desert. How can food be raised in a barren wasteland? Where does the water come from to sustain life in such arid, dusty conditions? Scientists at the Blaustein Institutes have been working since the 1970s to make parts of the Negev green and hospitable—researching everything from climatology and meteorology to water resources, desert ecology, animal husbandry, biotechnology, and much more.
The institute’s Solar and Environmental Physics center is designed for super energy efficiency. Much thought has gone into how to construct in this environment, where electricity and water are so very valuable. It’s a given that buildings here must be designed to work with the realities of the desert context, and not in confrontation with them. While the days are hot, the nights can be very chilly; a well-insulated structure, with thick, dense walls, can retain that refreshing coolness. Cold air has a tendency to stay low—so in this building, most of the offices are located on the first floor, and in the summertime a cooling tower sprinkles water into the atmosphere, serving as a form of air conditioning. Conversely, hot air rises, so the light from the blazing sun is blocked with shades, and high vents and windows allow the warm air that has accumulated to escape. In the winter, the campus—which is more than 1,300 feet above sea level—can get cold, so solar panels soak in the sun’s heat and distribute it to the building, warming workspaces and the circulating water system.