Thatching is sustainable building technique

Thatching is sustainable building technique

Marrying skills perfected in Europe with Middle Eastern traditions and materials to provide a sustainable method of building is a project currently being undertaken by Cape Reed – a business which specialises in create living spaces in harmony with the natural environment

Managing partner Andre Van Heerden explains how thatched homes can help combat global warming.

Thatched roofing is a familiar sight in the UAE as it’s used to provide shaded structures both large and small. And it’s easy to see why: thatching is environmentally friendly, it’s aesthetically pleasing and, when properly looked after, can last decades.

The style of thatching most commonly seen in the Gulf today has its roots in European communities such as England, Holland and Germany, where it was used in poor communities as a cheap and readily available roofing material.

German missionaries introduced the skill of thatching to the South African landscape during the early 18th century, while simultaneously ‘discovering’ the world’s most durable thatching material : Cape Reed (Thamnochortus Insignis) which  grows naturally along the southern tip of the African continent.

When Cape Reed introduced the European style of thatching to the Gulf, it also brought the world’s finest and most acclaimed thatching material with it.

Since its introduction in the late nineties it has certainly lived up to expectations , proving that it is the ideal roofing material for the region, with an expected lifespan of anything from 35 to 50 years and the ability to cool off shaded areas with as much as 10°C.

The gulf region developed its  own technique, known as barasti, using palm fronds to provide shelter from the sun.

The region’s limited resources meant that people had to use whatever they could get their hands on, with walls made of stone, mud or even oven palm leaves woven into a rudimentary frame. On top of this would sit a thatched roof, also made of palm leaves, which would sometimes be treated with pitch.

Cape Reed has matched European skills with African materials and local heritage, such as at the Anantara resort in Abu Dhabi, which uses a new thatching method designed to imitate the barasti style. Perhaps the biggest injection of modern technology is a fire blanket woven into the roof, ensuring it combines old fashioned looks with modern safety standards.

The project exceeds the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s Estidama standards for sustainability. The standards measure an outdoor structure’s Solar Reflective Index (SRI), which is determined by the roof’s ability to reflect solar heat without absorbing it as stored heat adds to global warming. Estidama mandates an SRI of 29, but Cape Reed thatch achieved a score of 54.52.


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