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  • The AKU Centre in Nairobi is a model for sustainable high-rise development with unique spaces designed to nourish the learning experience.
Aga Khan Development Network
Greening the places where we live and work

From large university campuses to individual family homes, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is working with communities to rethink the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated to promote safer, sustainable living and reach net zero carbon by 2030.

World Environment Day is an urgent call for transformative change to protect the planet.  To avoid a climate catastrophe and keep global warming below 1.5°C, data from the UN Environment Programme warns that we need to halve emissions in the next eight years.  To achieve this societies, governments, businesses and people everywhere need affordable and attractive solutions for change.  Greening the built environment offers a huge potential, as buildings are responsible for 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Most buildings which will exist in 2050 in the developing world have not yet been built. Climate change is already impacting the built environment as natural disasters damage homes and infrastructure and extreme weather increases thermal stress in buildings. However, affordable technology is available to make buildings more resilient and climate-friendly.

AKDN has developed capabilities in energy and water efficiency, green energy and sustainable materials and adapted them across various geographies from sub-Saharan Africa to high mountain Asia.  In these regions where we work, we are applying a set of Green Building Guidelines to ensure new buildings are energy-efficient and support AKDN’s climate and environment commitments.  

Using these guidelines, the Aga Khan University (AKU) Centre in Nairobi, Kenya has achieved IFC EDGE Advanced certification – the globally recognised benchmark for green building – for its multiple sustainability features that achieve at least 40 percent energy savings and 20 percent savings in both water and embodied energy (energy used in project creation) compared to conventional construction.  From inception, the University Centre considered sustainability aspects while designing with the user in mind and making the most of the very small site of less than two acres.

“The certification of the University Centre is exemplary for its holistic approach, taking sustainability and energy reduction right into the building design, not something added on later. Similarly, designing spaces that allow students and educators to nourish their learning is something other institutions in the region can learn from,” said AKU President Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin.

The building is exceptional in how it responds to real estate pressures in the city while also creating very humane spaces for people. Its design resists the temptation to maximise real estate by simply going vertical with a single footprint.

Mark Careaga, Project Representative for the Lead Consultant, Payette, reflects on the design experience: “This unique ‘inside-out’ building, which creates an urban experience in miniature within a small, constrained site, shows how architecture, landscape, urban design and sustainability can be woven together into a coherent composition, creating a highly functional academic building with a distinctive campus life experience.”

Nairobi has a very temperate climate, with warm days and cool nights. Being closely situated to the equator allows for very high sun angles from both the north and the south. The Centre takes full advantage of this, with numerous open-air spaces and verandas that serve as the primary corridors on each floor. Spaces were designed with views onto the exterior greenery and to serve various learning interactions outside of classrooms, including wide corridors for huddles or the central courtyard, which functions like a town square.


The central courtyard functions like a town square for students and faculty.
AKDN / Zafarani Mansurali

Elsewhere, green building activities include an IFC EDGE certified residential high-rise redevelopment project in Mumbai, India, and expansions underway at the Aga Khan Schools in northern Pakistan.  Through such large-scale institutional buildings AKDN aims to model sustainable building and design best practices that benefit both people and the planet.   

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) is also working to expand access to and adoption of green building practices in affordable housing to help vulnerable households.  In Syria, ongoing economic and energy crises and water scarcity compound the challenges that people face in rebuilding, repairing and powering their homes after years of conflict.  In response, AKAH is working with local communities and universities to introduce cost-effective, low-carbon and local earth-based building technologies.  In Salamieh, with technical assistance from the Auroville Earth Institute (AVEI), it is adapting and testing Compressed Stabilized Earth Block (CSEB) building techniques against local soil and climate conditions and training local engineers and workers in the production process.  Applying AKDN’s Green Building Guidelines AKAH worked with communities to develop housing designs adapted to people’s aspirations and local context.  The designs integrate environmental assessments to address sun and wind direction to improve energy efficiency, natural lighting and thermal comfort.  Rainwater harvesting and solar energy systems are also included.  Using these designs and earth blocks produced locally, AKAH is working with local workers and engineers to build a demonstration house in Bari, a rural village in Salamieh.  In parallel, AKAH is conducting awareness raising and outreach sessions in the community to promote uptake of the earth architecture building materials and designs.  The goal is to provide an affordable, locally accessible and adapted option for sustainable, high-quality housing and to build local production, construction and design capacity.


AKAH is introducing low-carbon, earth-based building technologies to provide affordable, sustainable and high-quality housing options in Syria.

AKDN is committed to achieving net zero carbon operations by 2030 through science-based carbon reduction targets and offsetting 100 percent of residual emissions.  Detailed greenhouse gas accounting of AKDN’s operations show that buildings account for over 80 percent of our direct carbon emissions. The AKDN’s Green Building Guidelines mandate several measures, including new buildings to achieve EDGE Advanced or even EDGE Zero Carbon standards, and existing facilities to be subjected to regular energy audits. Greening and decarbonising homes and buildings is not only essential to combatting future climate change but also tangibly improves peoples’ quality of life and ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change today.

5 June is the biggest international day for the environment. The 2022 World Environment Day campaign #OnlyOneEarth calls for collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet.