Bibliotheek van Jean Nouvel © Cyprus University
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At first glance, Cyprus does not seem to excel in terms of urban planning. Plenty of building is going on without a zoning plan, or even appearing to have any in place. One early exception is the campus of the University of Cyprus in the capital city of Nicosia (population 200,000).

Master plan

The area, which lies 6 kilometers south of the city center, was first conceived with a vision some 25 years ago. Quite unusual for Cyprus, but possibly even elsewhere as well, Costas Charalambous believes. He works in the university’s engineering department. “The master plan was ahead of its time,” says the 48-year-old mechanical engineer. “We had already integrated green technologies that were then available into the plan. And that was at a time when sustainability, energy efficiency and climate change were not real issues.” 

Cypriotische universiteit
Costas Charalambous under the dome of the library © E. Kieckens

The master plan, which was developed in collaboration with the London-based architecture firm ADP, is based on a centrally located, park-like space, around which all other activities are organized in zones. Due to the continuous growth of the university (currently seven thousand students), the development of the campus is an ongoing process.

Energy center

As for sustainability, the campus was given a central heating and cooling system. “In northern Europe that may not be earth-shattering, but for Cypriot standards that was quite special,” says Charalambous. The energy center is in a remote location and supplies energy to the various buildings by means of an underground system. A system like this is more efficient because of its scale and also adds to the aesthetics. None of the university buildings are equipped with chimneys or any fuel storage.

A second energy center will soon be built to meet the increased energy demand. Most of the electricity is produced by fossil fuels. This is common in Cyprus. (Fuel) oil supplies about ninety percent of the country’s energy needs. 

The campus has had a small solar farm since its inception. In addition, solar panels have been installed on a large part of the roofs. The total amount of solar energy produced is 440 kilowatts. That’s not a lot – it is equivalent to about five percent of the university’s total energy needs. 


But it’s not stopping there. It may be as soon as a year from now that the first part of a new, large solar park will be put into operation, which will generate five megawatts. There is a Cypriot quirk to it, though. The solar park will be located in the buffer zone between southern and northern Cyprus. That zone was established by the United Nations in 1974 after the invasion of Turkey, which eventually led to the separation of the island into two parts: the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which, however, is not officially recognized by the international community. Therefore, the recovery funds of the European Union are going to the south. 

Cypriotische universiteit
Check-point in the heart of Nicosia (southern part) © E. Kieckens

Even though almost fifty years later tensions between the two Cyprusses have eased, the buffer zone still exists. Also, Nicosia is still divided into two halves with numerous check-points in the best tradition of a cold war. Occasional small-scale agriculture is tolerated in the buffer zone, and ‘therefore’ solar energy can be harnessed there as well. Nevertheless, Charalambous is still waiting for the final permission to allow construction companies access to install the twenty thousand solar panels. 

European loans

After the construction of the solar park and the completion of four buildings that are currently under construction, work will begin on the second phase. Ultimately, the university will have ten megawatts at its disposal, possibly by 2025. Continuous electricity will be on hand even when it is cloudy, at night and during the winter months, thanks to the energy storage batteries that the campus will have. “The project was also made possible by favorable loans issued by the European Investment Bank and the Europe Development Bank,” says Vassos Olympios, head of the technical department that is also overseeing the expansion of the campus. The university can also rely on some financial help from the European Recovery Fund.

Master plan of the campus. The new solar park will be located in the white area on the right © Cyprus University

The campus will have charging infrastructure on the edge of the site where private individuals can top up their electric vehicles. At the moment electric cars are a rarity on the island, but in a few years, Cyprus will become a TeslaLand if we are to believe the plans in the recovery plan. This just goes to show that the university is preparing for the future. This is also apparent in the initiative to allow motorists to connect their batteries to the university network by not only slurping energy but also delivering it. This is done according to the Fit to the grid concept, where energy from vehicle batteries is fed into the grid.

Thermal energy

Incidentally, the sun is not going to be the only source of sustainably produced energy. Currently, two new faculty buildings are being built from the ground up. Under that site, 220 holes have been drilled to a depth of 125 meters. This thermal energy will be added to the campus grid. By doing this, the campus will be self-sufficient in energy within a few years. “It’s like a sustainable neighborhood which fits in perfectly with the objectives of the European Union,” says Charalambous. You could easily call the campus an energy island.

Cypriotische universiteit
Construction of the medical faculty © E. Kieckens

In addition to generating its own renewable energy, the University of Cyprus also has high standards when it comes to energy efficiency. This is done by imposing ‘green’ criteria in design competitions. For example, the Cyprus Cancer Research Institute, which is currently being built on the campus, is certified according to the latest LEED guidelines for sustainable construction.

Pritzker architect

That sustainable construction goes hand in hand with aesthetic architecture is very evident in Nicosia. The buildings on the campus are generally light structures and it is not just traditional concrete. One building, the library, stands out. It comes from the drawing board of none other than Jean Nouvel, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize, the highest award for architects. With a façade of green textiles, the building looks like a hill (and as such blends in well with its surroundings) and is dominated on the inside by a glass dome. Light is reflected via heliostats onto a pointed column that supports the dome. The natural light that is emitted falls on the study halls and bookcases on all floors. You can also regard it as the Cypriot symbol for a sustainable future.

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