Puerto Madero in Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia, a UNESCO world heritage site, suffers from a severe shortage of housing. Indeed, in 2014 the government estimated that there was a deficit of 47,328 housing units in the Cartagena area, 36% of which were needed for middle-income folks. This deficit prompted a group of investors and developers to acquire a 40-acre parcel located 7 km (4.5 miles) from the heart of Cartagena’s colonial walled city, with the purpose of developing an integrated urban community. The planned Puerto Madero development includes single-family housing and multifamily buildings of up to 6 stories high and 48 apartments per building, following local density regulations. Municipal permits have been obtained, and the drinking water and electricity supply infrastructure has been developed, for a potential total capacity of 1,700 residential units.
Simultaneous with this need for more housing is the worldwide growing demand for cooling. As stated in the 2018 International Energy Agency report, The Future of Cooling, “Global energy demand from air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050, requiring new electricity capacity equivalent to the combined electricity capacity of the United States, the European Union, and Japan today… The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion today—which amounts to 10 new ACs [air conditioners] sold every second for the next 30 years…” To avoid exacerbating the climate crisis, it is crucial to address the cooling loads of buildings, especially in tropical regions of the world, where cooling and dehumidification is required 24/7.
Lowering the development’s cooling loads with the implementation of the Passive House standard has been a key goal from Puerto Madero’s inception. One of the U.S. investors, Andrew Straus of Consinfra, a private investment fund dedicated to real estate development in Colombia, is a CPHC professional. Having delivered a series of presentations about the Passive House standard, Straus convinced the other investors and developers to set that as the performance target. Subsequently, I was brought on board as a CPHC. Phius has designated the project as a “feasibility project”, because it likely will fall short of certification due to the lack of available raters in the area.
The area’s climate conditions are indeed very hot and humid, presenting the main challenge for the passive design of these buildings, which require only cooling (see Table 1). While the temperature fluctuation through the year is minimal, the consistently elevated dew points—a factor that is prevalent in the tropics—set the stage for comfort, energy use, and durability issues when not addressed appropriately. In most buildings there, occupants use air conditioning systems that are way oversized to compensate for the indoor humidity brought in by natural ventilation practices, causing a great deal of energy waste and setting the stage for cold surfaces that induce mold formation. We are determined that Puerto Madero will set an example of comfortable, healthy housing whose cooling needs are met by small, efficient systems.
Construction has now begun on Puerto Madero’s first phase, consisting of 27 single-family town houses, in a subsection named Guacamayas (see Figure 1). The first quarter of 2023 will see the groundbreaking for three of the 6-story, 48-unit apartment buildings. Thanks to our early involvement, the development was planned so that the orientation of the lots was optimized to minimize solar exposure. A sewage water treatment plant has been built to support the initial 27 single-family units with a projected expansion planned to cover the needs of the total development. While the permits were being processed and the infrastructure was being built, we worked on creating two WUFI models—one for the single-family homes and another for the multifamily buildings.