May 15 - Developers in the West Bank's Jericho, the world's lowest lying city, are building an the first ever eco-housing project in the Palestinian territories.The homes are designed to offset searing summer temperatures and put a modern face on the ancient city. Joel Flynn reports.
Twenty-first century architecture has arrived in Jericho, where buildings have stood for over ten thousand years. The houses here are part of a new eco-housing project called Jericho Hills, that hopes to transform this ancient West Bank city into a pioneer of energy efficiency in the middle east. Techno Homes is building dozens of new villas using using materials that will help take advantage of Jericho's location as the lowest lying city in the world. And for engineer Mitri Rizeq, it's a venture like no other. (SOUNDBITE) ECO-HOUSING ENGINEER, MITRI RIZEQ, SAYING: "To be honest it is the first project of its kind in Palestine and the whole of the Middle East. It is a new way of construction. All of our materials are eco-friendly, as you can see we use steel structure covered with fibre cement plates." The buildings themselves use pre-fabricated materials, and in particular Structural Insulated Panels in the walls, ceilings and floors. The material shields the house from the intense heat of the region, often nudging 40 degrees celsius. But for people like Simon Kwa interested in buying a villa, they offer solutions to more than just the heat. (SOUNDBITE) ECO-HOUSING CUSTOMER, SIMON KWA, SAYING: "I will repeat and say that this way of building makes for good heat insulation in Jericho. This is what attracted me to it, plus the material used in this kind of building has no problems with the insects in Jericho." Techno Homes hopes to build six types of villa with sizes ranging from 90 square metres to 138 square metres. Each home will have 2 to 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. One of the benefits of using pre-fabricated materials -- says George Rizek, the project owner -- is the speed at which you can put them together. (SOUNDBITE) PROJECT OWNER, GEORGE RIZEQ, SAYING: "The price is cheaper and the period, instead of taking two years to build the villa, here we finish within ten days. Also you can have a high level of finishing." The eco-houses are being sold for around $US150,000, less than the regional average by around 25%. And, unlike the walls of Jericho in biblical times, it's hoped these eco-houses can stay up for generations to come. Joel Flynn, Reuters