x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

It's 39°C, but I'm going cold on working Fridays

On Fridays, when the office is empty and few warm bodies are around to generate heat, the airconditioning creates arctic conditions.

It is freezing in here, so it must be Friday. Being the Muslim holy day, the newsroom at The National in midtown Abu Dhabi is staffed by a skeleton crew of about 20 people, in place of the 200-odd reporters, editors and support staff who bustle about the place on a normal work day. Most of us are bundled up in sweaters. I have donned a black woolly cardigan over my shirt, pulled on a pair of matching black socks and thrown a kashmir shawl across my lap to warm my legs, as the light fabric of my trousers is patently not up to the task. I keep all three items stashed in my desk drawer for use in just such indoor climate emergencies.

I spot an editor who has not taken similar precautions scouting around for any outer garment slung across the back of a chair that she could borrow. She returns to her desk swathed in a large man's denim shirt, which swamps her slight frame. Through the office window, I watch three Asian men, baggily clad in beige shalwar kameez, thread their way among the tangle of cars parked outside. One mops his brow with a large chequered handkerchief.

On my computer, I check the weather forecast for Abu Dhabi: 39°C and sunny today. What a surprise! It is not only the dearth of warm bodies in our air-conditioned building that has turned the newsroom into a fair imitation of a meat locker. The absent staffers, who are mostly quite keen to do their bit for the environment by saving energy, have also switched off their computers for the weekend; and the newsroom's several large-capacity printers are not spitting out their usual non-stop stream of copy.

I have half a mind to turn on every office machine in the vicinity to generate some heat. Instead, I stare at the mosquito zapper suspended by the window, willing its baleful blue fluorescent tube to morph into a cheerful orange-glowing heating element. In the end, I settle for a mug of hot tea, cupping my hands around the outside for warmth. My inner engineer starts musing on other gadgets to correct the situation. Let me see: we need temperature sensors connected by communications circuits to controllers that switch the air conditioners on and off and direct the air flow. But wait. Surely that system is something called a "thermostat" that was invented back in the 19th century.

The old brain circuits must be sluggish due to the cold. I consider doing jumping jacks to get the blood flowing to the grey matter. The trouble is, when our purpose-designed newsroom was built last year, someone forgot to equip it with thermostat controls and temperature sensors, so refrigerated air blasts constantly through the ceiling, whether it is needed or not. Only building maintenance can cut off the flow, so better call them.

Oh, I forgot: it is Friday, so support staff are off duty. Another colleague makes the practical suggestion of throwing open the office windows to let in a stream of warm air from outside. At least we are not hermetically sealed in, as would be the case in many another modern commercial building. But it seems a tad extravagant for our overachieving air-conditioning system to be cooling the car park.

I wonder what the bean counters upstairs in accounting would think if they knew what we were doing down here. Of course, it might not affect the Abu Dhabi Media Company's bottom line too much, thanks to the generous electricity subsidies of our paymaster, the Government. The folks over at our sister company, Masdar, might be a little more concerned, as they are busy trying to find ways to save the planet from global warming. Wasting less energy is part of that agenda, and Masdar's project portfolio includes several initiatives along those lines.

The company's best known project is the US$22 billion (Dh80.8bn) Masdar City development, a carbon-neutral community being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. The masterplan calls for renewable energy to power the city and for all buildings and other architectural features to incorporate "green design", which means, among other things, that they should consume energy as sparingly as possible. Masdar City's climate-controlled central plaza, designed by the Australian architectural firm LAVA, will feature heat-sensitive technology that responds to pedestrian traffic as gauged by mobile phone signals.

"The Oasis of the Future is a living, breathing habitat. The ability to control ambient temperature at all times of day is the key to making the plaza a compulsive destination. The gorges pull inhabitants into the loop. The 'Petals from Heaven' - big umbrellas - open and close; protect pedestrians from the sun; capture, store and release heat; and adjust the angle of shade based on the position of the sun. The heat-sensitive lamps adjust the level of lighting to the proximity of pedestrians.

"The water features ebb and flow based on the intensity of ground temperatures," the firm says in its promotional material. It sounds idyllic. We could do with some of that 21st-century wizardry in here. But I would settle for an old-fashioned thermostat - or a single-bar heater. @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae