x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Efficiency trumps tall towers

Skyscrapers will give way to buildings that are gentler on the environment in the coming years, say experts.

In the coming years, skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will give way to buildings that are environmentally friendly, experts say.
In the coming years, skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will give way to buildings that are environmentally friendly, experts say.

Skyscrapers will give way to buildings that are gentler on the environment as the mood towards sustainable construction takes hold in the coming years, say industry experts. Although there are a number of tall-tower projects either under construction or planned across the region, developers will start to focus more on a building's efficiency as opposed to height, particularly with municipal building codes being redrafted to account for sustainability.

"In five years time there will be more emphasis on sustainability rather than height," said Hamid Kia, the director of Middle East operations at the architect firm, RMJM Hillier. "For example, there will be more focus on reducing the tonnage of materials going into buildings, such as steel tonnage reduction - by doing this, we can make buildings more efficient and sustainable." Mr Kia added that fire codes and safety would limit the industry from building any higher.

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi municipalities are redrafting building codes to account for sustainable construction practices, with a major emphasis on reducing energy and water consumption. "People are going to think more about sustainability, more sophistication in design and reducing the carbon footprint," said Chander Shahdadpuri, the head of structural engineering at Atkins Middle East. "Any project can achieve sustainability through proper design - such as using locally made materials rather than importing."

Ibrahim Hamati, the executive director of Arabtec, one of the three companies building Burj Dubai, said the next few years would see developers and contractors turning to green building and dealing with greater challenges because of it. "Working on any type of project raises challenges, but we will still be creating some fantastic projects because of it," he said. Dr Arab Hoballah, the chief of the consumption and production branch at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the regional economy faced dire consequences unless action was taken now towards achieving sustainability.

"The cost of inaction will be much higher. It's not enough to just undertake studies on sustainable construction - we need to act now," he said. "We don't know everything about buildings and climate change, but we do know enough to act. If we don't do things seriously in the next 10 years, I strongly believe that the cost of inaction will be so high that the economy - here and elsewhere - will be in serious trouble."

Dr Hoballah added that while there was a strong political will from the UAE Government to set high green building standards, it needed to be aggressive with its legislation to ensure the market responded. "Between the willingness of the political system and the real estate market, there is a huge gap at the moment," he said. "The government should be ambitious and courageous in implementing the right legislation, whatever the consequences might be right now.

"You need to consider the market and provide certain incentives that the market will respond to correctly." Dr Hoballah also said that the UAE should adopt its own certification system for measuring sustainability rather than applying LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, which were set by the US Green Building Council. "The certification needs to fit the local context and be adapted to the need in this region, along with the cost and availability of energy," he said.

agiuffrida@thenational.ae