UAE paves its way towards sustainability

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As the number and value of projects awarded in Dubai continues to grow, there is a concerted effort being made by authorities to make sure that gains made in sustainable construction are captured across the city.

The UAE is leading the way in green building practices in the GCC, accounting for 67% of all LEED-related projects in the region.

Moreover, as the market for both commercial and residential buildings continues to strengthen, the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have both been looking to ensure that they continue to keep this lead with the further development of sustainable codes and standards.

Ventures Middle East report put the value of the UAE’s construction market at $46bn for 2014. Also, unlike in other parts of the region, it is still dominated by the demand for buildings as opposed to big-ticket infrastructure. Over the past year, buildings represented 60% of the overall value of the construction market.

With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that sustainability in construction was such a prominent theme at last month’s Big 5 Exhibition at Dubai World Trade Centre. Indeed, Dubai Municipality used the event as a platform to launch a number of initiatives to make sure that gains made in sustainability do not fall victim to time and cost pressures in a busier market.

HE Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, unveiled details of a tough new smart checking system at the event, as well as an Emirate-wide move to using ‘green concrete’, and gave brief details of ‘Desert Rose’ – the new, $5.5bn (AED20bn) Emirati housing development being built around sustainable principles.

Lootah said Dubai is one of the world’s fastest growing cities, with many people simply noting the rapid rate of building.

“But it’s about a lot more than just buildings, there’s a lot more projects going on, in order to fulfil the needs of the growing city.

“We already have the best standard of construction and materials in the region. Our Green Building Regulations Guide has 79 chapters, and we are working through these chapters to implement all of the directives,” he said.

Assistant director-general for engineering and planning at the Dubai Municipality, Abdulla Rafia, gave a talk on driving higher standards in sustainability through the introduction of the Emirate’s Green Building Code.

The code, which was introduced in 2011, was immediately made mandatory for all government buildings. In March this year, it was rolled out to the private sector and covers all new buildings.

He said it had been drawn up from Dubai’s Green Building Programme, containing five main pillars – energy, water, material and waste, ecology and building vitality.

“For each of the 79 specifications that are contained in these five areas there is also an explanation in another document to explain each and every specification,” explained Rafia.

The document is comprehensive and the objectives ambitious; dramatic key performance indicators (KPIs) are set out that target significant reductions of materials and resources.

Dubai is aiming to achieve a 90% compliance rating to internal air quality regulations, a 20% reduction in CO2 levels, household waste and construction waste reductions of 60% and 50% respectively, a 15% saving on water consumption and 20% reduction in energy.

The municipality completed its most sustainable building, Al Fahidi souk in Bur Dubai, at the beginning of 2014.
“There, the results were really outstanding – the energy savings went up to 43%, so these 79 green building regulations are really effective and the outcomes are great,” he added.

One may question why the recent enhanced focus on sustainability has centred so much around the Green Building Code, a relatively small part of the issue when you consider the bigger picture.

“I think it is the cornerstone,” said Rafia. “What is the city made of? It’s made of a number of buildings, so if I can get one building green, in the future [I can] get all the buildings green.” He also pointed out that reductions made in energy emissions from more efficient buildings have a major impact.

“If we look at energy, we can see the size of sustainability – out of energy produced, 70% of it is used in the city buildings,” Rafia said. “So I’m looking at where the consumption is. And also, 70% of that 70% is used in air conditioning, so we have a real challenge.”

The numbers make it clear where attention is needed, and Rafia insisted it was the government’s duty to make sure this happens not only through enforcing laws, but also leading by example.

“If we don’t have governments, you have an inefficient system,” he said. “I always say sustainability starts with governments. Now I’m glad to announce that since we’ve implemented the regulations, we have results.

“This city, I always say, is result orientated. You know, we can talk about things for a year, or two or three years, but if we don’t implement, then we are not achieving. We did implement.”

Since the beginning of March until the end of October, the number of building permits issued by the Municipality was 1,053.

“One permit may be for one building; a house, one permit may be for a multi-storey building; a 50, 60, 70, 100-storey building is just one permit, and for a compound of maybe 1,000 to 2,000 villas, that is one permit,” he explained.

To give a clearer picture, those permits translate to a built-up area of over 10mn ft2 so far.

“That is a significant number,” said Rafia. “In 10 years, the number of new green buildings will make up 50% of the buildings in Dubai.”

Of course Dubai has not always been so conscious of its carbon footprint, but it is hard to deny its swift implementation of practices to remedy its past ignorance.

“We are fortunate of course,” continued Rafia. “First of all, we are fortunate that we can push a regulation this fast. Second, we are fortunate with this issue of green build that Dubai is a fast-growing city and the construction is fast – we are doubling the gross floor area once every eight to 10 years depending on the growth rate, so very soon we’ll be having a green city.”

Rafia said the municipality would continue to refine its green building codes as further advancements are made in building technologies. “We are leaving a lot of room for improvements. This is not something that we work at and stop at, but it’s a continuous process.”

Some of the best sustainable technologies being used in the region were showcased in a number of project case studies at the event – including Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City and its new $3bn Midfield Terminal Complex.

A presentation on the latter was given by designer, Mustafa Chehabeddine, who is a principal at US-based architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

He said: “Even in 2005 sustainability was at the centre of the design from the very first drawing.

“Legislation to meet sustainability criteria has become tougher over the years since this project was started, but the terminal was always designed to be as sustainable and energy efficient as possible.”

 

Source: Construction Week Online

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