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Sun 16 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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Abu Dhabi’s new building code

New code and Estidama to standardise construction.

Abu Dhabi’s new building code
Sky’s the limit Abu Dhabi construction aims to be a benchmark for sustainability.

The Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) of Abu Dhabi has taken another
step forward in standardising design and construction across the emirate with the
introduction of its new building code from the beginning of the year. This follows
the earlier ruling that all new build will have to comply with a minimum One Pearl
rating in terms of Estidama. Commenting on the link between Estidama and the new
building code, the DMA said that both formed part of an overarching strategy to
achieve the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision, with the new building code being the main enabling

The latest development is the end result of a three-year process
of adopting eight new codes from the International Code Council (ICC) of the US. A user guide
with ‘soft’ amendments was made available a while ago to familiarise the construction
industry with the new code. This was revealed at last year’s Construction Week Abu
Dhabi Conference by DMA building code consultant Imad Al Durubi.

The codes are Building, Fire, Energy Conservation, Mechanical,
Plumbing, Fuel Gas, Private Sewage Disposal and Property Maintenance. “The Abu Dhabi
2030 Vision demands world-class infrastructure and regulatory framework, together
with greener, more sustainable buildings. We are adopting this set of codes to take
into account local climatic requirements, and to improve quality of life,” said
Al Durubi.

Consultant Matthew Plumbridge said the codes “will improve energy
efficiency 50% to 70% over business as usual. They will look at low-hanging fruit
like the building envelope, leakage from buildings, fenestration, glazing and plant
optimisation.” Al Durubi explained that the DMA had looked at codes from the UK, Europe, Australia,
and the ICC. “The codes will be localised to fit specific conditions,” he said.

Crucially, the DMA was also investigating the accreditation of
professionals in the new family of codes. “This will be very transforming for the
industry. We are hoping to achieve one document from design to municipal and inspection
level. This is the main concept behind the international codes. I am sure other
emirates and countries in the GCC will look very seriously at Abu Dhabi’s successful adoption.”

Ramboll sustainability and renewables director Heath Andersen
said that, with Dubai yet to pronounce its own green
building code, it would make sense to piggyback on Abu Dhabi’s achievements in this regard. He said
the main attraction of such an approach would be standardisation. “An ideal situation
would be for the entire GCC to adopt a uniform code.”

Estidama and the new building code could create an increased
demand for specialist consultancy services like energy auditing as clients ensured
compliance with the latest sustainability measures, said Ramboll building services
associate director Louise Collins. Implementation of the new standard would “impact
on fees” as projects are likely to require more detailed modelling in terms of sustainability
and energy efficiency. Collins said Ramboll was adopting the initial approach of
highlighting this as a separate component of its total fee structure, as “other
MEP consultancies bidding for the same job often have not allowed for it. Eventually
it will become a standard fee, but at the moment we have to educate clients.”

Estidama, in combination with the new building code, were “probably
one of the biggest drivers in the region at the moment,” noted Andersen. “This is
because Abu Dhabi
has invested considerable effort and resources into ensuring that this green standard
is both region-specific and forward-thinking enough to promote sustainability.

“It improves on LEED in many ways, which was compiled originally
over 20 years ago in the US.
What is note worthy about Estidama is that it represents the evolution of industry
standards like LEED. It pushes the boundaries of the region’s construction industry,
and raises minimum standards. The One Pearl minimum  will go a long way in making everyone a little
more energy-efficient,” said Andersen.

The DMA reported that, since the One Pearl announcement, “145
licences have been subjected to those new conditions. “This is part of our plan
to convert Abu Dhabi
into a sustainable city by adopting the highest global standards,” said Eng. Salah
Awad Al Sarraj, acting executive director of town planning.

“All projects submitted for issuance of building permits have
to be compliant with the stipulations and standards of Estidama,” he stressed. “New
buildings, schools and mosques funded by the government have to meet Estidama standards
for qualifying for Two Pearls, as per the grading system.” The new standards will
immediately benefit people with special needs, as all new buildings – in addition
to many refurbishments – will have to be equipped with ramps at entrances and along
parking-to-building access routes from this year onwards. In addition, signage such
as elevator buttons and exit signs will have to include Braille. It is estimated
that less than 50% of apartment buildings in Abu Dhabi are accessible for people with special

“Universal accessibility, especially for people with visual impairments
and disabilities, is a key concern of the code, which aims to make as many buildings
in the emirate as possible safer and more accessible,” said Al Durubi.

“As part of this set of guidelines, new public buildings like
shopping malls and apartment buildings need to be fully accessible to wheelchairs,
for instance. First off, this means that they must have ramps in strategic areas
as well as elevators.” Corridors would also have to have sufficient space for two
wheelchairs to pass side-by-side, while bathrooms would have to have sufficient
turning space. In retail environments, for example, elements like check-out counters
would have to be “at a height at which persons in wheelchairs can easily sign credit
card receipts,” said Al Durubi.

The fact the new code will be the only code allowed for building
design across the emirate would “increase the durability of the emirate’s buildings
from an average of 25 years to about 50 years,” said DMA policy and regulations
consultant Ali Bukair. The codes would also considerably ease the design process
for firms in the building and construction industry. “In the past almost every firm
followed its own standards, which complicated matters. The new code will therefore
ensure that building design becomes easier, while also tailoring all buildings to
region-specific elements like climate and seismic activity,” said Bukair. He said
that, to date, over 2,000 construction industry professionals have received training
related to the new code. Training initiatives would be stepped up this year, with
the aim of requiring proof of such training before building permits would be issued.

Another major focus of the new building code is fire protection
and prevention, with a requirement that all high-rise public buildings include refuge
areas on intermittent floors so that people with special needs can shelter there
before being rescued by firemen. “These are essentially easily-accessible rooms
that are more fire-resistant than other parts of the building,” said Bukair.

In the interim, the ICC itself has announced the latest edition
of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC).

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