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Wed 13 May 2009 04:00 AM

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Examining Estidama

Architect speaks with Saood Hamad Al Junaibi, Abu Dhabi's director of development review & urban design for the UPC.

Examining Estidama
(Rajesh Raghav/ITP; X Architects/ Images)
Examining Estidama
(Rajesh Raghav/ITP; X Architects/ Images)


speaks with Saood Hamad Al Junaibi, Abu Dhabi's director of development review & urban design for the UPC.

LEED, BREEAM, and ‘Mandatory Progression' are all building sustainability guidelines that exist within the region. Why is Estidama the right fit for Abu Dhabi?

The differentiating factor of Estidama, compared to the other leading initiatives, is that we are capitalizing on what has been done in the past. We are making sure that it fits within our environment and our history. We're looking at how it will work in Abu Dhabi specifically and then, perhaps, the GCC.

In Abu Dhabi, we are dealing with an environment that is really unique in terms of culture and history, and also, unfortunately, unique in its water and energy consumption. Really, we're trying to find the best fit and use the best practices that make sense for this region.

Secondly, based on the rating system we have today, once Estidama guidelines are met in a certain project, that project has the potential to give back to its environment-not just indirectly by saving energy consumption but by actually producing an energy surplus and putting energy back into the municipal grid. Extensive use of PV cells is just the beginning.

Of course, most of these systems, whether you're talking about LEED, BREEAM or whatever, are initiatives of the private sector. But with Estidama, it's completely supported by the Abu Dhabi government. That means that when a project goes to tender, it requires the full support of the government to move forward, which allows us to examine and scrutinise every aspect of the project before approving it.

When Estidama was launched in 2008, it was a group of guidelines for green buildings. Now, it seems to have become something much larger; something more broad and all-inclusive. Can you explain it?

Sure. It was launched as an idea, as a concept. We've now come to the stage where we're about to publish the first version of building design guidelines.

It is something that we're still continuing to develop and refine. We need to make sure that the final version is really the right fit for our environment, regarding implementation and timely execution.

Estidama isn't just a set of guidelines. It's a lifestyle. We need to make sure that the end result is something achievable; something attainable. We also need to make sure that it makes sense to the developers and the end users. That's why we've built such a big team to evaluate the process. We're involving developers and government agencies to test it before we start trying to apply it to certain projects.

We understand that Plan Al Ain 2030 is going to be the first application of total Estidama...

Yes. Al Ain 2030 will incorporate one of the main pillars of Estidama in that it will require sustainable development on top of an existing masterplan. This is especially important in Al Ain because it's known as the ‘oasis' of the emirate and many people go there specifically for the climate and atmosphere.

Estidama seems like an intelligent and comprehensive way to move forward with large-scale development. Why haven't places like Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah or other Gulf countries tried to implement Estidama-like strategies?

We are still in the very early stages. Estidama cannot be randomly applied just anywhere. We are moving slowly and carefully at this stage to make sure that Estidama makes sense for everybody in Abu Dhabi. It is a standard that could work for the whole country.

Countries throughout the GCC could potentially apply it as long as it is well-planned and carefully implemented. It is about social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability.

Given those four pillars, could you tweak Estidama for a North African context? How about an American or European one?

Society. Culture. Economy. Environment. These are the driving principles. They are concerns in every country, everywhere in the world, but Estidama might not be able to fit everywhere because each market has its own specific challenges and infrastructure in place.

Developing a guideline and communicating it to different stakeholders has its own challenges, but it also has the potential to create an industry by itself. For example, only building materials that allow for sustainable design and construction are used in Estidama projects. That could have a huge impact on industries that don't yet exist in the region.

Remember, Estidama has a social element as well. From a social point of view, Estidama is about identifying common social goals and creating and organizing a society to meet them. That is an incredibly difficult task to accomplish.

In your opinion, is Estidama the future of sustainable living?

I'd like say that we're creating a roadmap for the future with Estidama but the focus right now is really on whether or not this is something that works for this context. Can it be understood? Will it attract the necessary investment from stakeholders in the UAE? Is there sufficient interest from foreign agencies or investors? These are the questions we're facing right now.

I'd like to see this become a regional solution to sustainable living but we're not there yet. At this stage, regional application is a premature discussion. Although, working with other groups that are looking to develop their own initiative based on the Estidama model is also something that we welcome. I think that would be a wonderful opportunity for both parties to learn from each other, compliment one another and collaborate on projects.

Again, this is not about who is first. It's about developing something that really makes sense for the city, for the society and the end users. Estidama is about building communities.


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