Few would argue that the Gulf is not a distinctively wasteful
part of the world. Our ice-cold malls, lush green parks and sky-high buildings come
at a cost – millions of gallons of water, gigawatts of power, concrete; it all adds
There has been an effort in some GCC markets to redress this
balance, and the setting up of green building councils in Saudi, Qatar and the UAE
– where the region’s first green building code, Estidama, is now in force – are
a positive step.
But building codes can only go so far, and solar panels, passive
design, mashrabiyas, high-performance glass cannot, alone, give us the kind of reductions
in carbon footprint that we need to convince the world that the Gulf is serious
The point is, it’s not just during design and construction where
sustainability has to be considered, it’s the whole life cycle of the building –
air conditioning, water and power usage – it’s not enough for a building to be designed
green, it has to live green too.
As an example, consider Abu Dhabi’s new souk, designed by Foster + Partners.
The building, which is due to be finished in 2011, is an excellent modern interpretation
of Islamic architecture, and the way it uses the narrow corridors and shading of
the traditional Arab souks to contribute to reduce the building’s reliance on air
conditioning is admirable.
That said, on my last visit to one of the souk’s currently open
restaurants it was so bitterly cold inside that we opted to brave the midday heat
outside. The air conditioning was, like in so many of the UAE’s public spaces, blazing.
God only knows at what cost.
This is by no means an unusual phenomenon, malls, cinemas, restaurants
and bars are almost ubiquitously freezing in the UAE. So these buildings, designed,
approved and built with sustainability in mind, end up being just as wasteful as
the glass green houses of Sheikh Zayed
Road. In light of this, the recent innovations in the
smart building market are positive. The way in which building management systems
can now integrate and control everything from the air-conditioning to the water
systems, is a massive step towards changing our obsession with air conditioning.
Because, at the end of the day, I am as guilty as the next guy.
My apartment is freezing cold all year around. I like it – but, and this is key,
I don’t pay the bill. Like so many properties in Dubai, I have central cooling, and my landlord
picks up the tab. If smart building systems offer a way to end this apathetic attitude
to the wastage of air conditioning by residents, then they are a good thing.
Innovations in the smart building market will enable the work
of architects like Foster + Partners – which surely didn’t intend its new souk to
be so cold that punters are forced outside into the heat – doesn’t go to waste when
it finally hands its project over.
After all, the intention is already there. A few months ago I
visited Masdar and was told that the intention was for Abu Dhabi to have a benchmark
air conditioning temperature of 240C, saving the city a vast amount of energy.
As technology advances, perhaps building management systems will be able to have
a similar effect on water usage and power too.
What is crucial, however,
is that green building codes reward developers as much for the sustainable initiatives
included in the structure and make-up of the building, as it does for smart, high-tech
systems. The technology will take itself to new levels, but take-up will need a
Orlando Crowcroft, is the editor of Middle East Architect.
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