On the green

Estidama has raised the bar for sustainable architecture in the UAE and beyond.
On the green
By Orlando Crowcroft
Fri 07 May 2010 04:00 AM

Green architecture and sustainable design had a bit of a bad reputation in my home town.

The feeling was that developers primarily used green initiatives to get hugely profitable, and often vastly unpopular, projects through the town planning council, a body made up of the kind of politicians who would go all starry-eyed when confronted with the odd solar panel or roof garden.

Since creating a green building was a simple matter of planting a few trees, it was an easy way to tack a few storeys or units on to a project and make a bit of extra cash. If the public raised any concerns you could distract them with recycled wooden window frames, while you quietly sent the bulldozers into the nearby National Trust protected wetland.

In some cases this attitude was fair, and in others it wasn't, but it is one that I shared when I took on the reins of Middle East Architect last month. This part of the world, I felt, was a prime example of green double standards, where developers and designers praised sustainability with one breath and mile-high glass greenhouses with the next.

I admit that I have had my preconceptions challenged time and time again in the last four weeks, and have undergone what can only be described as a conversion, from jaded green building skeptic to dancing-in-the-aisles enthusiast. It seems that, like the politicians I used to scoff at as a lowly planning reporter, it is my turn to be starry eyed.

A lot of the factors behind my conversion are contained in the May of MEA, where we look at high-tech computer-operated screens on 25-storey towers in Abu Dhabi, Brazilian hardwood shades in Algiers and landscape designers in the UAE who are no longer content to pump gallons of water to keep the desert green. We also analyse the long-awaited launch of Estidama at Cityscape, a framework set to change the way developers build and architects design in Abu Dhabi and beyond.

Of course the Middle East has a long way to go. There is still far too much glass in the desert and an inevitable reluctance to keep sustainable building from impacting the bottom line, but I think most would agree that with Estidama the region took a bold step forward. Now developers will not only be judged on their plans, but at every stage during construction and for some years after buildings are at full capacity. Few green ranking systems can claim to have such scope.

It is early days for Estidama, and its true impact remains to be seen, particularly as the regulations have not yet been made mandatory and neighboring Dubai is yet to follow suit. But it is right that Abu Dhabi, and eventually the Middle East at large, should show that it is serious about sustainability.

If we can do it here, in one of the most inhospitable climates in the world, then architects, developers and governments elsewhere will have no choice but to follow.

Orlando Crowcroft is the editor of Middle East Architech.

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