Sustainable development

Richard Smith from Atkins said he felt “out of place” as a building services engineer at the World Architecture Congress at Cityscape Global 2010, but it turns out MEP and sustainability are (often) two sides of the same coin.
Sustainable development
By Gerhard Hope
Sun 14 Nov 2010 12:00 AM

Dr Suha Ozkah, chairman of the World Architecture Community
in Turkey, referred to Masdar City
as sustainability in action. “The idea of sustainability has become essential.
We have realised over the last half century that the world’s resources are
finite, and most of these resources are consumed in cities. So cities need to
be productive as well as consumptive. The way that cities grew through history
is that, firstly, there was shelter, then interaction with buildings, and then
infrastructure.

“There has never been a city where infrastructure has
preceded the construction. It has always grown in an incremental way, and of
course it has had its problems and complexities as a result. Then the idea came
about to have the infrastructure prior to everything else. Masdar City
is a vision of this. It will evolve over time as a totally interactive,
participatory city. It will be a city that produces its own energy and consumes
it, and quite likely exports it. It has all the features of a traditional
Arabic or Middle Eastern city, but at the same time it has been designed with
tremendous detail and care and the best in engineering and architectural
practice that is possible.”

Apart from the engineering aspects and possibilities for
visionary design, Dr Ozkan stressed that Masdar City
is “not exclusively a city of energy efficiency, sustainability and zero carbon
emissions, but it is also an experience of new urban life.” This ‘new urbanism’
is also represented by such visionary projects as the King Abdullah Financial
District in Saudi Arabia,
which Dr Ozkan described as “some kind of modern Paris with canals and water transport,
focusing on passive design. It is an economic hub, but green spaces are also
important. Water, greenery and building merge together in a sensible master
plan. Since it has been designed from scratch, many of the failures of
infrastructure we have seen in our cities are really unlikely to happen here.”

Commenting on the specific issue of water conservation, Dr
Ozkan said that while “desalination over the last 20 to 40 years has become
increasingly cheap, and is reliable, the critical issue is the energy
consumption. Alternative sources of energy are becoming very important driving
forces. This is due to social and economic responsibility, as with Masdar City,
which wants to be at the leading edge of alternative energy. Even nuclear
energy is not being dismissed. But a wind turbine, for example, can only
justify its own capex in terms of energy production, meaning it can only break
even, in ten to 15 years. And for solar panels, it is even longer.

“However, such technologies will become cheaper and more
affordable to the extent that all cities will be able to produce their own
energy in future. Now they are talking about a building as a factory that can
produce its own energy if it is properly designed and built.”

Intelligence

American Institute of Architects president George H. Miller
questioned if sustainability had “reached a point where the public is really
clamouring that everything we do as architects and engineers takes into account
energy conservation and energy use.” Dr Ozkan responded that “it is a matter of
intelligence. When you have the sun, it does not make sense to heat your
bathtub with electricity, especially as the infrastructure for that is visually
polluting. There should be more integrated systems. We hope the public
understands the intentions behind such technology.”

This prompted a question from the audience about the impact
of desalination in particular, “as there are parts of the world where energy is
not as cheap as the UAE, and where desalinatrion comes at a much higher cost in
terms of energy, and hence it is not that sustainable. There is an implication
that it is a sensible way to go, but it is really heavily energy dependent.” Dr
Ozkan was frank in his response: “Ï completely agree, because when you look at
the energy input and what you get out of it, it cannot be sustainable. But the
other alternatives had political barriers and could not be realised. Who is
controlling the tap is a political question. Probably in time those political
issues can be solved.”

Richard Smith, group chair: carbon critical design at
Atkins, pointed out that the consultancy has had a presence in the region for
40 years, “and for the past ten we have had an agenda in sustainable design.
Carbon critical design is a sustainability culture in Atkins with a very strong
bias towards greenhouse gas reduction and mitigation. Ten years ago we had zero
projects with any sort of sustainable component within the Middle
East environment. Five years ago, it was about 5%, and quite a
challenge for us then. But today, of all our projects, about 70% have a strong
sustainability component within them, and at various levels of intensity, with
the majority sitting at the LEED Silver level, and a few Platinum.

“If we look at the cost-effectiveness of sustainable
projects, we are seeing up to 8% more capital investment for the top end, the
outstanding or Platinum-type projects. If we go to the other end and we do good
passive design, work on efficiency and we take those trade offs, we are seeing
up to 3% to 4% less at LEED Silver level. But at the end of it, with the rating
systems and all the tools we have to guide us, there is no substitute for good
design, and good design turns out to be sustainable.”

Good design

Ivar Krasinski, design director at consultancy Burt Hill,
agreed: “The beauty of sustainability is that it is good design. You do not
have to force yourself to have an idea. You have a serious of decisions to be
taken as determined by the context, the economic requirements, by the function
of the building, the energy and water use; everything starts to make sense, and
the design unfolds itself in front of you. All you have to do as the architect
is just be a scientist in a way and really put together all these different
disciplines and understand how they influence one another, and generate
something that then makes sense.

“In the past, people used to do that organically. You look
at traditional architecture all over the world, it responded to its local
climate. With very few exceptions, that is what people had to do, they had no
choice as it was too expensive to do it any other way. Now suddenly we have
come into this new phase where sustainability is just beginning, and some
people expect sustainability to be another type of style, so you expect to see
windmills and solar panels ... Clients sometimes think this building is not
sustainable because it does not look sustainable, but in reality if you look at
it from a design point of view, the exciting part is you can make a building
very sustainable, very cost efficient, and not make it look odd at all, and
have a solution that is the ultimate in elegance of design. So from a design
side, sustainability is not an add on, a new thing, it is actually returning to
the roots of what architects used to do, and now leveraging the technology we
have available to make sure we optimise all those different info streams and
get the best possible results, so it is really a very exciting time to be a
designer.”

Integrated

Mike Lewis, Middle East
director at Benoy, said it is “extremely important for architecture to become
more integrated in energy terms. We are going to see a change in the
architectural industry, certainly over the next five to ten years. I think we
also have to be aware of the bigger picture: things like investing in the
future, building a legacy for the next generation; we have really got to
consider what we have done for the last 100 years, what we are going to do for
the next 100 years, and what is the plan. If we do not have a plan, it is going
to continue to go horribly wrong, despite all of us talking about
sustainability, despite new energy modes. We have got to really think and
consider what that plan is and respond to it in a very sensible and considered
fashion. And it is not just about going green. There is no point in being
commercially non-viable but being green, it is about quality design and the
future investment for all of us. Perhaps it is all too late for us, so it is
for the next generation to take benefit from that. We have a chance to do
something about it.”

Duncan Swinhoe, principal at Gensler UK, said true
sustainability has “to go beyond the fabric of the building itself, the energy
use and the materials that go into it, and consider how the buildings are used,
and what is their ultimate purpose. An approach is to look at it from a very
holistic point of view. The whole purpose of a building is to support where we
live, and I think the way we live is changing. We have internalised our right
to resources, and a lot of sustainability is about behaviour.

I think that as architects we need to think very hard about
how our behaviour is changing, and how the architecture and technology
available enhances and supports that, so that we actually have truly
sustainable cities, true sustainable buildings. With all the technology and
materials around, it is very important not to lose sight of people and how they
use the buildings.

Ian Mulcahey, principal at Gensler UK, commented
on the impact of the global financial crisis: “One of the interesting things
about global financial crises around the world is that lots of countries and
cities are rethinking their priorities, and rethinking how their cities should
be developed, and that is no different in this region. From a planner’s
perspective it is a fantastic opportunity, because one of the things you
experience in the boom times is that the integration of development and
infrastructure often gets out of sync. “Development might get ahead of
infrastructure; development might be happening in the wrong places due to
various pressures. The recession has given us an opportunity to take stock and
rethink perhaps how our cities should be organised.”

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