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Face to Face: Dr Sandra Piesik

by Kim Kemp on Jul 1, 2015


Dr Sandra Piesik uses plant material for building sustainable structures.
Dr Sandra Piesik uses plant material for building sustainable structures.

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Piesik said: “We [the design and build team} are absolutely delighted with the completion of The Sabla in Al Ain as it is the first modern date palm leaf building in the Middle East, resurrecting a 7,000 year-old tradition of date palm construction.

“I am also pleased that we managed to provide a hybrid solution in terms of technological innovation and apart from date palm leaf grid structure we are covering our building with a tensile fabric roof.”

This addition comes courtesy of Mehler Texnologies and Ocma Emirates Industries while the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and its local Al Ain Historic Environment Department have also backed the project.

Piesik explained that the development needs to be put into a wider context. She said: “Whether we believe in man-made climate change or are sceptics, global population growth is a fact.

Statistics are telling us that we are overusing this planet’s resources by 1.5 times and some economies such as the USA are overusing finite resources four times over. With the current rate of exploitation of finite natural resources and population growth we need to implement holistic sustainable solutions for the build environment.”

Piesik said: “Desert regions in particular have high temperatures and materials commonly used in a temperate climate – such as concrete, steel and glass – heat up to 50% more than natural materials. This is why where possible, use of natural materials is preferable for thermal comfort and reduction of energy required for cooling.

“I also think that we need to consider economic growth and try to connect construction industry to socio-economic and development issues. Of the global population living in desert regions, 42% is facing poverty. Technologies connected to use of natural materials such as dry palm leaves can create employment.

“The UAE has 1% of arable land. The Middle East has predominately desert eco-systems and through the millennia the use of natural materials, in particular date palm, was also connected to the development of culture in the region.

This lead to technological innovations in passive systems of building cooling, first recorded an estimated 10,000 years ago. Whilst shaping contemporary built environment there is a need to foster cultural continuity of indigenous people of the region.”

She added that although resources are limited by the size of the country, she anticipates that there will be a similar approach to this use of natural resource within Qatar.

“Things are happening there,” she assured and added “we want to initiate projects there as the country is active and open-minded and they are very proactive.”

Currently there are various United Nations agencies addressing issues of climate change. Piesik presented her project in the form of a paper during The UN Convention to Combat Desertification 3rd Scientific Conference held in Cancun, Mexico which was entitled: “Combating Drought, Land Degradation and Desertification for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development. The Contribution of Science, Technology, Traditional Knowledge and Practices”.

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