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Light + strong concrete = tall, green buildings

on Jul 8, 2009

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By Gareth Moores

As cutting costs remains the overwhelming pre-occupation for construction industries throughout the globe, maximising space by building tall offers an attractive solution. Gareth Moores, executive chairman of Lytag Ltd, explores how secondary aggregate can allow the innovative and sustainable design of tall buildings to go hand in hand with cost efficiency.

A 2009 study conducted by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) shows that more tall buildings were completed in 2008 than ever before. Despite underperforming economies and some of the highest profile tall projects being put on hold, the CTBUH expects 2009 to be near the ‘08 pace thanks to booms in Asia and the Middle East.

Lasting icons of expansion, power and supremacy, tall buildings remain a developer’s dream, raising the profile of the area in which they are located and the value of the property and land that surround them.

The tall building debate

The trend to build tall looks set to last far longer than the current economic downturn. Buildings are reaching new heights—when completed later this year, at over 800 metres the Burj Dubai will be the tallest building in the world and there remain a number of planned projects that promise to climb still higher.

But even as building tall becomes the norm across the globe, the concept is not without controversy. Debate over the impact of skyscrapers on our environment is especially pronounced in London, where high-profile figures including the Prince of Wales have lamented the changes that have been made to the London skyline.

Elsewhere in Europe, the French Green Party rallied against building tall in Paris and the UN’s Education, Science & Culture Organisation (UNESCO) opposed plans for new skyscrapers in Prague. But despite negative media coverage, as urban population numbers increase the global tall building phenomenon shows no sign of waning.

Much is expected of tall building designs by today’s clients and occupants, and even more will be demanded by those of tomorrow. Architects’ plans must optimise floor space and buildings must offer the finest level of purpose-specific performance. Creating innovative and original designs that capture people’s imagination is crucial for both commercial and residential buildings.  While addressing the needs of the end-user has also become obligatory to stay ahead of the competition. 

Building sustainably

The environment has become a priority for developers and the construction industry as end-users increasingly expect to live and work in green buildings—a trend that is only fuelled by the targets and legislation put in place by governments worldwide. A case in point: The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, for example, launched the Estidama Buildings & Communities Programme in 2008 to promote sustainable development in the country, conceived to initially support ‘Plan Abu Dhabi 2030’. Also in the UAE, the Dubai Municipality is in the process of ironing out the kinks in its new green building regulations for the desert city.

Industry response has been positive and is becoming increasingly global – the first international standard for sustainable construction was launched in 2008 by the ISO, allowing the industry to judge performance against an international benchmark.  The creation of bodies such as the Emirates Green Building Council in 2006 to join the global Green Building Council network further demonstrates that sustainability has risen high up the industry’s collective agenda.
However, as property and construction companies around the world struggle against the global economic downturn, there has been debate over whether or not the sustainability agenda remains relevant. There can be no doubt that the need to lower the environmental impact of construction is greater than ever—an April 2009 report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) warned that countries throughout the world must put in place stronger building regulations if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. 

The fact is, these environmental concerns are supported by good business sense. The astute response to times of economic difficulty is not to dismiss sustainability but instead to incorporate it into the construction process holistically, thereby maximising the business benefits that sustainability can offer.

Industries across the UK have already suffered heavily from the downturn that is facing the Middle East, with the construction industry being one of the hardest hit. So, what can be learnt from the UK? 

Clients and contractors looking to make efficiencies now and in the future have recognised that sustainable practices can help their businesses through times of economic difficulty. This realisation has enabled UK companies to make considerable time and cost efficiencies and given them a crucial competitive advantage.

As the downturn filters through to the UAE construction industry, clients and contractors of the Middle East would do well to remember this message.