Passing facade

CW looks at the impact of sustainability on the use of glass

The UAE is looking to restrict the use of glass in building fa?ades.
The UAE is looking to restrict the use of glass in building fa?ades.

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One does not have to look far for evidence of the popularity of glass in the GCC. Be it Manama, Doha, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi or Dubai, weird and wonderful glass towers permeate the city skyline, shining – baking, even – in the hot summer sun.

Not that the Middle East is alone in its love of the shiny stuff. Across the US, Europe and China, architects have been knocking up glass towers since the very earliest days of high-rise construction. It is just that, in most of these markets, temperatures do not reach 50°C for weeks on end, turning tall towers into greenhouses.

Given this trend, it is little surprise that new regulations published last year by the Department of Municipal Affairs in Abu Dhabi came as such a shock to the industry.

The emirate decreed that, in the future, designers will be encouraged – perhaps even compelled – to cover only 30% of the façade of new buildings in glass, or the option to limit solar gain to 30% of the design.

“I think it is going to change the whole look and feel of the city,” said Nathan Hones, GM of Abu Dhabi-based architectural firm Stride Treglown. “You are almost heading back towards the JBR [Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai] type of building massing.”

Hones said that, while the regulation will undoubtedly make things difficult for designers and developers, the crackdown on glass was somewhat inevitable.

There are ways of limiting the impact of heat gain on the glass, using low ‘U-value’ glass, but at the end of the day, limiting glass itself has a massive impact on sustainability.

“You can understand why they have made this decision, in terms of trying to stop the heat before it gets into the building. Sure, you can do that by using low U-value glass, but there is nothing like soaking it up with a solid mass,” he said.

But the question remains how far Abu Dhabi will go to enforce the new regulations, said Paul Haslam, business development manager at façade consultant Multiforms. Certainly in other markets in the GCC, glass towers are going up left, right and centre.

“I can show you two towers in Riyadh that we have worked on that do not have a single solid panel on them. It is completely glazed. So it depends where you are in the world,” he said. That said, there has been a drive in the façade industry towards more sustainable usage of glass, and just because a tower appears to be solid glazed, it does not mean it is one big greenhouse.

“The vogue now is to add in solid features, either in precast or glass reinforced concrete (GRC), so they have strips of GRC behind the glass. Is it 30%? Probably not. But it is definitely moving somewhere,” said Haslam.
“The changes in glass now relate to what you can do to improve the performance of the glass, if you are over your percentage. And glass is improving in terms of the coatings, technology, etc.” he added.

“The key is price. As a façade specialist in the current market, coming in with an expensive bid at the tendering process, however sustainable the glass may be, is suicide.

Even firms such as Foster & Partners can only get away with building highly sustainable projects because they have understanding clients. A one-off, small developer in Saudi Arabia is unlikely to want to pay a premium either for a solid façade, or for high-quality sustainable glass.”

This is a point which Schott Middle East MD Kiomars Dabbagh concurs with. Schott has developed glass that is capable of absorbing solar energy, known as building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass, but the premium is such that while interest is high, uptake is slow; in fact, it is almost non-existent.

“The downside, of course, is cost. While we have had a lot of enquiries, to date we have not executed any projects.” Dabbagh said that when he arrived in the UAE from Canada, he was surprised to find so much glazing in such an extreme climate.

At the end of the day, the regulations are necessary, and will serve to drive the industry to come up with new products.

“We owe it to ourselves to be careful about how we build. We have got to take responsibility. The large-scale use of glass in the construction industry in areas of extreme climate can lead to problems that we have to live with,” he said.

“It is good to shake up people in the industry, to create awareness and to say you need to be more responsible in terms of the design itself.

“It also forces the industry to be more creative, as opposed to just copying what was popular somewhere else.”

The move towards sustainability in the construction industry is not likely to sound the death knell for iconic buildings in the region, according to VE Solutions director of development Eugene Siterman.

“We are of the opinion that the glass tower in the desert, and iconic buildings in general, will always be there, as these bring character to a region and a city.

“The point is not to avoid glass totally so as to reduce energy consumption, but to respond to the engineering challenges posed, by working with the architects and developers to create materials and high-efficiency systems to overcome the potential negative impacts.

“That is how a lot of technology evolves, through human desire to go beyond and achieve something more,” says Siterman.

In the emirate of Dubai, meanwhile, a federal green building code that will limit glass to 60% on external façades of Dubai’s structures will be implemented in 2014, according to the Dubai Municipality.

Eisa Al Maidoor, assistant director-general for planning and building affairs, Dubai Municipality said the code, which was approved by the Executive Council in August 2010, is not a ratings system as such, but a law that all buildings will have to follow before being issued with a building permit.

“In three years, all buildings will have to show compliance with the Dubai Municipality’s building code, which includes regulations on glass, water and waste management,” said Al Maidoor. Buildings that have more than 60% glass will need to provide shade in accordance with extra amount, he added.

“The next three years are a trial period to make sure we have enough materials, and that the code does not affect the market. We thought about making this transition period just one year, but decided it was too short,” he said.

Government buildings will have to meet the criteria as from the beginning of this year, said Dr Rashid Bin Fahd, UAE Minister of Environment and Water.

“We have always been keen to incorporate the environmental dimension in all of our developmental plans.

Realising the pressures imposed by the urban development boom, the UAE has given much importance to applying sustainable solutions in construction, including transforming the city into green areas, which in turn will reduce the carbon footprint,” said Bin Fahd.

Al Maidoor added that, internally, buildings will need appropriate management, and will have to calculate their performance. Around 155 global building practices were studied in compiling the Dubai building code, which will comprise 79 clauses.

“The cost of building has increased between 3% and 5%, but we can cover the costs of building greener buildings from what we save in electricity and water,” said Al Maidoor.

Of the 79 clauses, 18 will apply to design, 27 to quality of materials, and seven to electricity and water. Other clauses take into consideration recycling, waste management and indoor air quality.

Self-cleaning glass launched in the UAE
An eco-friendly glass with a chemically-treated surface that keeps away dirt and grime has been launched in the UAE by Emirates Glass LLC.

VitroGlaze is a permanent treatment that prevents the adhesion and build-up of contaminates on the glass surface. It also provides oil- and water-repellent properties, eliminating the need for harsh chemical solutions and reducing cleaning time by almost 90%.

“VitroGlaze guarantees clean glass. Its self-cleaning property saves time and water consumption. Harsh chemicals that are used to clean normal glass are usually washed off into the soil and contaminate it, but the use of VitroGlaze eliminates this environmental hazard,” said Glass LLC senior VP: sales and marketing Ziad Yazbeck.

“VitroGlaze products are perfect for villas, buildings and other establishments that use a lot of glass for outdoor façades,” said Yazbeck.

VitroGlaze is coated with titanium dioxide on the outer surface of the glass, which gives it the self-cleaning property. It cleans itself in two stages. The first stage is the action of light on the surface of the glass that basically eats away the dirt on the surface.

The next process ensures that any water that falls on the surface forms sheets and washes away dirt uniformly. The glass spreads the water evenly over its surface, without forming droplets.

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