New building regulations help to preserve tradition
Lauren Willington examines the new building regulations aimed at preserving the integrity of a city's aesthetic.
There are 54 official World Heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa, ranging from the Salahuddin Citadel in Cairo to the Sacred Complex of Babylon in Iraq, according to Unesco. All of these locations hold historical and cultural value and there are regulations in place to protect and conserve them.
The varying degrees of regulation within each country have shaped the way in which construction has evolved, and the industry has adapted to suit the cultural and historical needs.
Currently, the UAE has identified 2,200 archeological and historical sites within its borders. But no regulations are yet in place to protect them. Because of this, buildings that may have historical or cultural relevance cannot be registered with Unesco.
But this is set to change with the planned Dubai Architecture regulations, which could be in place early next year. The move is being made in a bid to protect the Arabic heritage of the region and prevent the proliferation of unsustainable Western-style architecture in Dubai.
"Once the regulations have been implemented, we can register our buildings as World Heritage sites," said Rashad Bukhash, director, general project department, Dubai Municipality. "We have surveyed historic buildings in the UAE and right now we have more than 2,200 archeological and historical sites in the UAE, but none of them are registered with the World Heritage Centre because there are no laws in the country at the moment."
Height regulations on buildings are not just related to the cultural impact they could have; laws are also in place for the environmental conservation of sites.
Sama Dubai's The Lagoons is a prime example of this: the project had height restrictions imposed on buildings planned close to the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, so that they would act as a buffer to the high-rise structures in the centre of the development.
In other areas of the Middle East, projects have been postponed to ensure they comply with conservation requirements.
This can lead to costly developments, as Khaled Nassar, director of the Cairo Financial Centre project (CFC), found out: "For the full commitment of the requirements of Unesco, CFC has spent approximately US $1 million (EGP 5.5million) on completing full executive drawings for the project. This has required co-ordination with more than seven consulting and engineering firms to ensure speedy and detailed drawings required at the highest level," he said.
Such setbacks pose the question: could architectural regulations restrict a developer's freedom to construct? "On the contrary, we encourage and look forward to regulations that protect and enhance places of historical interest within the UAE," said Dr Rula Sadik, general manager - design & planning for Nakheel's The Design Group.
"Great cities are a wonderful and dynamic blend of old and new, of ethnic and cosmopolitan urban forms, and of modern and traditional architecture. Cities with layers of history that can be read visually and experienced physically are more attractive and interesting places to residents and visitors alike. We are ready to provide full support for the protection of places of historical interest."
Sadik added that it is important to protect and enhance traditional and historical architecture for several reasons.
"First and foremost, historical architecture provides roots - and once you have roots you can explore, experiment and transform places," she said.
The integration of the old and the new enhances the sense of place and identity. It also provides a natural and essential mechanism for the preservation and passing on of memories of places and cultures."
Bhukash agreed that, as long as the government and developers follow a set of guidelines, a balance could be struck to save the very small percentage of historical sites that the UAE has left.
"The area of the historical sites in Dubai is about 1% of the total area of the city," he said.
"It's not just of importance - it is a necessity to keep it, and if we just get rid of the 1% then we are people with no history, no culture and no civilization."