MEP Middle East visits Al Ain's Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre
MEP Middle East is taken on a tour of the stunning Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre. Gavin Davids reports on an MEP engineering feat like no other
Hunkered down amongst the desert dunes outside the tranquil oasis town of Al Ain, the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre is shaping up to be one of the UAE’s most iconic structures, synonymous with the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab as marvels of engineering ingenuity and daring.
Conceived as a convergence between education and entertainment, the SZDLC has been designed as a monumental tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE.
Located in the middle of the massive Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, the Centre will be the hub of a project that not only embraces conservation, but is also right at the forefront of energy efficiency and sustainable green building in the UAE.
With this in mind, the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre will be a crucial factor in the overall success of the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort project.
The designers of the building have employed the latest and most innovative of systems to help ensure that the building achieves the highest levels of energy performance. In fact, the SZDLC has been so successful in achieving this, Estidama have awarded them with a five pearl rating, the first time ever a government sustainable development project has attained the benchmark.
Fundamental to this recognition has been the MEP work that has been designed and installed in the building.
These high-end systems have made the building completely self sustainable and self-reliant, says Bassam Al Otaibi, director of Project Management at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort.
“When we talk about the site as a whole, the highest sustainability standards were followed, starting with the Wadi systems collecting storm water in a big pond and allowing it to penetrate back into the ground. Even the plants were chosen in a careful way so as to ensure that they would not require a lot of irrigation water,” he explains.
“The irrigation water is 100% treated sewage water and the system of irrigation also is being taken care to reduce the consumption of water, it’s a drip type,” he adds.
Nothing is left to chance when it comes to the site, with even trees being removed, relocated and returned in their entirety to ensure that there is no environmental damage caused to the site, even with construction on going.
When it comes to powering the project, the SZDLC is backed up with a fully functioning 1100m2 solar plant that generates hot water for the Korean built absorption chiller, the first one in the UAE.
In addition, the roof is covered with photovoltaic solar panels that will generate 236MW a year, while shaving 17% off the building’s energy usage.
Overall, the building will contain a wealth of energy saving measures that will cut consumption by 40%.
Maan Al Hatamleh, MEP manager for Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, says that the building has both advanced and conventional energey saving systems to help it achieve the required LEED and Estidama ratings.
One example of this, he points out, is that the lighting systems in the front of house areas are LED, which are linked to an advanced lighting control system that helps control their usage.
“We have motion detectors, photo-sense for the upper levels, so that in case the daylight is strong, the system will be dimmed to have a certain level of light, maybe 60% or 70%, depending on the atmosphere and light levels outside,” he explains.
“The control system is very flexible. We have certain stations for lighting control panels, in addition to motion detectors and photo-sense,” Al Hatamleh adds.
Working in tandem with the project’s main contractor, Zublin, the centre also has a number of standard systems such as security and access control systems operating. More than 85 CCTVs are installed on site, both internally and externally, with locations picked out according to the security system design team so as to ensure optimum performance.
All these security systems are linked to one main control command centre, which is also directly linked to the building management system, thereby creating a streamlined process that ensures that all operations run smoothly and efficiently.
“All units directly interface with the BMS, so there is the flexibility to control all these systems. Everything from CCTV, to lighting control to access systems, counting people in the main entrance and in the theatre, it is all interfaced with the data system.”
Furthermore, in the event of a fire, the building’s smoke extraction systems are specifically designed to cope with the situation while causing minimal disruption to normal everyday operations.
“Usually in traditional buildings, it (the fire system) is a mechanical system. Here the building design uses a natural system. In case of a fire scenario, some of the windows will be opened automatically so that the smoke will go by natural flow externally and there is no need for mechanical fans or systems,” he explains, adding that the system has already been approved by the Abu Dhabi’s civil defence authority.
This specially designed system is present throughout the building, including the 250 seat theatre. It is also completely automated and connected to the civil defence service, he says, adding that it was designed by CAP, the building’s designers.
In addition to these systems, the building’s HVAC units have also received tremendous attention from the MEP consultants, IC Consultants and the main contractor on the project, as Al Hatamleh explains.
“The combinations of systems you find here, maybe you won’t see them in another place because we have multi-systems working together to achieve the best and optimum cooling load for this building.”
“We start with the fresh air from outside the building, which in the hot summer, can reach up to 45˚.
The air heat exchanger will take the fresh air about 8 metres under the ground and around the building, which means it will travel about a 100 metres or more, and then go into the building with temperatures reduced by 7°C or 8°C, bringing the air temperature down to 38°C from 45°C, to reach the fresh air handling units. This will reduce their energy consumption,” he explained.
There are eight pipes transporting the fresh air underground, each one about a meter in diameter, he adds. In addition, the fresh air handling units have multi-stage coils with thermal wheels, which will take the hot, fresh air and combine it with the cold air from the thermal exhausts, thereby reducing the energy consumption some more.
The project has two types of chillers: The first is the absorption chiller, which uses minimal amounts of electricity to operate small pumps and depends on chemical reactions to operate.
It takes hot water from the solar farm and turns it into cold water, which is then pumped throughout the building, under the concrete slabs and into the ceilings.
This passive cooling method cools down about 15% of the building, and thereby reducing the peak load during the summer.
“It is giving us 15% of the total cooling load in general, which is about 650tons, so this gives us about a 100tons through passive cooling. Plus the air heat exchanger is very important. (Because of it) for more than four months of the year, we don’t do need chillers in the building,” Al Hatamleh says, “You could say that about 30% of the total energy used in a building can be saved by using heat exchanges,” he adds.
Bassam Al Otaibi points out that the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre took a lot of inspiration from Masdar City when it came to designing the building’s smart systems.
One example of this is in the venting systems, which have dedicated sensors that link to the BMS and monitor and automatically adjust the flow and usage of air through them.
“In each pipe, in each location, we have sensors that are controlled by building management systems. All valves, all filters, all AHUs, all equipments are controlled automatically by the BMS. Nothing is manual,” says Al Hatamleh proudly.
“We have two sensors, before and after the filter, that tell us the status of the filter, whether it’s blocked or dirty, then we can come in and fix it,” he continues.
So much effort has gone into the planning of the MEP systems for the centre, they have actually taken up a significant chunk of the project’s budget, according to Al Otaibi.
“MEP cost is about 40% of the total cost, that’s around one third of the total budget. This is because the MEP systems were very expensive and sophisticated,” he says, adding that the air heat exchanger is the ultimate proof of the commitment they have to not using traditional, energy intensive air cooling units to cool the building.
One of the largest systems of its type in the UAE, if not in the region, the exchanger’s ducts extend through the building, linking all four levels and providing cooled, fresh desert air throughout.
Standing on the centre’s terrace that overlooks Jebel Hafeet mountain, Al Otaibi is in a contemplative mood as he concludes the tour.
“I’m convinced that this project will be one of the UAE’s landmark buildings when it is completed,” he says, before adding that he hopes the building will come to reflect the UAE’s journey towards sustainability and green building.