Four steps to go green

With sustainability a hot topic, how do developers make their projects green?

ANALYSIS, Projects

With sustainability a hot topic, how do developers make their projects green?

Almost overnight, the issue of green building has risen to the top of the agenda for the GCC's construction industry.

Until a few years ago anyone advocating green building may have been stereotyped as a far-out hippy.

In 2004, we gave a speech about the principles of green building and we were almost booed off the stage.

Yet the realisation that global warming is a reality has meant that the concept of going green has been embraced by big business.

The Gulf region is known to be the least eco-friendly part of the planet.

And the construction industry was proven to be one of the worst culprits in adding to its huge carbon footprint.

But now, coupled with the drive to create the tallest and largest structures in the world is a desire to prove that the region can lead the way in sustainable construction.

Already, the world's first building with integrated wind turbines - the Bahrain World Trade Center in Manama - is nearing completion.

And last month, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company revealed more about its plans to build the first zero-carbon city in the world.

The US $15 billion (AED55 billion) Masdar City, designed by Lord Norman Foster, will make use of solar power to provide much of the city's energy.

And in Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has said that all new buildings must be sustainable.

As developers announce their latest ground-breaking projects, more and more of them are keen to boast that the building will have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status.

But what are the actual processes that architects, developers, consultants and contractors need to go through to make their buildings more green?

One of the leaders in the region in promoting the concept is Atkins.

The company has worked on some of the best-known projects in the region, including the Burj Al Arab and the Bahrain World Trade Center.

Richard Smith, technical director, Atkins, believes that the process of green building requires four stages.

He says these are passive design; improved engineering; recovery strategy and the use of renewables.

Passive design means creating the building in the virtual world. It involves generating a computer model of the building to create better orientation and insulation.

In conjunction with these state-of-the-art techniques, architects are finding inspiration from buildings from the past.

Before the advent of air-conditioning and artificial heating, constructing buildings with thick walls was the only way of retaining heat.

But now designers are endorsing the creation of more ‘gothic' styles of buildings to save energy.

Another concept is the use of shaded courtyards that retain cool air.

Because of the region's extreme heat, this was a common practice in construction in the Middle East for centuries.

Better engineering is the actual techniques used to construct the building and can take place in both the civil and MEP stages.

Recovery strategy is used after the building is complete to reduce energy and water consumption.

Among the techniques being advocated in the Middle East are recycling ‘grey' water, from showers and baths; and planting reed beds to recycling toilet waste.

The final stage, renewables, includes the installation of features such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But it can also include social, economic and environmental methods to encourage users of the building to be more eco-friendly.

Mixed-use developments are central to this philosophy as they give residents a place to live, work, play and shop, thus cutting down on the need to use their cars.

Smith believes that the Middle East is gradually coming round to following all of these techniques.

But, he says, the rest of the world had also been slow to embrace green building.

"We are now trying to return to a more traditional style of architecture. But it has not been an easy ride for us."

"In 2004, we gave a speech about the principles of green building and we were almost booed off the stage."

"We mentioned integrating solar panels and wind turbines into a building and it was seen as a radical idea."

"But now the idea is almost becoming the norm - there has been a complete change in attitude from the industry."

The Bahrain World Trade Center is perhaps the most high-profile of Atkins' projects.

The 50-storey, 240m-high structure will have three 29m-wide wind turbines placed between its twin towers, which will generate between 11 and 15% of the building's energy.

The building was designed in 2005 and is due for completion later this year.

Shaun Killa, design director, Atkins, says that although financial incentives are partly responsible for the green building boom in the Middle East, it is the public's desire to live in sustainable environments that is the main driving factor.

He says: "If everything is done properly, then it will only cost about 2% more to construct a green building.

"But as the public begins to want to have a sustainable way of living, developers will find that they can sell a lot easier.

"Research has proven that people who live in sustainable buildings are much happier people - they are less stressed and their children do better at school.

"So if developers can make this clear, they are going to find that their sustainable buildings become the most desirable places to live."

Heath Andersen, associate director, sustainability and renewables, Whitby & Bird Engineers, also believes that buying into the public's desire to be eco-friendly would force the industry to go green.

He says: "Northern Europe, followed by the UK, US and Australia accepted these changes because that's what the buyers of property wanted.

"In the first instance, in the Middle East, the incentive was a commercial activity because developers could see that more could be made from renting spaces because green buildings are marketable.

"And because of Sheikh Mohammed's recent declaration, the industry is being pushed from above as well."

Anderson adds that as long as green building experts are employed from the beginning of a project, the region should not have any difficulties in becoming more eco-friendly.

He says: "One of the key aspects towards constructing a successful green building is the integrated design process, where the design team is engaged early and thoroughly.

"If you get them on board piecemeal you struggle to get the consistency across the board.

"Until recently it was kind of done in an ad-hoc fashion, but now we are seeing architects and developers consulting with engineers right from the start."

Andersen says the use of an engineer with an expert in sustainability at an early stage could actually mean constructing green buildings would not add extra costs.

He also said computer models can be used to find cost-efficient solutions.

"If the client is into saving energy, we can work with mechanical engineers to install different types of air-conditioning systems."

"So we would mock up the building with a 3D computer simulation and show the energy systems over the year to see which one performs the most efficiently and loses the least energy."

"We can then get to work with the quantity surveyor and get costs associated with that to work out the savings every year and for the actual lifecycle of the building."

By doing this, gaining LEED silver certification should not increase costs, he says.

"But once you start pushing for gold and platinum you will see some significant cost increases."

"What this will be is pretty hard to say, because a lot of it depends on the contractors and how confident they are on delivering these buildings."

But Andersen is convinced that the industry would soon find green building is the norm.

"There will be some teething problems here in Dubai as we have jumped into it with two feet" he adds.

"But there are enough clients, architects and engineers out here to push it through."

"So we are definitely making a step in the right direction."

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