Building with an eye on technological innovation

Investment in technology by the real estate sector has been traditionally low. But with the new green building code and ever increasing demand for complex megaprojects, Angela Giuffrida reports on how new technology is set to dictate success.

Pacific Control Systems LLC, ANALYSIS, Business

Investment in technology by the real estate sector has been traditionally low. But with the new green building code and ever increasing demand for complex megaprojects, Angela Giuffrida reports on how new technology is set to dictate success.

Despite defining the success of many construction projects, technology still makes up a relatively small proportion of a project's overall costs.

There are examples of real estate in the UAE where new technology has been the primary focus of design, with some buildings bearing a 'futuristic' look and lending themselves to 'hi-tech' living, such as Omniyat's The Pad and The Opus.

When I first saw the designs for Palm Jebel Ali, I thought it was science fiction.

Other projects have been steered by sustainability to invest heavily in technological innovation. One such project is the Pacific Control headquarters, which was the first building in the UAE to receive Platinum Leed status.

"It's a concept where the building is able to operate and perform on its own, using energy from the sun and the wind," said Dilip Rahulan, chairman & CEO, Pacific Control.

"The technology used in the building also makes it totally holistic, meaning that every service is integrated and optimised.

The technology available today has enabled such projects to be relatively easily executed. But there was a time when designs for developments were far more advanced than the technology needed to make them work.

When the concept for Nakheel's Palm island projects was first conceived in 2001, the main concern was acquiring technical solutions, particularly when it came to land reclamation, for delivering the project.

"When I first saw the designs for Palm Jebel Ali, I thought it was science fiction," said Marwan Al Qamzi, managing director, Palm Jebel Ali.

"I doubted it at the time because many of the technical solutions needed for our work weren't available. We overcame the challenge by partnering with companies and working closely to find solutions.

We also worked closely with researchers to help us reach our project goals. And now, in 2008, Dubai has become well known everywhere because of the Palm islands.

Al Qamzi added that ensuring the successful use of technology requires much more than creativity and financial investment.

"In our learning, we found that innovation also needs solid skills in place and reliability, as well as the commitment of management and the willingness to try new things - it requires a long-term commitment across the entire organisation.

Organisations must also provide an environment and process whereby the knowledge is shared across the company.

According to Al Qamzi, for the real estate industry to incorporate new technical solutions it needs to understand all the technology needed in a project; evaluate the merits and disadvantages of that particular technology, and have access to acquiring it.

"Everyone may have an idea, but not everyone can convert that idea into reality. It comes through proper planning, devotion and hard work," he said.

As project design in the region gets more complex, there will be even more demand on technology, although one of the drawbacks will be the availability of contractors that have the technological capacity for construction.


"There are many projects here that have needed technological requirements and many more megaprojects will demand even more technology, such as the Arabian Canal," said Al Qamzi.

"At the moment, there aren't really any contractors available with the technology to deliver projects like this.

The drive towards sustainability will inevitably mean a need for greater research and investment in developing 'green' technologies.

Technology might be a bigger cost capital initially, but it creates opportunity to save money.

And part of that process will mean finding solutions to conserving and transmitting energy.

"US $1.7 billion a year is wasted in the US just by leaving PCs on overnight. Buildings consume 50% of the world's energy," said Amr Salam of CISCO.

"The real estate industry is the biggest in the world - from the budget to the number of people working in it, to the other sectors that depend on it. And regardless of what happens in other markets, the real estate industry will continue to grow.

Technology might be a bigger cost capital initially, but it creates opportunity to save money and improve the user experience.

Integrating different functions of a building through wireless technology is also expected to be a major driving force for key developers in the region, particularly with the rise in cost of copper.

"The use of wireless is very effective; having multiple cables and systems creates lots of waste and expense," said Bernie Devine, senior manager, IT and Operations, Nakheel.

Devine added that under Dubai's new Strata property regulations, there will be a greater emphasis on IT infrastructure in buildings.

Developers will also need to adapt technology to the needs and wants of end-users.

"Some of the regulations will have an impact IT infrastructure," he said.

"But if we don't do something about it then it won't happen - we've got to help ourselves. Technology for technology sake isn't what this is about. We really need to understand what customers and the community want and need.

"The technologies and solutions we deliver not only enable sustainability in our communities, but they are the key for sustainability.

Devine added that a mix of vision and the ability to execute is needed to ensure technology is delivered successfully. The real estate sector also needs to be able to coordinate the solutions across developments and work closely with partners when it comes to research and development.

"Historically, the real estate industry's investment in IT has been quite low compared to other industries. But in the last 10 years that's changed dramatically. The developer and customers have to lead the way.

The use of technology during all phases of the project lifecycle would benefit all partners - and there's lots of evidence to demonstrate that.

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