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The big heat

As the temperature edges upwards, spending time outdoors becomes unattractive. Or does it?

Misting systems are one of the most effective means of climate control in the Middle East.
Misting systems are one of the most effective means of climate control in the Middle East.
Use of cool air and mist systems can lower temperatures by as much as 15?C
Use of cool air and mist systems can lower temperatures by as much as 15?C

As the temperature edges upwards, spending time outdoors becomes an increasingly unattractive option. Or does it? COD looks at ways to mitigate the heat.

Late one night not so long ago, the manager of a cooling solution supplier based in the UAE suddenly received a call from a representative of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.


A lot of people are looking for temperature from a thermometer, it doesn�t tell the whole story.

"My tigers are too hot. They are upset, pacing around. Can you come and sort it out? The representative said, the manager tells Commercial Outdoor Design. "I went the next day and set up some misting systems and the tigers were instantly refreshed. One was so keen to stay near the cool, it even leapt up into the air trying to reach one of the nozzles," he recalls.

Of course, it's not just Sheikh Mohammed's tigers that feel uncomfortable in the sweltering temperatures in the Middle East. As temperatures rise as high as 50°C, everyone is looking for ways to stay cool.

For businesses, the hot Middle Eastern summers are potentially disastrous. More than a mere discomfort, they potentially represent a huge loss of investment as carefully created outdoor spaces are shunned by visitors in favour of the air-conditioned comfort of the indoors.

For much of the year, the temperature in the region is over 30°C making outdoor spaces uncomfortable if not unbearable for most people.

For a long time, the solution appeared to be to move people indoors instead, as witnessed by the multiple interior malls in the region, but the huge number of new outdoor projects in the region has marked a turning point in development.

From theme parks to the exterior spaces of new hotels, from green parks to golf courses, the focus now is on the outdoor space, putting prolonged use of the exterior area on every investor's wish list.

You can't change the climate, but what you can do is mitigate it. New product innovations combined with time honoured wisdom mean that with a bit of careful planning and investment, there are ways to beat or at least modify the heat.

Heat island effect

One of the key things at the planning stage is orientation of the sites, says Stephen Oehme, regional director of value management and sustainability at consultancy firm Hyder.

"It's where you site the outdoor spaces, how you treat them, external shading, where you put the plantation, how you allow breeze and air to come in," he says. "A lot of places could be really great but are too stifled because of air movement."

Site orientation includes considering the direction of the sun, the interaction between buildings and the outdoor areas, and exploiting the potential of any natural breezes.

A key thing to avoid is the heat island effect, whereby an area has a higher temperature than its surrounding area because of a greater retention of heat.

Choice of outdoor surfaces, for example, can make a big difference to the temperature of an area, says Oehme.


There is a whole army of measures we use to modify the external climate of an outdoor space.

"If you've got dark asphalt outside as with roads, that really absorbs the heat. It heats up to a hot temperature and then radiates the heat...whereas if you've got highly reflective external paving and plants and transpiration is happening through the plants, you can bring the temperature down quite significantly, it can go by as much as 6-7°C," he says.

The old Bastakia district of Dubai, for example, is noticeably cooler than the streets surrounding it thanks in part to the light coloured stone used for its outdoor surfaces.

The use of plantation can also help to bring down temperatures, adds Oehme.

"The landscaping consumes water and the reason it consumes water is because of the trans evaporation from the plants so the plants use up the water and it goes into the air."

Incorporating shading can also help to lower the temperature by as much as several degrees depending on the location as can inclusion of water bodies.

One regional project that is making a concerted effort to control the climate through traditional cooling methods is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.

It plans to use a variety of strategies to keep temperatures down, including orientation of sites to capture winds from the sea and desert, the inclusion of shaded walkways and narrow streets, and significant use of green canopies.

Creation of a microclimate

Creation of a microclimate is another way that designers can help to extend use of the outdoor space.

"We can create spaces with tremendous microclimates," says Richard Smith, technical director of Atkins in the Middle East.

Orientation, planting, spillage of cold air from building, there is a whole army of measures that we use to modify the external climate of an outdoor space.

Create a hard square with concrete paviours and it will reflect heat and make a harsh uncomfortable environment that feels horrendous.

Go to an oasis where there is water and shade and you will feel a lot better. We can do that in the external environment.

Creation of a cooler area not only physically lowers the heat but also has a psychological effect, making people feel cooler, says Oehme.

"If it's 30°C outside, but your surfaces and everything around you are much cooler and not in the direct sun, you will feel cooler than if you were in a 30°C space and all of the walls and paving around you are radiating heat at you. A lot of people are looking for temperature from a thermometer, it doesn't tell the whole story," he says.

Climate control

Natural methods will only go so far, however, in controlling the climate, which is where the use of manmade products comes in.

There are currently a number of products on the market that will help to create a cooler environment.

Misting and cooling solutions are some of the most popular means of lowering air temperature in the region.

Use of such products can cool down areas by as much as 15°C in the immediate area, according to suppliers of misting and cooling products, which include Mist & Cool, Middle East Orange House, Outdoor Concepts, and CPM Mist.

Misting is the most successful means of trying to change the temperature, opines Geoff Sanderson, principal of landscape practice Green Concepts.

"If you try and cool the air in any other way, it can be very dry. What you've got to do is to work with a way that is going to not cause the plants to deteriorate in any way as well. Misting is the only way to do that," he says.

Misting and cooling solutions work by the creation of an ultra fine mist, which on contact with the surrounding air evaporates thus removing unwanted heat.

Demand for such products has shot up over the past few years in the region, with supplier Mist & Cool reporting that its business has doubled year on year since it set up operations in the Middle East five years ago.

Artificial shading can also help to keep temperatures down.


Keeping it cool

How regional projects plan to encourage greater use of exterior spaces.

"We will be designing an entire series of climate control features from simple shade covered walkways, to air cooled resting areas and complete indoor air conditioned plazas," said Gordon Dorrett, president of theme park designers Forrec, on the development of Universal Studios Dubailand. "The park will be designed so that during the hot summer months the guests will be able to move throughout the park and find comfortably cooled areas within each themed land. In addition, a number of the major rides and attractions will either be indoor or partially covered, while all queue lines and waiting areas will be fully shaded."

"A lot of the stuff that we're looking at is thinking of the micro climate and how to change that. We're not going to go in and put a dome over the city and change the climate on a global scale, you do it in a small way. One thing is using shade trees instead of palm trees on streetscapes, which makes a difference because you get a thicker heavier shade," said SWA Group principal, Kinder Baumgardner on the Arabian Canal. "We're also looking at things with paving systems, for example, using paving systems that maybe don't create the heat island effect and then locating buildings in a way that provides shade on these spaces."

"There is a colonnade that continues around the whole of the walk. You will get air conditioning spillage from all of the shops that are along here. The main thing is that you are out of the sun. It may be that we investigate in the future climate controlling this space. There is an expense in doing that and the hope is that it will work naturally ventilated," James Abbott, director of P&T Architects and Engineers on the Wadi Walk area of City of Arabia.


André van Heerden, managing partner of thatched roofing specialist and timber supplier Cape Reed, estimates that up to 5°C difference in temperature can be achieved under its thatch roofs, for example.

Shading and misting systems can also be combined as in the creation of the new microclimate outdoor cooling system from Space Breeze.

Use of its Space Breeze CP7 can bring down temperatures by up to 15°C, and by an additional 9°C by inclusion of the optional misting system, according to the company.

Richard Ellicot, vice president of Space Breeze, said that he expects to see a large rise in demand for the Space Breeze CP7 on the back of the no smoking ban in indoor spaces.

The product has already generated a lot of interest from the Middle East, particularly from its target customer of hoteliers, he added.

The benefits of enabling prolonged time in the outdoors for businesses are obvious. The more time a visitor spends out of doors, the more they will enjoy their visit to the Middle East, and the more money they will spend at outdoor eating and drinking amenities and other exterior facilities.

It is hardly surprising therefore that more attention than ever before is being given to developing tools and techniques that will make the outdoor space usable even in the hottest months of the year.


Case study

Wild Wadi is one of Dubai's most popular attractions, drawing thousands of people every year. Roger Nickells, director of Middle East Atkins, the firm that did the masterplan for the outdoor water park, gives an insight into how it keeps customers coming year round.

"When we were designing Wild Wadi, we were highly conscious of the overall dynamics of people in this kind of environment. The design looked at a number of factors including:

Water temperatures. We needed to ensure that water temperatures are responsive to the changes in the external ambient temperature and thus provided a solution, which allowed a sensible variance making sure that people were kept cool but not cold.

Shading. We carried out fairly extensive analysis of the sun's path over an annual cycle so that we could create a solution with plenty of shade provided by structures, landscape and then by active shade structures, which allowed a level of controlled shading.

This has been very successful and has been developed by the operator as the design has progressed. We also concentrated shading where queuing takes place. For example, all of the food outlet queues are covered by structures, and the eating areas by fixed shading.

Misting / Fogging. We used misting solutions in a variety of scenarios again predominantly in areas where queuing forms. We also used lots of fans to create air movement.

The environment. The simple act of designing the park with lots of water moving, not just in the rides creates a cool experience, so we used every opportunity to use the return water path from the rides to throw water around, make it visible and to generate waterfall that people could stand under.

Path cooling. While the ambient air temperature may get up to 45-50°C here the contact temperature of metallic objects in the sun goes much higher, so we avoided metalwork wherever we could.

This logic also applies to the floor treatments, in addition to shade we used a path cooling system, which provides water movement and pockets of cool throughout the park."


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