The right balance: Effective MEP design in the GCC

Mohsen Haj Hassan outlines the delicate balance that MEP designers must strike in order to satisfy the diverse requirements of clients and authorities in the GCC

Mohsen Haj Hassan is a mechanical engineer and site supervisor for Khatib & Alami (K&A).
Mohsen Haj Hassan is a mechanical engineer and site supervisor for Khatib & Alami (K&A).

For many, the economic crisis of the last decade is fast becoming a distant memory. The construction sector in the GCC – especially that of the UAE – has witnessed functional growth and improvement during recent years. Increasing populations, domestic and foreign investment, and government spending have combined to drive a substantial uptick within the sector.

This progress is particularly evident within the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) sphere. Major GCC projects have forced construction companies to work harder in order to cope with growing levels of demand, and to accommodate diverse project requirements.

Most projects in the UAE, for example, could be placed within the ‘fast-track’ category. Consequently, the value of design engineering has been elevated. Clients are constantly trying to identify designs that best suit their needs, and this has made it more strenuous for design engineers, who are having to invest more time and effort into meeting expectations.

One key challenge facing MEP engineers is a lack of coordination between those on site. Confusion can result in financial and time-related losses. Contractors can suffer due to repetitive work and the overuse of materials, both of which can lead to project delays and overspending.

In addition, the quality of work conducted can be adversely impacted by alterations made without prior notice. The harmonisation of the three parties – civil, architectural, and MEP – must be achieved from a project’s outset in order to avoid problems during the construction phase. Ideally, the early integration of MEP design and coordination, in terms of building loads and overall efficiency, should ensure the proper configuration of MEP services.

Another priority is to implement systems that are compliant with local safety regulations. Take for example fire-suppression technologies integrated within the designs of high-rise buildings. High-rise buildings pose technical challenges for fire and life-safety systems due to the complicated terms and conditions that apply. MEP designers must be able to provide appropriate means of egress and clear evacuation strategies. At the same time, they must consider the implementation of straightforward evacuation and notification procedures that reduce unnecessary alarms.

With this in mind, the best approach is to consider such technologies within the context of existing evacuation and building-management systems. In order to do this, designers must adhere to the high standards stipulated and enforced by bodies like Dubai Municipality and Dubai Civil Defence. The legislative guidelines issued by such organisations help to minimise risk.

Government bodies across the GCC are working diligently to build a safe atmosphere that incorporates stringent health, safety, and environmental (HSE) practices. Although it can be difficult to comply with some of these protocols and standards, they serve to promote safe living conditions for local residences.

Even when MEP designers coordinate effectively and adhere to the region’s strict safety standards, sustainable design remains a challenge. Today’s clients are more demanding, which means that designers must develop sustainable and eco-friendly offerings. These designs are most commonly oriented towards energy and water conservation. They decrease the operational costs incurred by clients following the construction of a project, during the building’s operational phase.

The value of sustainable alternatives stems from their ability to provide comfort for residents, offering end users well-planned and cost-effective MEP systems. But whether or not a project can be called a ‘green building’, energy consumption is becoming an increasingly important consideration within the GCC.

Essentially, MEP designers must work to devise systems that strike the right balance. The ultimate goal is to create safe and well-integrated designs that reduce operating costs and mitigate environmental impacts.

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