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Climate factors bring Japanese firm to the Gulf

Japanese architect, Nikken Sekkei, unveiled its ‘Eco Tower' at Cityscape Abu Dhabi. Rupert Cornford caught up with Fadi Jabri, general manager (Dubai Office), to find out why the firm has chosen the Middle East to continue its sustainability drive.

Jabri says that branding and being seen as one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the world is just as important as the costs involved.
Jabri says that branding and being seen as one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the world is just as important as the costs involved.

What is the history of Nikken Sekkei and what brings it to this region?

Nikken has a 107-year-long history; the firm was started in 1900. Right now we are an architectural leader in East Asia, especially in environmentally conscious designs. We have many projects in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and southeast India.

For the past three years, we have done extensive market research to understand this area. We feel that now is the right time to come into the region and offer our experience to local developers.

What drives the sustainable building market in Asia?

East and South East Asia are hot and humid. So it's quite similar to the Gulf region.

We have quite ecological design ideas in traditional buildings. And we are trying to adapt these to contemporary architecture.

In the 1970s, there was an oil shock in Japan, when oil prices rose significantly and caused the country to be more conscious about energy consumption. That has been reflected in almost every aspect of Japanese industry. And architecture is, of course, one of those, so we have developed experience in this field.

In the 1980s, we called this kind of project ‘energy-saving architecture' and then it changed to ‘intelligent building' towards the end of the decade. And now the concept has gone global.

Energy prices here are low compared with Japan. Will this be a challenge in bringing an energy-saving building solution to the region?

At the moment, energy costs here are subsidised by the government [in the UAE]; will they be in the future? Nobody knows. And there are some example of countries in this region with high energy costs. It shows that energy costs could increase at some stage.

But aside from that I think people here have started to become aware of the importance of energy.

It's not just about cost. If the UAE, for example, manages to portray itself as one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world, the perception and branding of that is important.

What do you make of the local sustainable building market?

I think it is a fairly new concept to this region and it is creating headlines - there are many developers announcing ‘green' projects at the moment.

I think it's a good trend; but obviously, a lot of studies need to be done to realise these projects, and it will require a joint effort between the developers and designers.

What is the Eco Tower and how does it work?

For this tower, we have taken all of the ideas that we have executed on other projects and put them all into one project.

The tower is divided into eight sections, each with outside louvers, which take in cool air at the bottom in the early morning or late evening and circulate it around, with hot air rising and leaving the building at the top of the section - we call this natural ventilation.

We also have mirror ducts, which are made of aluminium in order to absorb and circulate natural light. They are very simple: it has light receivers to take in natural light and then the duct, which transmits the light into inner space, and light diffusers, which direct the light. The system allows the building to benefit from natural daylight, and I believe it will work well in this area because there is plenty of sun.

Applications include low-cost lighting for parking systems, for example. And it can be used for offices - you have an intelligent system that switches off the electricity when there is enough daylight; when the light is insufficient, then it switches back to the grid.

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