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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Inson Wood proposes Center for Sustainability in Dubai

Dubai explores Sustainability and Climactic Responsibility with Center for Science and Sustainability by Josef Richter

In a culture where being the biggest has recently reigned supreme, Inson Wood, of the design firm, Inson Dubois Wood LLC, has proposed a design for Center for Science and Sustainability. Dubai is not necessarily known for its most sustainable projects having recently opened Ferrari world, and being on the records for the largest indoor ski arena, the world's largest mall with the worlds largest aquarium, and of course the world's tallest building has committed to keep up with its neighbor, Abu Dhabi, by actively exploring ways to create a sustainable future beyond reliability on fossil fuels. Like most Gulf cities Dubai has extreme temperatures, winds and intense sun. Geothermal, Wind Turbine and Solar power are all easily harnessed if the infrastructure becomes further developed. As recently as 50 years ago Dubai was a small fishing village, since then it has developed as a major shipping hub, and also become a booming tourist destination with a significant financial sector. Sustainability has been an issue as neighboring Abu Dhabi has created Madsar City zero carbon city putting pressure on other oil rich countries, including Saudi Arabia, to look to the future when oil and the wealth it creates may become highly diminished. As Dubai has recently been credited with as big an eco footprint as the United States, all eyes are on the small Emirate, to show its level of sophistication in terms of environmental responsibility to the rest of the world. The biggest contribution the Center for Science and Sustainability has to offer is representing a model to the rest of the region of how an urban building might not be required to be a skyscraper to have significance, but in fact, create an energy generating skin that can soak up the suns rays to create energy through photovoltaic cells. Secondly the formation of the skin could help with the wind patterns of the specific site location to bring air into the building while generating electricity through external and internal wind turbines. Also effective at providing cooling are simple geothermal energy transfers through temperature differentials in the ground temperature. Despite skeptics views to the contrary, morphing skin exteriors can generate very effective solar energy based on reflective patterns. Also counter intuitive is the fact that windows need not open to bring in fresh air. Large internal vents and filtered duct scoops can bring in huge volumes of air more effectively than windows open in 125 degrees during sand storms. The structure does have operable windows that can be open during temperate seasons and for quality of life and safety purposes.

As countries with larger financial capital strive to show responsible approach to reducing the carbon footprint and an eye towards energy efficient survival new forms of architecture have been emerging. Wood's design exemplifies an exploratory approach to sustainabililty in design that raises questions of how can we create buildings that may be resource hungry to create, but that at least will exist into the future without consuming unnecessary energy and can minimize waste while maximizing efficiency. The Center of Science and Sustainability could be a start into looking at a future where being energy efficient will not even be an option but a required necessity.



Habiba Al Marashi

By the middle of the last century one out of three people were living in cities and towns. Back in 1950, only New York City had more than 10 million inhabitants. It is common knowledge today that a majority of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people, live in urban places. It is projected that in another 25 years, two-thirds of the world’s population will be urbanized. By 2015, there will be 23 “mega cities”, and 19 of them will be located in developing countries. Rapidly growing, urban areas in developing nations will increasingly compete for resources. It will be up to urban governments to provide opportunities for economic, social, and cultural well-being. Cities offer much more than jobs and homes. They are repositories of human interaction and exchange, providing facilities for the arts, entertainment, sports, and recreation that allow us to relax and rejuvenate. In this vein, cities also are the catalysts of social, cultural, and intellectual evolution. Thus, cities can play a vital role in facilitating sustainable development both in the local context, and within a wider, global perspective. “If half the urban infrastructure that will exist in the world of 2050 must be built in the next 45 years, the opportunity to design, construct, operate, and maintain new cities better than old ones is enormous, exciting, and challenging”, writes Joel Cohen, in Scientific American.

Urban regions are known for their extensive use of natural resources and prolific generation of waste substances. They also import goods and services, and export waste products, leaving an impact not only on their immediate environment but also on distant environments over a longer time period. The challenge of civic authorities to provide adequate living conditions, water, sanitation, public transportation, and waste management features prominently in all urban development policies and action programs.

For a country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), urban development is a major concern of policymakers, planners, public officials, and environmental advocates. The UAE has been progressing steadily on the path of growth and development over the last three decades, propelled by an oil-rich economy. Although not affluent in other natural resources, the country scores high on development indices in recent years due to unprecedented economic growth, high per capita income, and robust social development. Among all the nations in the Arabian Gulf region, the UAE has emerged as a hub of commerce, stability, security, and peace. According to the 2005 Human Development Index Report compiled by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UAE has risen in rank to occupy the 41st position among the developed nations of the world. Because of its economic growth and relatively open immigration policies, the UAE has attracted large numbers of people from all over the world, particularly from Asia and Europe. The UAE has urbanized rapidly over a comparatively brief time frame. Prominent cities like Dubai have expanded several times their size in comparison with what they used to be, even as recently as the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Dubai features prominently on the global map of emerging places, and is now considered by some experts to be among the “world cities”.

The population of the UAE has been increasing by more than 5 percent annually for the past 15 years. The immigrant population in the UAE has grown by more than 6 percent annually during this same time period. One consequence is the UAE’s large-scale boom in construction due to the huge expansion of urban areas, facilities, and infrastructure. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, more than US$300 billion is being invested in building urban residential, commercial, tourism, leisure, and entertainment projects. Of this, the UAE accounts for US$36 billion, according to estimates of the Arab Real Estate and Construction Association. In the next five years this amount is expected to double, making the UAE “the pearl of the east”.

While construction and real estate is a major contributor to Dubai’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is also among the prime resource-intensive sectors. Thus, growing cities such as Dubai need to plan along sustainable lines in order to reduce their negative environmental impacts and natural resource depletion. There is ample scope for establishing direct links between environmental and developmental issues in urban growth. By promoting sustainable lifestyles, cleaner production, renewable energy, water resources management, reduction of solid waste and sewage treatment, reuse and recycling of materials, ecological urban design and construction, public health, cultural expression and social responsibility of residents, cities can strive to be magnets for long-term environmental sustainability.

Taking up the cause of sustainable development, the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), a leading non-government organization (NGO) based in Dubai, has emerged as one of the most active civil society NGOs in the United Arab Emirates. EEG, as it is popularly known, has been a pioneering force behind the mainstreaming of such potent issues as education for sustainable development, waste management, and separation of recyclable materials at source, the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), water and energy conservation, renewable energy production, sustainable transportation, public transit, combating desertification by expanding urban green spaces, promoting recourse efficient green buildings, and encouraging corporate social responsibility. EEG’s operations are targeted at building effective outreach among key stakeholders including governments, businesses, communities, and civil society groups. EEG’s vision is to facilitate a green and sustainable UAE.

EEG has spearheaded community waste recycling through successful collection campaigns for aluminum cans, paper, cartridges, plastic, and glass. By facilitating sorted collection, EEG aims to promote sound cyclical use of materials, reduction of emissions and pollution, mitigating global climate change and reducing the ecological footprint of the UAE. A few years ago, EEG mounted an awareness campaign to popularize the concept of green buildings in an environment that was still unfamiliar with the imperative for sustainability. Raising awareness among policymakers, communications media, professionals, and community leaders, EEG is now the conscience behind the movement to form a green building council for the UAE, to establish minimum environmental quality standards and objective and transparent rating systems, and to build environmentally sustainable structures. EEG has supported various national and local initiatives to improve and expand public transportation systems, by promoting public education on the economic and environmental benefits of urban transit. EEG has enlisted the active support of the corporate sector to steer growth and development in the direction of sustainability. In 2004, EEG launched the multi-stakeholder Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Network in the UAE, bringing together the heads and hands of urban economic development in a single, structured, composite body.

Keeping in perspective that 80 percent of the world’s green house gases causing global warming now come from urban regions, EEG has increased the urgency of its campaign to create a cleaner urban environment, one that is based on the participatory efforts of all concerned. EEG’s work has received recognition at the international level, and it has been officially accredited by the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. EEG is the first environmental NGO in the world to earn the prestigious ISO 14001 accreditation for its environmental management systems.

Habiba Al Marashi is Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group in the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Dubai Award (UN-Habitat Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment), and a member of the Board of Directors of Global Urban Development. In 2003 she won the Emirates Professional Businesswoman Award.


By James Duncan
The Mideast News Service
February 18, 2007

The explosion in development activity in the Arabian Gulf region in general and the UAE in particular in recent years has led to new way of thinking about the approach to sustainable development in high rise communities.

The level of activity in Dubai for example in the last five years is on a scale unprecedented since the building booms of the last century in cities such as New York and Chicago. The desire to live and work in a concentrated area where everybody wants a sea view has meant that high rise development has been seen as the way forward. Available financial resource and a desire to diversify the local economy away from a dependence on Oil and Gas have meant that the drivers for this development boom do not fit many of the recognized parameters for development experienced in mature economies elsewhere in North America and Europe .This combined with the extreme nature of the climate and environment in this erstwhile undeveloped region has created a range of unique issues to be addressed.

Let us explore these in more detail:

Technical Issues

Since the advent of significant Oil and Gas extraction in the early 1960’s there has been a constant process of improvement and acclimatization to the design and engineering standards required in this environment. High temperatures and high concentrations of aggressive natural salts played havoc with early concrete structures. The use of concrete was always preferred due to the presence of local resources and cost implications. Necessity is the mother of invention and over the years sophisticated concrete mix designs and construction techniques mean that the gulf region and the companies that operate here arguably lead the world in reinforced concrete technology.

For example the use of micro silica and sophisticated mix designs combined with a high level of understanding of how to control hydration in high temperatures have enabled the region to push the boundaries of concrete technology. The Burj Dubai currently under construction will not only be the Worlds tallest building when completed at over 700m but is also built of reinforced concrete. In future we can expect to see greater use of pre-cast techniques and steel as the economics of these materials becomes more viable with local production and distribution.

The unique nature of the climate in the region has led to new standards of wind design. The Shamal winds which can blow for 3 to 40 days at a time often have peak intensities at high levels. Where this occurs at say 400m it is loading structure the size of Burj Dubai at half its height so traditional near ground level wind surveys are not adequate and have to be replaced by sophisticated wind tunnel modeling and so forth.

Regulations have been and are constantly being reviewed by regulatory authorities to address many other issues for example fire regulation ,the use of composite cladding materials ,escape strategies and so forth.


Problems associated with the implementation of infrastructure to harmonise with the pace of development which is traditionally the economic driver are not unique to the Gulf region. Many major cities have been through a process of major urban regeneration over the last two decades and there are good and bad examples. The delays to the construction of the Jubilee Line in East London had near disastrous consequences to the success of the Canary Wharf development which now mature is enjoying a high level of occupancy and success. In Yokohama fast rail links were built before the bulk of the major redevelopment was instigated thereby ameliorating many of these problems.

In Dubai time has not been a luxury enjoyed by urban planners and infrastructure has lagged behind the pace of development leading to problems of congestion and so forth. However vast sums are being spent on road and rail infrastructure and it is to be expected that not unlike Canary Wharf these problems will resolve themselves within a fairly short period of the development life cycle.

In Abu Dhabi which in any event enjoys a more open location with fewer constraints on infrastructure longer lead in periods and master planning mean that much of the new infrastructure requirements for large offshore island projects will be in place in advance of development activity. For example on Al Reem Island over $5Bn are being spent on infrastructure provision.

Utilities and Environmental Issues

High on the agenda of new developments are Green Building considerations and these are being fostered and promoted by Government organizations such as the Emirates Green Building Council. A new Awards scheme has been introduced along the lines of the U.S LEED Green Building Awards. Some schemes such as the Wafi City District Cooling Plant have already won Awards in the international forum.

Utilities such as district cooling systems and combined cycle power plants are efficient uses of energy.

New projects are turning to more efficient designs .The Ibis Bay scheme in Dubai Business Bay is a good example where an ergonomic design incorporates many features such as photovoltaic glass panels, natural cross ventilation, green micro climate zones and so forth.

Human Issues

Building an Iconic Skyscraper is not necessarily a recipe for a high quality living and working environment. Lessons have been learnt from the mistakes of the past and the vertical cities of the Gulf are setting new standards of performance and amenity.

Intelligent buildings are commonplace with every possible amenity included in many schemes. Yes your fridge will now also tell you what you need on your shopping list! The inclusion of green zones within tall buildings creates an improved microclimate and the reduction of building densities allows for increased external amenity space. Schools, medical centres, shops and other essential services are increasingly part of the new masterplan.

The sustainable masterplan will be a key to the success of many of the proposed schemes in Abu Dhabi and other Emirates such as Ajman. Here densities and heights of buildings are strictly controlled using restricted Floor Area Ratios (FARs).Great attention has been paid to preserving the delicate local ecosystems and authorities such as TDIC in Abu Dhabi are to be commended for the sensitivity of large schemes such as Saadyat Island and others where natural resources such as Mangrove areas, fauna breeding grounds and marine environments are carefully protected which in turn improves the global environment of the area. Culture and education feature prominently in many schemes with world class facilities such as The Guggenheim Museum planned in new Cultural Quarters that include Opera and the performing arts.


The high rise communities of the Gulf region are not an Orwellian nightmare. The opportunities for developing new sustainable model living conditions for the 22nd Century are being developed in a way that sets the pace for the rest of the world.

Good strategic masterplanning and the use high quality expertise are the keys for the provision of the essential ingredients of good infrastructure, environmentally friendly buildings ,quality services and a living and working environment that embraces not oppresses the human spirit.