A Review of Sustainable Design in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy

The notions of sustainable design and energy efficiency first entered global consciousness following the energy shortages of the 1970s and 1980s. Influenced by ideas of energy independence, many designers in Europe and North America sought ideas and strategies that could help create energy-efficient buildings and cities. As they searched for design solutions, some researched the environmentally responsive elements of traditional architecture, while others developed new solutions that employ modern technologies and high performance materials.

As the energy crisis subsided, the building industry in North America returned to business as usual, allowing its European counterpart – which emphasized technological solutions – to take a lead. But with the revival of global interest in sustainability – this time driven by both environmental and energy concerns – the dormant dialogue between the two approaches to sustainable design returned to play a role in shaping the global sustainability agenda. Oscillating between advocates of passive design and proponents of technological solutions, this dialogue continues to enrich the discourse on the future of sustainable design and development

National Commercial Bank in Jeddah (left). consists of a triangular 27-storey office tower juxtaposed with a six-storey, 400-car circular garage. The verticality of the bank tower is interrupted by three triangular courtyards ‘chiseled’ into the building's facade. The office windows are oriented towards these courtyards with an inward orientation typical of Islamic traditional design. This provides the interiors with daylight but prevents them from overheating. Copyrights: Wolgfang Hoyt/Esto. Shaded pathways within Masdar Institute for Science and Technology (right) Copyrights: Nigel Young

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Dubai Experiments with Sustainable Development

Karim Elgendy

Throughout the last three decades, the city of Dubai has not been known for its emphasis on sustainability as guiding principles for its development. Not only did it adopt an unnatural rate of growth by middle eastern and global standards, it has also long disregarded the environmental and social consequences of its rapid urbanization. Dubai’s growth relied on -and was economically fueled by- a development model which imported inappropriate and inefficient building forms and planted them in its extreme climate. The result was a 1,500 square miles city (3,885 square kilometers) with isolated island buildings that are not only divorced from their environments, but which also require a great amount of fossil fuel energy to remain habitable.

Image 1. Aerial View of Xeritown showing massing and landscaping. Copyrights: X-Architects and SMAQ

The city of Dubai also has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the world, and even though this footprint is partially a result of energy intensive water desalination processes on which the city relies for its potable water, Dubai’s carbon footprint remains higher than that of other gulf cities including Saudi cities which also rely greatly on desalination.

In many ways, it is fair to argue that the Dubai’s model of development has been, in essence, the antithesis of sustainable development over the last three decades. In other words, Dubai has come to represent the climax of an obsolete development model in which humans attempted to subjugate their environment rather than coexist with it.

In contrast to this un-sustainable development pattern, Dubai’s neighboring city of Abu Dhabi has long adopted a measured and less extravagant development model. Over the same three decades, Abu Dhabi’s development model was generally characterized with a more sustainable pace of development. In the last few years, Abu Dhabi has been attempting to champion sustainable development in the Middle East by establishing a sustainability oriented framework for its development over the next 20 years, and by establishing the Masdar initiative which includes the world’s most progressive sustainable city project at its outskirts with ambitious zero-energy and zero-waste targets.

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Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Headquarters: The First Positive-Energy Building in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy

As previously reported on Carboun, Masdar City – the $22 billion project of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) – is currently under construction and is due to be completed in 2016.  As the the first zero-carbon emissions and zero-waste city, the master plan for Masdar City integrates many passive design and planning strategies with renewable energy production to achieve its ambitious sustainability goals.

At the center of Masdar City lies its first building, the Masdar Headquarters, which will become the new home of Abu Dhabi’s Future Energy Company, as well as the secretariat of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The building - together with other key building -will act as an anchor and a catalyst for the development of the city.

Image 1. Rendering of Masdar HQ. Copyrights: Adrian Smith+ Gordon Gill

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Masdar City Masterplan Reviewed

Masdar City Masterplan. Copyright Masdar, Foster+Partners

When Masdar City was first announced in 2007 by the Masdar Initiative, it claims that, when completed, it will become the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste development, while maintaining the highest quality of living. Foster + Partners and a team of environmental consultants including WSP and Transsolar have been appointed by Masdar to design the masterplan and the first stage of the project which broke ground in February 2008.

Masdar City’s Master plan is claimed to “meet and exceed” the principals of One Planet Living (OPL), a set of ten guiding principles of sustainability, proposed in a joint initiative by WWF, the global conservation organization and Bioregional Development, whereby everyone lives within their fair share of the Earth’s resources. The principles include Zero Carbon, Zero Waste, Sustainable transport, Sustainable materials, Sustainable water, and Sustainable culture and heritage.

The project also comes in the context of a rapidly increasing population and an economic boom in Abu Dhabi which -, together with new laws opening the emirate’s real estate to the free market- led to speculation  and a housing shortage estimated in 2008 to between 35,000 and 50,000 dwelling units. This shortage has prompted the state to allocate billions for the construction of residential buildings, especially for foreign workers and western expatriates. This housing shortage has also resulted in rising house prices, which led to discussion of legislations that would introduce a 20 per cent quota for low-income housing in future developments.

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