Green Construction & Architecture in the Middle East: Opportunities and Challenges
While the world is innovating new technologies and incentivising new ideas, the core concept of building the Middle East that was strong in its commitment to sustainability became the prerogative of both governments and private players.
It was noted in an earlier report that, “Despite the high oil revenues reaped from hydrocarbon resources and their spillover effects on non-oil producing countries, Arab economies suffer from
structural problems, with fragile political systems, precluding them from adopting
effective green transformations.” But this line of thought and course of action was soon changed when a transformational change overcame the Arab region.
"We are an oil-producing nation, but we are today focusing on renewable energy. Though there are many questions raised, the answer is very clear. We want to build the future like we build our present." – Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Sustainability is now no longer a term for a few chosen industries. It is being increasingly advocated by many including quite recently the global construction industry, owing to an urge in minimising the industry’s adverse impacts. An important area when it comes to focusing on sustainability is the issue of project management teams given that these are the people involved from the project’s inception to its completion. Ever since there has been a wide range of sustainability practices within the construction industry. Green architecture has picked up.
Considered as the most important advantage green buildings are said to be rather energy efficient. While traditional buildings are bereft of insulation and lose plenty of heat, eco-friendly buildings can retain heat because of better insulation.
Take the example of Morocco’s Dazzling Domed Bank which features several ancient Arabic design techniques and a unique geothermal system that keeps it cool in summers. It was also one of the earliest projects handled by Forster and Partners.
Another important feature is that water-efficient devices are installed in all sustainable eco-friendly buildings. For instance, conventional toilets often use large amounts of water for every flush. However, a sizable amount of water can be saved by installing water-conserving toilets instead of conventional ones.
The beauty of green architecture is that the buildings also come off as very attractive, very much like the sustainable terra cotta-coloured buildings in Masdar City which was one of the earliest smart cities in the Middle East.
The UAE was the first to accept and empower the Emirates’ green building design and implementation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced a decree that mandated all new urban structures to conform to environment-friendly green building standards.
Ismail Radwan, Lead Economist at the World Bank writes, “Abu Dhabi introduced the Pearl Rating System in 2010 – a framework for sustainable design, construction, and operation of all new construction, specifically tailored to the hot climate and arid environment. In 2016, Dubai adopted the Al Sa’fat green rating system. Structures that do not meet the minimum bronze rating are not given permits. However, higher ratings are optional in both systems and standards vary across the country. To achieve deep emissions reduction in the construction sector, governments and regulators could introduce incentives that will encourage developers and builders to adopt lower carbon construction materials and methods.”
Abu Dhabi’s Central Souq has been constructed with a series of low-rise, ecologically sensitive shops, hotels, offices, and restaurants, as well as rooftop gardens, the internationally renowned firm has given this old-world market a sustainable lift.
With all the GCC countries looking at solar power a strong advantage of green building is that this kind of construction relies on the employment of green energies instead of conventional fossil fuels. In the case of green buildings, solar panels are often used to generate energy so that the building will not need to use energy that is produced with the help of fossil fuels. By using renewable alternative energy sources, green construction also makes a big contribution to revving up the energy transition process from fossil fuels to green energy sources, which is crucial to mitigate various environmental problems, including global warming and all sorts of pollution cesses in the construction sector. Abu Dhabi’s Lattice-Domed Parliament Building in Abu Dhabi was designed by Ehrlich Architecture. By incorporating passive solar design and unique desert architectural techniques, the firm has ensured that this super-efficient parliament building won’t use up all of the Emirate’s own energy.
When Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 Soccer World Cup it came as a surprise to many, but when people saw the host of brand new solar-powered stadiums featuring cutting-edge technology afforded by the country’s remarkable oil wealth they ensured that fans don’t pass out from the heat.
This does not however mean that green Architecture has zero disadvantages. One of the key limitations identified is the high initial costs, for example, green construction often implies pretty high initial building costs which are usually higher compared to traditional practices which have the potential to discourage people to invest in green construction.
Although green building can mend, alter and change the ecological footprint, it is not a panacea for environmental issues. That part is still heavily dependent on individual practices. There is still plenty of work expected of the individual to make one’s behavior as green as possible. There is no real weightage in investing in a green home but behaving in a quite eco-unfriendly manner since the ecological footprint might actually be worse as compared to a person who lives in a conventional home but behaves much eco-friendlier in his or her daily life.
Green alternative energies like solar power are also heavily dependent on outside weather conditions. In the case of heavy rains, chances are that you might run out of energy sooner or later. Thus, green buildings are compelled to turn to conventional energies as an emergency resource. Since green construction is a relatively new technology, the long-term effects of this practice are unclear. For instance, we do not know if there will be any potential side-effects of these practices in the future that are related to green buildings. Since the technology related to green construction is relatively new and not entirely mature yet, chances are that there might be some technical issues sooner or later which may translate into significant additional costs and efforts.
Since green construction often uses the latest technologies, the maintenance of those devices could be challenging because technology becomes increasingly complex and redundant soon enough. Depending on the area you live in, you might also have a pretty hard time finding a qualified worker in case you need repairs or for other maintenance tasks
Indoor air temperature may greatly vary over time because of limited control over the inside air temperature that would be centrally controlled in a green building. The potential for massive fluctuations in temperatures would affect the overall quality of life and the quality of life will decrease due to this insufficient control over the indoor room temperature. For those picky about designs, green buildings are optimized to use the daylight as efficiently as possible making the shape of those green buildings rather exotic which might not please everyone and many people may even refrain from buying a green flat since they just do not like the design of those green buildings at all. Experienced green construction workers may be rare since most of the construction workers are quite experienced in the conventional construction of buildings, but lack experience and knowledge when it comes to green buildings.
Another key issue is that green construction tries to use as much sunlight as possible in order to produce energy and to use daylight to further reduce the need of using conventional energy sources. However, in regions that do not have many sunny days over the course of the year, those green buildings may not be the way to go since the outside conditions may be increasingly unsuitable. Even though green construction has become quite popular over the past decade, it is still a relatively new building technology and the infrastructure around green construction has not been optimized yet.
Whether green Architecture is beneficial or not completely depends on the levels of awareness, the extends not only to its potential advantages but includes the adversities that may be in the immediate future or in the long term. The whole idea of green building and its relatively important features is subjective and must implore people to look beyond the realities of today into the possibilities of tomorrow.