Green ci­ties

Smart de­sign is chang­ing the way we live

Good (UAE) - - FRONT PAGE - words: an­nette welkamp

Cal­cu­la­tions about the cur­rent state of our en­vi­ron­ment – and pred­i­ca­tions re­gard­ing the pos­si­ble fu­tures that will in­evitably un­fold if we don’t change our care­free ways – are in­deed gloomy. But rather than be over­whelmed and de­pressed, let’s see it as a world of op­por­tu­nity open­ing up for us. We don’t have to just sit back, watch and wait for the in­evitable; we can all play a part now in mak­ing things bet­ter. in fact, truly suc­cess­ful out­comes will de­pend on us all do­ing our bit – whether it be large or small.

Con­sis­tent with the uae’s am­bi­tions of be­ing smart and re­lent­lessly search­ing for new ideas, gov­ern­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and pri­vate sec­tors are ex­plor­ing fresh ini­tia­tives. the key to suc­cess­ful out­comes, though, is to al­ways think lo­cally. sus­tain­able prac­tices that are ideal in Paris or Bangkok may not nec­es­sar­ily be suc­cess­ful here.

since it’s un­known what our al­ter­na­tive fu­tures might look like, real-world re­search and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is crit­i­cal. Abu Dhabi’s Mas­dar City works as a liv­ing set­tle­ment oc­cu­pied by res­i­dences, busi­ness, schools and recre­ational ar­eas, as well as sci­en­tific in­sti­tutes that con­duct on­site re­search. it has be­come a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for the Mas­dar in­sti­tute of science and tech­nol­ogy, analysing re­new­able en­ergy and sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies in the ur­ban con­text. the re­sult­ing re­search is al­ready pro­vid­ing bet­ter choices for ci­ties of the fu­ture, es­pe­cially those in our re­gion.

When work­ing to­wards a sus­tain­able home life, con­sider what you pur­chase and how you dis­pose of it, and, in­creas­ingly, where you choose to live. homes and de­vel­op­ments that are con­structed with min­i­mal waste us­ing lo­cally sourced ma­te­ri­als, cause lim­ited nat­u­ral habi­tat de­struc­tion, and are con­structed by well cared-for work­ers, are more sus­tain­able. in as­sess­ing the value of sus­tain­able ci­ties, the triple bot­tom line needs to be mea­sured. Not only are there en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, but there are eco­nomic and so­cial ones, too.


Ideas and im­ple­men­ta­tion

the emi­rates Green Build­ing Coun­cil (EGBC) has de­vel­oped guide­lines for de­vel­op­ers and some con­ve­nient tools to start mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. emi­rates­gbc. org/green-build­ing-tooltips is a great place to start look­ing for ideas that re­duce your car­bon foot­print, achieve sav­ings on bills and im­prove the home en­vi­ron­ment.

A 5-star rated split AC unit, for ex­am­ple, can save one house­hold up to 26 per cent on its elec­tric­ity use in com­par­i­son to a 1-star unit, and while it costs more to buy, this ini­tial out­lay could be re­couped within a year. fur­ther­more, plant­ing trees and large shrubs ad­ja­cent to west- and south­fac­ing walls will add a pro­tec­tive bar­rier against the heat of the sun, which in turn means it will be cooler in­side.

Now, imag­ine the im­pact if such up­grades are ap­plied to not just one home but to a whole neigh­bour­hood. it won’t sur­prise you that many uae prop­erty de­vel­op­ers have been do­ing just that. the pha­lanx of trees that rings the sus­tain­able City in Dubai, for ex­am­ple is in­tended to pro­vide both a pro­tec­tive bar­rier and to pu­rify the air. sim­i­larly, the lush land­scap­ing at Al Barari not only con­trib­utes to cool­ing am­bi­ent tem­per­a­tures, it has also be­come a haven for but­ter­flies, drag­on­flies and na­tive wildlife.

Many of these de­vel­op­ments were con­ceived as self-con­tained vil­lages, where res­i­den­tial, busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tional, re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment fa­cil­i­ties are all clus­tered to­gether. since every­thing hap­pens within a con­tained zone, trans­porta­tion costs and emis­sions can be re­duced, es­pe­cially when com­bined with ef­fi­cient in­ter­nal trans­porta­tion op­tions, such as com­mu­nal elec­tric bug­gies, bike and foot­paths, and elec­tric ve­hi­cle charg­ing sta­tions, as found at the sus­tain­able City. Al Zahia in shar­jah has also in­tro­duced a shut­tle bus to en­able easy ac­cess across its site.

Gifts of sun­light and wind

An aerial im­age of the sus­tain­able City shows a clear com­mit­ment to gen­er­at­ing on­site en­ergy us­ing the power of the sun, and given just how much sun we en­joy here in the uae, the logic of this is ob­vi­ous. so­lar pan­els have been fit­ted on al­most ev­ery us­able hor­i­zon­tal sur­face. even the tra­di­tional uae out­door park­ing shades have been re­placed by pan­els. the re­gional flat-roofed hous­ing style is eas­ily adapted to such a strat­egy. it’s not sur­pris­ing, then, that the de­vel­op­ers claim it to be a net-zero en­ergy city, which means that it pro­duces as much en­ergy as it uses over the course of a year. No doubt ci­ties of the fu­ture will be­come net-pos­i­tive when even more en­ergy sav­ing ini­tia­tives are adopted.

tra­di­tional build­ings in this re­gion were de­lib­er­ately con­structed with small win­dows to let in min­i­mal light. in com­par­i­son, con­tem­po­rary green build­ings can be de­signed in a way that col­lects and uses day­light so there is less need for en­er­gy­con­sum­ing ar­ti­fi­cial lights. floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows in a num­ber of new de­vel­op­ments high­light the evoca­tively named strat­egy of ‘day­light har­vest­ing’. the vil­las and apart­ments at KOA Can­vas in Dubai fea­ture this new think­ing. A fur­ther bonus


is the pos­i­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of nat­u­ral light, so we can ex­pect res­i­dents of sus­tain­ably de­signed fu­ture ci­ties to be hap­pier as well.

Desert liv­ing

An­other im­por­tant sus­tain­abil­ity mantra is to not waste re­sources. in con­trast to the abun­dance of sun­light in this re­gion, we are faced with a scarcity of water. its pre­cious­ness means it should be used ef­fi­ciently and with care.

in sim­i­larly arid places like Aus­tralia and Cal­i­for­nia, the pre­ferred op­tion is to use plants that are ac­cus­tomed to ex­treme weather and are nat­u­rally adapted to lo­cal con­di­tions. the ideal, low-main­te­nance land­scape is one that is cre­ated from a bal­ance of indige­nous and adap­tive plants (those which are not na­tive and not in­va­sive but are able to thrive in the lo­cal cli­mate and soil con­di­tions). At KOA Can­vas, the land­scape team led by Kamelia Bin Zaal aims for a bal­ance of 80 per cent indige­nous and 20 per cent na­tive adap­tive plants.

An­other desert les­son is em­ployed at Mas­dar City. When they plot­ted the over­all site, the de­sign­ers also looked back to tra­di­tional Ara­bic so­lu­tions, and the sub­se­quent site lay­out is in­tended to cap­ture pre­vail­ing winds and of­fer nat­u­rally cooler out­door pub­lic spa­ces. early Gulf set­tle­ments used this tech­nique when lo­cat­ing houses and sikkas (al­leys) to op­ti­mise breeze cir­cu­la­tion.


us­ing and re-us­ing water is vi­tal for sus­tain­able set­tle­ments in this re­gion. rather than watch the drops go down the drain and out to sea, it will be col­lected, cleaned and sent through the sys­tem many times over. Al Barari, for ex­am­ple, has in­stalled a treated sewage ef­flu­ent plant to gen­er­ate water for ir­ri­gation. At Mas­dar City, high-ef­fi­ciency ap­pli­ances, low-flow show­ers and smart water me­ters have been in­stalled with re­sult­ing claims that the build­ings are de­signed to re­duce en­ergy and water con­sump­tion by at least 40 per cent.

All these ini­tia­tives are in vain if res­i­dents of these de­vel­op­ments are not com­mit­ted to a sus­tain­able life­style. Ci­ties of the fu­ture will re­quire their oc­cu­pants to greater en­gage with the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. if no-one is pre­pared to walk a lit­tle fur­ther, use less water, or sep­a­rate food scraps from pa­per, then these ex­per­i­ments won’t work.


0301. Mas­dar City, Abu Dhabi02. The Sus­tain­able City’s biodomes. 03. The Sus­tain­able City is a car-free zone


04 04. Homes in the Sus­tain­able City 05. So­lar pan­els in the Sus­tain­able City



07 06. Green scenes at KOA Can­vas 07. KOA’S LIGHT-FILLED IN­TE­RI­ORS

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