Smart design is changing the way we live
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.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU PURCHASE AND WHERE YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE
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
SOLAR PANELS ARE FITTED TO ALMOST EVERY USABLE SPACE
is the positive psychological benefits of natural light, so we can expect residents of sustainably designed future cities to be happier as well.
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