Architecture challenges, DesignMENA Summit, DesignMENA Summit 2017, Dubai, Perkins + Will, RMJM, Sustainability, Sustainable architecture, Sustainable design, UAE, Woods Bagot

‘The UAE hasn’t lived long enough to see the effects of poor sustainability’ says Justin Wells of Woods Bagot

Architects and designers who took part in the 2017 designMENA Summit advisory panel discussion agreed that with the maturing of the market, sustainability is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously.

“If we really wanted to address the sustainability narrative we’d need to figure out more solid buildings,” said David Lessard, director of hospitality at Perkins + Will.

“Glass buildings are probably the least sustainable things we can be doing here. And I think a lot of us now are trying to promote the sustainable, resilient agenda. Obviously not to just rely on technology or come up with solutions, but to lower energy consumption.

“We all know that building stock accounts for most of the carbon emissions and the buildings need to be a lot more sensitive and responsive to that. There is legislation in place and codes coming in and all the engineers are using the words ‘best practice’ so I am optimistic, but I don’t see a stop to the flow of fully glazed buildings in the immediate future,” Lessard added.

“This country [the UAE] hasn’t lived long enough to see the poor effects of sustainability in building,” Justin Wells of Woods Bagot said.

“These buildings have gone up with the sort of idea that they have a shelf-life and they weren’t thought about well when they were going up and there is some consideration now, but that hasn’t gone on for long enough to see buildings performing poorly,” he added.

Architects also agreed that the lack of understanding about environmental issues from the clients’ side is making it more difficult to push sustainable considerations forward.

“There isn’t one person in here who hasn’t started off talking to the client with these items but there’s absolutely no reality of what’s going on. There’s this perception of unlimited supply of electricity and water and there’s no comprehension of that if any of those got switched off, this place would completely die,” said Neil van der Veen, principal at RMJM.

“Another problem is that the operating costs are heavily subsidized. No one ever wants to say ‘I want to pay more money for something’, but still electricity and water and petrol are heavily subsidized, so we don’t have the enforceable legislation in place, we’re not feeling it in our pocket, and the decision makers don’t feel the financial burden of the issue,” Lessard addded.

Architects need to start speaking the clients’ language in order to successfully drive the impact of sustainability on the built environment forward, Dave Daniels, principal architect at SSH argued.

“We have two projects coming up that are nearly 65% solid and we got away with that through heavy visuals and by demonstrating the client that it cuts the construction costs down. The environmental thing gets pushed under the carpet, but if you can demonstrate the monetary value then you can have that conversation. You have to speak their language and as architects we’re not good at that,” he said.

The panel also discussed the maturing of the market, the challenges of speed and client expectations, the shifts in residential design and the difficulty of acquiring outside talent.