The unprecedented growth in the UAE construction industry in the late years coupled with its massive fossil fuel energy consumption has not escaped media attention. World Wildlife Fund revealed that UAE was five times more unsustainable than any other country in the world.(Anon 2007, WSP 2009) It was observed that UAE had an Ecological Footprint of 11.9 hectares/person, while the global average is at 2.2 hectares/person and the sustainable average should be at 1.9 global hectares/person (Oehme, 2008).
In 2008, Dubai government released a directive proposing a regulation that requires all buildings in Dubai to adhere to strict green standards prescribed worldwide.(Sell 2007).Greening the future was the message delivered by the government of Dubai in its Circular 161 which underlines the fact that all buildings constructed in Dubai from the beginning of year 2009 shall conform to green standards.
However, one must keep in mind that the fabric of the construction industry in Dubai is made up of a mix of small, medium and large sized local and foreign contractors, consultants and investors. The industry functioning under time and cost constraints largely depends on the cohesive symbiotic functioning of all of these diverse segments complementing each other to get the job done within desired project frameworks. Getting the message of the need for green development through, to these varied types of people involved, tagged with its high financial perception would be a matter of concern during actual implementation.
In Dubai, site selection is often based on the commercial viability of the location. Though connectivity is an important aspect it is not always a driving factor for site selection as most of the city commutes through privately owned vehicles. Besides care should be taken not to exploit the natural ecology by restricting developments along Creek area, land connecting to the mangroves which form habitat for migratory birds; along the beachside which are already over developed, desert zones with wildlife and such sensitive zones.
Building orientation in Dubai is in response to the adjacent development like roads or natural/manmade beaches to maximize commercial viability. The lack of natural land forms and expansive desert land has restricted the articulation of the building’s architectural form. This is where the need for climate responsive design becomes critical. Common issues faced in the region like heat island effects, reflected glare etc. can be reduced by designing the building with underground parking hence reducing the building footprint.
Green roofs can be used efficiently to reduce heat island effect by replacing heat absorbing surfaces with plants, shrubs etc. for their insulating and aesthetic benefits. In the UAE this point can be altered to form Cool roofs wherein plant matter is substituted with photovoltaic panels or solar hot water collectors to utilize the enormous heat energy available.
Dubai also has the highest rate of car ownership in the world. Alternative transportation are currently being reviewed and promoted by the government. One among them is the encouragement for the use of bicycles, as most new communities are being designed as being bicycle friendly. RTA has been instrumental in setting up Bicycle Network Master Plan that will be implemented in stages.
Dubai is facing significant challenges associated with waste generation and disposal. Design of individual buildings should facilitate the appropriate collection and disposal of waste by sorting and reusing at preliminary levels. All efforts should concentrate on minimizing waste.
The architecture of today calls for ‘a modern vernacular that is inspired by a responsive and sensitive balance between the knowhow and wisdom of the past and that which is sustainable, yet modern.