Abu Dhabi: A question of design

The design space becomes a new battlefront as developers fight for a bigger slice of the marketImage Credit: Courtesy Atkins

Amid a flush of mega-projects announced this year, experts believe design and planning will take centre stage in helping maintain the level of investment in UAE real estate.

Contracts worth $5.4 billion (Dh19.8 billion) have been awarded for various residential projects in the UAE in the first half of the year, in addition to several more in the pipeline, but industry experts warn investors are now more cautious and circumspect, especially in the design quality of new projects.

"With the restored investor confidence in the real estate market, competition between developers is fiercer than ever and the emphasis on excellent design couldn't be higher," says Rod Stewart, Property Managing Director of Atkins, an international design, engineering and project management consultant firm. "The developer community is now far more mature and advanced than during the last property boom, and it needs to look at a whole basket of criteria based on the context and place on which a development sits.

"It is vital that new buildings provide a desirable, user-friendly lifestyle offering."

Architects help make civilisations possible and also beautiful. Architecture itself is essentially the art we live in. It represents both culture and civilisation.

The biggest sightseeing draws in most countries are usually the old buildings, museums, castles, etc. — old structures that define a particular era. Sometimes, however, landmark architectural designs fail to capture the fancy of the public. Remember the case of the Eiffel Tower, which was hated by the French before it became the symbol of Paris?

Plan for a good design

Good design is important, but sometimes intricate designs, especially in high-rises, waste a lot of space. And this is where a good planning comes in handy.

A question of design

"Good design for me is not just eye candy," says Christos Passas, Associate Director at Zaha Hadid Architects. "Good design is really the result of many hours of painstaking development and articulation that integrates the formal and the functional in an integral whole."

Stewart adds: "The level of careful planning, which goes into projects to ensure they are genuinely viable in the long term, is one of the most satisfying aspects of the current real estate market resurgence. A great deal of thought is going into getting the right mix of uses, the right systems and the correct facilities. What's more, there is a keen eye on creating a vibrant public realm around buildings, which encourage people to lead active, healthy lifestyles."

Besides serving as homes and places of work, buildings are also supposed to protect people from the elements, including natural calamities. David Scott, former chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, had said that height is not as much a concern as the building's shape when it comes to its ability to withstand disasters.

"I'm not as concerned about the height of the buildings as I am about their shapes," he says. "Buildings with fancy shapes are the most prone to be affected by natural disasters."

Stewart agrees: "Good design starts with space planning, which gives you comfort. Intricate design is sometimes not very comfortable. But if you have smart planning combined with an elegant engineering design, it will look good and be habitable too."

Higher, stronger

With the industry showing signs of recovery and investor confidence, there are concerns the growing level of competitiveness in the design space will lead to compromises in the quality of new builds.

"I think every city grows and transforms in time. It is important that a certain flexibility is maintained in how the forces that shape a city operate," says Passas. "At the same time, we also recognise that Dubai is now entering its secondary phase of development, where urban design, street life and a density of facilities will play an ever-increasing role in the comfort of citizens."

His thoughts are echoed by Jamil Corbani, CEO of the Lebanon-based Green Studios, who believes that incorporating sustainability concepts is an important step in creating successful designs. "Dubai is leading the Arab world as a model for future cities," he says. "With new regulations focusing on environmentally friendly procedures, green architecture is becoming an increasingly popular option for developers.

"The speed of construction in the past two decades has left the urban set-up with poor long-term provisions for sustainable solutions and, therefore, green architecture is the way forward."

Going green

One of the most prevalent architectural trends today is the shift towards green principles. With sustainability now a common theme across many new developments, Corbani says green architecture is the future.

Corbani and his team have developed a new green construction material as their contribution to the sustainability movement. Green Studios' green wall can retain three times more water per square meter than any other system and comes with a command and control smart system that allows any installation to adapt to outside weather conditions, ensuring a healthier life cycle.

"Our green wall, engineered for hot climates, is not executed anywhere else in the Middle East and we believe it could help contribute to the UAE by bringing nature back into the urban set-up," says Corbani. "It's adaptable to tough outdoor environment and we will see it in the UAE very soon."

He adds: "Dubai has seen a lot, but it is also at a very early stage when it comes to green architecture. It will surely lead this field and will propagate that spirit among its surrounding economies."

In the future, green architecture will move from a design and experimental trend to a cornerstone of city planning.

"There are many rules in designing buildings," says Passas. "It is important to push boundaries and innovate whenever possible."

Design is undergoing a revolution led by great advances in technology. The rule is mass customisation through novel fabrication of technologies, design tools and methods, explains Passas.

Building Information Modelling (BIM), a process that involves creating and using an intelligent 3D model to inform and to communicate project decisions, will be a trend in the future, says Stewart. It is changing how buildings, infrastructure and utilities are planned, designed, built and managed by. BIM gets the right information to the right people at the right time, helping firms innovate and compete.

"It is starting in Dubai and soon all new buildings here will be using it," says Stewart. The US-based Art Gensler, founder of one of the world's largest architecture firms, had said: "I have a responsibility to spend my client's money wisely, and every project doesn't have to be a 'look at me', as sometimes that's not appropriate."

We couldn't agree more.

For for more information on design click Abu Dhabi.

Source: Jamila Qadir, Special to PW

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