The happy marriage of design and sustainability

Design and sustainabilityCara Tissandier, Associate, Hoare Lea Consulting Engineers

Developers in the UAE have realised the importance of adhering to green norms when constructing residential and commercial buildings.

Cara Tissandier, associate at Hoare Lea Consulting Engineers, explains how the happy marriage between sustainability and builders is ensuring more profit for the real estate companies and better living for the occupants.

Green innovations

Recently, developers are a lot more receptive to green initiatives compared to past experience. Regardless of the regulations in place, developers are asking for the design to be developed with due regard to sustainability. For example, they request that we perform energy modelling to demonstrate that the building envelope and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems are designed with operational energy efficiency in mind. The use of energy recovery on ventilation systems and efficient lighting and lighting controls is becoming business as usual. The market is now adapted to these basic concepts of good practice and, as such, the benchmark of building quality in the region has been raised.

There is now a handful of buildings in the region that are in operation and have high environmental credentials such as LEED Gold/Platinum and Estidama 4 Pearl. The buildings may have cost slightly more to design/build but the developers have seen a return on investment. Generally, environmentally rated buildings have a higher uptake of rented space than older stock in the market. Buildings designed to best practice are more space efficient so tenants can take less gross floor area and yet can still accommodate the same number of people/furniture. This means that even if the developer charges more rent per square metre, the tenant ends up paying the same price as they would in a less efficient building. The benefit, of course, is better quality of space and improved health and well-being for the occupants.

A great example I have seen is IRENA at Masdar City. The building addresses energy efficiency and health and well-being with win-win solutions. For example, rarely in this region do we see stairs being designed and located in a prominent position, making a viable alternative to lifts. IRENA has feature stairs which encourage occupants to be more active whilst saving electrical energy by reducing lift trips. Secondly, the building design is such that the floor plates are not deep, allowing the daylight to penetrate through from both sides. Usually, this comes at the cost of increased solar gain, but the designers used modelling to demonstrate that by enclosing the central atria, they could achieve daylight whilst reducing the overall energy consumption. With daylight sensors on the lighting system, this also reduces the need for artificial lighting energy.


The Estidama rating system has been fundamental in raising the standards of the construction industry in Abu Dhabi and the region as a whole. Without the Abu Dhabi Government taking this leap, I believe the region would not have seen the improvement in standards that it has experienced in the past few years.

The system is out of its infancy now and has been tried and tested on every type of building and scheme likely to be seen in the region. Those lessons learned could now be used to update the Estidama manuals to ensure that the guidance in the credit matches that which the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council expects in the submission, and ensure programmes and costs are realistic.

In my view, designers need more time at concept to develop ideas and work as an integrated team. This is the stage where ideas can lead to innovative solutions that could lead to significant cost savings at later stages.

This time could be made up by reducing the detailed design/production stage to ensure the overall programme and design costs do not increase.

Secondly, contractors need more time at the commissioning stage. It is usually rushed and used to make up lost time, but this period is truly critical to the building performing as design intended and ensuring that the efficiencies are realised.

Eye on the future

• Developers should be required to adhere to minimum standards to test the air tightness of buildings. Addressing this issue will help improve design detailing and construction build quality.

• A focus on the fit-out/interior is essential to a building being more environment-friendly. There are many requirements placed on the shell and core, but the fit-out is yet to be held accountable.

• Designers must consider rating systems LEED Commercial Interiors/EBOM, SKA rating,Well Building Standard at an early stage to improve the overall building’s environmental standings.

Source: S. Dhar, Special to Freehold


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