How Dubai will become the world’s most sustainable city?

Dubai Sustainable City - Baharash Architecture

As Dubai prepares to host the most sustainable world expo event, it’s an exciting time to witness how one of the fastest growing metropolis, can transform itself into the most sustainable city in the world.

Over the past century, Dubai has experienced a dramatic transformation. In 1900 it was estimated that only 10,000 people lived in a desert-like city. Dubai currently has a population of over 2.1 million people and receives between 8-10 million visitors per year. Today, Dubai is regarded as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. There is no doubt that the Emirati people have received great leadership to guide them through this visionary transformation. As we approach Expo 2020, Emiratis will discover what makes a sustainable city, and in particular, how Dubai will become the world’s most sustainable city.

First of all, for a city to be sustainable it needs to encompass the three main pillars of sustainability: Environmental, Economic and Social sustainability. Ultimately, the key goal of any sustainable city should be to provide residents and workers with the highest quality of life together with the lowest environmental footprint.

Dubai Sustainable City - Baharash Architecture - copyright
The Sustainable City in Dubai, Phase 2 – Image copyright Baharash Architecture

A good sustainable city is one where people want to live, work and visit. MASDAR city in Abu-Dhabi will have all of these qualities once it is eventually complete. Another example is The Sustainable City in Dubai, which is planned at a more sustainable scale and will complete in two phases (Phase 1 is already operational – phase 2 is expected to be operational by 2020).

Dubai, also recently announced plans for additional sustainable projects such as the Desert Rose, a 14,000-hectare smart city expected to accommodate 20,000 plots for Emiratis and will cost 20 billion AED to build. There is a pattern emerging from these developments – the United Arab Emirates is already emerging as a global leader in sustainability. This pattern became increasingly apparent, after Dubai recently set targets for itself to become one of the most sustainable cities by 2020.

Dubai Sustainability
H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at Cityscape Global – Image copyright Cityscape Global

It is natural to feel a cautious optimism after witnessing the sheer influx and scale of projects planned for Dubai, at recent events such as “Cityscape Global” and the “International Property Show”. The growing development boom is clearly going to set a challenge for Dubai to achieve its sustainability ambitions by 2020. A key challenge is educating private and public stakeholders about the main principles of building sustainably, without increasing the built cost. Cost is currently the main deterrent factor for most developers, as it is a common belief that building sustainably means more cost, thus reducing profit margins, which for developers is understandably an outright turn-off.

In my experience, being sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive to build. In fact at the early stages of any sustainable project, basic design decisions such as orientation, density and form provide the biggest environmental gains, yet these require the least financial investments. Therefore at the early stages consultants are able to reduce a large amount of energy demand with little cost.

So how can Clients, Developers and Consultants meet Dubai’s sustainability ambitions?

From the beginning of each project it is important for the client and consultant team to develop a series of sustainable initiatives and targets. These targets will help guide the design in the pursuit of the sustainability goals. They can be divided into categories such as: Water, Health & Well-being, Energy, Materials, Pollution, Ecology, and Waste.

If we take water as an example, the ultimate design intent for any sustainable project would be to minimise net water use by increasing efficiency and re‐use, which can be achieved by:

  • Recycling water and by encouraging the collection and re‐use of rainwater to reduce the demand for potable fresh water.
  • Looking at highly efficient and smart irrigation systems and also storm water design.
  • Installing smart water efficient fittings, water metres and appliances.
  • Maintaining and improving the quality of ground and surface water.
  • Low-water use landscaping.

Water consumption can also be reduced by 50% by increasing environmental awareness amongst residents and workers. In The Sustainable City in Dubai there is an excellence centre which will educate and raise awareness amongst residents, and there is also a green curriculum for students in the school. 100% of the wastewater is also recycled there on-site.

The Future in Sustainable Design in Dubai

Oasis Eco Resort
Oasis Eco Resort – Image copyright Baharash Architecture

Sustainability has become a key target for planners in Dubai over the last several years. The Green Building Regulations & Specifications has been mandatory for all new buildings since March 2014. The Al Safat rating system was later introduced in 2016 to supplement the previously launched Regulations & Specifications. All new buildings in Dubai must now meet the minimum Al Safat Bronze rating according to its evaluation system. Higher ratings, such as Silver, Gold and Platinum are optional.

Innovation is also empowering a new generation to transform Dubai into a sustainable destination. The Oasis Eco Resort is one of these examples. Some of the environmental benefits include recycling waste water on site for irrigation, onsite waste management, the enforcement of a zero emission zone and 157,000 square feet of solar panels. The ribbon-like roof is designed to maximize the area for solar panels, which are planned for optimum efficiency. The resort will also employ wildlife biologists and conservation staff.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is another project supporting Dubai’s sustainability targets. It is one of the world’s largest renewable energy projects, with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatt (MW). The initiative is part of The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy which aims to provide 7% of the city’s energy through renewable sources by 2020. This target will increase to 25% by 2030 and 75% by 2050. The city is also encouraging private sectors and individuals to voluntarily install solar power on their properties. This however will be mandatory for all buildings in Dubai by 2030.

Designing for a sustainable future is no longer a choice, it has become a necessity. Sustainable design is about reducing our environmental footprint, it is about doing as little as possible to achieve as much as possible, hence the term “passive design”. But let’s not forget that sustainable design is not just about buildings. It should happen at all scales from products and infrastructures to buildings and cities. It’s important that the next generation of Architects and Designers in Dubai are able to design at all different scales to develop a variation of solutions, which is necessary if we are to provide for a higher quality of life.

Let’s conclude with some facts

BA_world population
The population of people living in cities – Image copyright Baharash Architecture

In 1913, it was estimated that only 10% of the world’s population lived in cities. Today that figure has increased to 50%, and by 2050, it will increase to 75%. For the remainder of this century the rise in population in our cities is going to increase at a dramatic rate, so that coupled with climate change is going to have a great impact on our cities’ resources. Population growth in the United Arab Emirates is among the highest in the world, mostly due to immigration. Therefore for the UAE, the need to start developing more sustainable cities at various scales is no longer a choice if they are going to provide a future with a higher quality of life for their citizens and to protect their environment.

About the author

Baharash Bagherian

Baharash Bagherian is a Designer working holistically at all scales, designing for a higher quality of life whilst also protecting the environment. He believes that great Architecture is more than buildings: “It’s about creating resilient destinations that make people feel healthy to live in, inspired to work in and want to visit.”

In his work, each project is driven by a process of investigation and experimentation. The outcomes of these studies form the basis of the design. He strives to develop innovative and creative solutions that make a positive contribution to our current and future generations.

His award-winning design studio, Baharash Architecture, have worked on projects in various scales, from urban scale; such as master plans, landscape design and buildings, to smaller scale; such as interiors, furniture and products. Recent projects include the Oasis Eco Resort in Liwa and phase 2 of The Sustainable City in Dubai.

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