What is a Sustainable City?

Dubai Sustainable City

Baharash Bagherian was recently interviewed by The Big 5 Hub in Dubai about designing a Sustainable City.

He is a Designer & Founder of Baharash Architecture, an award-winning studio in London, which is the lead designer for phase 2 of Dubai’s first sustainable city. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Tell our readers something about you, your background and expertise?

I am a Designer and founder of Baharash Architecture, an award winning design studio based in London.  I work with fully trained and professional teams, all committed to design excellence and the delivery of high quality architecture. Prior to establishing Baharash Architecture, I worked in senior positions for some of the worlds most renowned Architects working on high profile international projects.

I believe great architecture is more than buildings; it’s about creating sustainable destinations that make people feel healthy to live in, inspired to work in and want to visit. In my studio we work at all scales, developing innovative and creative solutions that make a positive contribution to our current and future generations. In 2013, Baharash Architecture were appointed as lead designers for phase 2 of Dubai’s first Sustainable City, and having completed our designs we are now looking to develop solutions for the next generation of sustainable cities.

Sustainable can be an overused word (especially in the Middle East). Tell us what you mean by a sustainable city?

A sustainable city is one that provides the highest quality of life together with the lowest environmental footprint, whilst ensuring the needs of future generations are not compromised. Although there are various aspects that influence the quality of life, such as crime rates, health statistics, unemployment, income growth, cost of living etc… The built environment, and the way a city is designed, has a great influence on the “quality of life”, as well as helping to minimise people’s impact on the environment.

What achievements have been made so far in this area – specific projects already operational?

At a neighbourhood scale, Hammarby Sjostad in Stockholm has been widely studied as a good example of sustainable development. At the very early stages of the project, a ‘closed loop’ infrastructure strategy was drawn up for the project, including new public transport routes, district heating and cooling and an underground waste collection system for the development as a whole. Although the project adopted various passive and active strategies, I believe that the best models of sustainable cities should focus more on passive solutions, since these provide the biggest environmental gains with the least financial investment for the project.

Is the success of a sustainable city down to the initial developer, the operator or the people who live there? Or is it a combination?

If we take Hammarby Sjostad as an example, one of the key successes of this project was the collaborative process between municipal authorities, urban planners, developers, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and energy & water companies. This holistic approach to master planning created a special place for Stockholm, a place that is vibrant, healthy and sustainable. The other key success was the participation and education model created for the district’s residents. It is believed that water consumption can be reduced by 50% by increasing environmental awareness amongst residents and workers. Pollutants can also be reduced by 50% by raising awareness of the impact of detergents and other household activities.

Another key ingredient for success is at the early stages of the project. The challenge here is to look ahead into the future, to better understand consumer needs over the next decade. We recently proposed a set of 4 housing typologies for one of UK’s biggest house builder. In that project we explored how changes to household structure and lifestyle will impact home design, layout, specification and personalisation. This involved understanding the needs of 4 customer groups over the next decade, because ultimately, it will be the people and their quality of green lifestyle that will be the real measurement to the success of sustainable cities.

What do you see as the biggest area of development over the next five to ten years?

First, let’s look at the big picture. Over the next decade, there will be a significant increase in population & urbanisation, which will have severe impacts on our cities’ infrastructures and resources, as well as the health and wellbeing of its inhabitants. To mitigate these effects and provide a higher quality of life, we need to look at holistic solutions at various scales. Fostering a bottom-up entrepreneurial spirit in sustainable development is a passive way to achieve this. This inward investment in people, businesses and organizations that are passionate about improving their own city is in my opinion the most passive way of creating more green jobs & will most likely result in a new way of thinking about sustainable cities.

Sustainable urban mobility will be another area for development. Today, there are many problems in the way we travel inside our dense cities. Congestion, safety, air pollution, noise emissions and high levels of CO2 are some of the key challenges that our growing cities are struggling to cope with. In Europe most people ride bicycles, walk or use public transport to get to work. Walkable and bicycle cities understand the many benefits green mobility brings to their cities.  Walking and cycling, otherwise called “Active transport”, are more than just a healthy mode of transport. Researchers have shown the many positive social, environmental and economic benefits that active transport brings to cities. Our recent projects, Water Boulevards & Urban Forest, are two innovative examples of how we can transform our streets into healthy places. These two projects look at transforming our streets into vibrant and healthy places, with additional landscape and active areas.

Ecotourism will also be another area for development. UAE is expected to welcome 30 million international tourists per year by 2021. UAE has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the region, a perfect destination for eco resorts. There are also great economic, socio-cultural and environmental benefits for developing eco resorts. Eco resorts help create job opportunities for locals, creating a more diversified economy. They also help preserve the regions heritage and provide greater interaction with native people.

Another area of development will be inclusivity. There is a significant demand for affordable housing and any development which claims to be sustainable but does not integrate affordable housing into the heart of their neighbourhoods, in my opinion is a failed concept of a sustainable city. The best models of Sustainable cities will provide housing for all types of people, without segregation or excuse about land prices.

An inclusive city also values the needs of all people equally, including the workers who are contributing to their legacy. Today, there are many countries that do not see the long term social and economic benefits migrant workers bring to their cities, thus they fail at meeting the very basic needs to their livelihoods such as health & safety. In Qatar for example, the International Trade Union Confederation warned that up to 4000 migrant workers will die building Qatar’s World Cup before a single ball is kicked. The issue is how many governments are prepared to go far enough to offer real reforms which would give these migrant workers a real chance to become citizens in their countries and have access to an equal quality of life? Thus are the best models for sustainable cities democratic?

What type of people should attend your seminar?

Our work is varied in scale & holistic in approach, so it will appeal to a wide group of people. Developers, Architects, Engineers, Landscape Designers, Government officials or anyone with a passion to improve their city is welcome to attend the presentation.

Press Enquiries:

If you would like to interview Baharash Bagherian please send your request by email to press@baharash.com

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