inspiring sustainable growth of cities and infrastructure

27th July 2016

Realizing a sustainable vision requires a holistic approach

we went to Abu Dhabi to speak with some experts in the industry about the City’s aims to achieve a sustainable future. During the Roundtable discussions a number of valuable insights were gained in how Abu Dhabi’s public and private entities have been interacting and what more can be done to promote the cause of sustainable construction for wider and more long term benefits for the city’s residents.

The participants in the discussions were:

  • Albert Naim, Associate Principal, AECOM
  • Keith Miller, Director Advisory Services, ATKINS
  • Lee Evans, Technical Manager, KNAUF
  • Ghassan Ibrahim, Specifications Manager, KNAUF

How important is collaboration between the Abu Dhabi Authorities and the private sector when it comes to the long term planning of Abu Dhabi as a city?

Albert: I think it is critical, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council are taking a leading role within this and have managed to have multiple workshops and signoffs from both the private and public sector developers for the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. It included their big projects, but I think the problem isn’t within the engagement of the private sector’s big developers, but the co-ordination between the authorities with each other. UPC are taking a leading role in creating planning processes, establishing layers of infrastructure, coordinated with transportation, socio-economics, etc. But I think that other Government authorities are still lagging behind. Further, there are some conflicts between the different authorities’ guidelines and accordingly developers get lost in between and that is the one of the biggest challenges for Abu Dhabi moving forward.

Public Transportation is not there yet. Developers are supposed to build using certain rates and co-efficiencies with transit shares, etc, but at the same time they are being held up because the implementation of these strategies are not there yet. The UPC are leading the collaboration, but they need all the other authorities on board. Then the developers will follow.

Keith: I agree with Albert, we need to ensure that we keep revisiting and refreshing the vision, even the 2030 vision. This isn’t something that you can just write once, so in many ways I’d like to see more of an approach of updating the vision. You can’t just make a vision 15 years ahead and hope that it stays consistent. We really need to keep evaluating it and giving it that continual refreshment every few years. This is across all sectors and industries, you keep the stability of the target but at the same time you accept that technology changes and you have to move with it.

We have seen this with Dubai, with the sudden rush towards renewables which have become half the price of using oil. These developments make you take that sidestep. Some items within the 2030 vision are very high level when looking at renewables and similar concepts, but the details on implementation are not clear. The issue then is the UPC pushing strongly and other government groups trying to catch up. How do they catch up? Well they haven’t got time to keep looking at new standards and ideas, so how do we mandate this process so that it is easier for these authorities once a year to evaluate, rather than every day. This keeps the vision fresh, and ensures that we move together in the same direction. I think we may need a bit more work on bringing this vision back into reality.

We also need to look at mandating more areas which are implemented. Some of the largest problems we face on projects is the “do I have to do that?” mentality. The “is it optional? Can I get away with a cheaper material? Do I have to have solar power in?” Any thing to reduce the initial investment, but when 90% of the cost is in actually running the building, it leaves the operator in a very difficult position. The challenge is trying to get this message across that some aspects are mandatory without being draconian. It can be a very difficult balance.

How important are Estidama guidelines? or should we be looking at a one UAE approach to green building legislation?

Lee Evans: From a manufacturing point of view what we feel, like Keith mentioned, is that we need to make things simpler, easier to understand and more accessible. They (Estidama) have a vision, but it’s not always clear. The rules are sometimes taken from overseas which have green building regulations, but often they simply do not work within this region. For the contractors and developers who are building, it’s not always that clear. Sometimes the message isn’t passed down and isn’t always updated regularly. We do a lot of work with the civil defense authorities and we find that they don’t always have a set of rules that are defined on what we should be doing with a building. If we don’t have this in place, how can we realistically set visions? Bringing in rules from America and Europe isn’t always the best way to go forward, they do not necessarily work in this region. I would like to see the UAE get its own building regulations, which are created for this environment.

Keith: Estidama does have it’s own rating system which have tried to look at some of those points, and in these cases it is probably unique within the region. However, aiming for a Gulf-centric and internationally collaborative system would be more exciting rather than just having a localized framework. It’s difficult to have your own independent rating system in a city with such a high turn over of people. Most people will have some knowledge of LEED before coming, so it would be easier for them to work with. Maybe a profile of LEED as a correction, which has incorporated Estidama ratings to make it ‘region specific’ would be a better way of going forward rather than keeping on with their own individual, very local standards system. It’s hard for any company coming into the area with highly local systems.

To an extent they are a victim of their own success, Estidama has done well coming up with their own regional standards. However, other standards have now taken what they have said on board and started incorporating the rating systems. Maybe it’s time they migrate towards some of the international standards, and make it easier for construction professionals to be able to incorporate a wider group of skills from around their own organizations. It would be cheaper, get more re-use, and for the suppliers they wouldn’t have to keep bringing people in and training them up for what is a one-city standard.

Ghassan: The different standards across the GCC can be problematic. It’s not that much, but there are also discrepancies between the Emirates. However, they have started to realize this and based on the manufacturers’ and private sector recommendation have begun to clarify this. There are discrepancies on specifications and I hope that they will be corrected. The difficulties faced can still be overcome with good communication and clarification. The Government bodies are positive in responding to the requests from the private sector, but they need to keep revising this and re-reading it so that we can have continual updates.

Do Developers understand the benefits of collaboration in the initial design stage in Abu Dhabi?

Keith: Collaboration is available and driven in Abu Dhabi but it can be authority specific. You speak with the Housing Authority to discuss standardizing BIM Models and city models and the level of how they should design their buildings to become more sustainable for a certain project but that might have nothing to do with what happens on other projects in the city. It’s that approach which can turn a large city into suburbs and all of a sudden its extremely difficult if the city doesn’t grab hold of this and create a common vision for itself. As a supplier you will face real problems. ‘You can solve a piece here, but it doesn’t really matter as it is still broken there’. Transport is a particularly good example in terms of the metro and transits, we can’t have a sustainable vision without a holistic view of the city.

We do a lot of good work with awuthorities and there are several attempts looking at city-wide models and for Abu Dhabi I think that is the correct perspective looking at the longer term.

Albert: When we look at collaboration, getting consultants on board and incorporating their views in legislations and frameworks varies from one authority to the other and from one project to another. We come up with a strategy of: Who do we want to be involved in this project? Who are the thought leaders we can bring in from universities, community leadership, and the younger generations? Ultimately it all depends on the project. There are certain projects where you would need a wider input from consultants, and from government agencies, even looking at the public involvement plan. Other projects or legislation frameworks may not need that level of action or intervention; so it is on a project by project basis.

Is this done to its best here? I cannot say as we (as consultants) are not involved in every project, but I believe we do our best to get the right level of involvement for the ones we are involved in. Ultimately, it is up to the client and the Government to confirm the level of interaction they need. Sometimes they can come up with a strategy of how to interact: It could be an optional workshop confirming the baseline of action and feedback. Or we could actually go into the feedback straight away. You meet with all agencies and all consultants and tell them ‘this is how we are going to do it’. It is a level of involvement, but it may not the level of involvement that the project may actually need.

The discussions ended with a general consensus that a higher degree of meaningful public-private interaction and involvement of all main players in the early stages of a project will foster the creation of more sustainable construction practices and legislation in Abu Dhabi City and the UAE in general.
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