Green Buildings Down with Economy

Originally published by: Construction MagazineDecember 8, 2011

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Presenting an interactive LEED workshop at the Green Build Congress at The Big 5 2011, Mario Seneviratne, a member of the US Green Building Council and MD of Green Technologies, said that the downturn in the construction industry was accompanied by a reduced number of green buildings.

“In 2008, we saw a decline in construction, and hence a decline in green building. Now we are seeing a steady increase, with a number of quality projects.” These include the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre in Al Ain (see the Site Visit on p26-30 of this issue). Seneviratne noted that there are “now 44 LEED-certified schemes in the UAE.”

Commenting on why the construction industry should go green, Seneviratne said: “By the time we get to 2050, we will consume three time the resources that the earth holds. Our aim is to reduce the consumption to equal, or less than, what the earth is producing.”

Seneviratne emphasised the importance of embracing sustainability at the earliest possible opportunity. “It is important to have done the LEED work at the concept design stage. Unfortunately, most projects think about including green during the construction stage. If you construct a building and then try to make it green, then it will cost a lot – that is why people think green buildings are more costly.”

In reality, green buildings offer lower operating costs, stressed Seneviratne. “Previously people did not care, as the revenue was so high in the boom years. Now the revenue has reduced, so many are looking to build green.” Seneviratne also dispelled some LEED misconceptions.

“People may think LEED just involves ticking the boxes, but every item has an environmental significance.” LEED also adds value to projects. “Everyone wants a label – whether it is a car or any other asset. If a building has a green tag, then it means it has been prequalified,” said Seneviratne.

“Aside from the marketing value, green buildings are truly better buildings. Sheikh Zayed Road contains some of the worst buildings in the world. We need to reduce the carbon footprint.”

Seneviratne also explained the various facets of the LEED rating system: “A good building will be Silver, but if you want to spend more money, you can get a building to Paltinum status. If you are a very good designer or developer, then is what you should be aiming for.”

Al Emadi Engineering GM Wagdy El-Sheikh said: “People are always talking about green buildings, and I have to know about green buildings in my work. At the moment, resources are limited – for instance, I have to bring marble in from Turkey.”

Lacasa Architects & Engineering Consultants principal designer Ihab Nayal said: “I can no longer see the value in ego-related buildings. I now find myself interested in something beneficial – and LEED is one way of doing that. I want to achieve the knowledge to create buildings that are both environment-friendly and beneficial to society.”

One of the highlights at the Green Build Congress was the appearance of architect Adrian Smith. Smith said high-rise living was now a fact of life, with 60% of the world’s population destined to live in cities by 2050. In his keynote address, entitled ‘Sustainable Landmark Buildings’, Smith said: “High density is going to be a part of the present and the future. I think it will get even denser as we move into the 21st century.”

As partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), Smith is known for the 828m-high Burj Khalifa and the upcoming 1km-high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, set to become the tallest building in the world.

As a specialist in high-rise design, Smith noted that tall towers are now a fact of life. With “60m people a year moving into urban areas, there is a great deal of pressure on cities to grow, and to grow vertically. By 2050, it is estimated that 60% of the global population will live in cities.”

Although Smith’s buildings are known for their elegance and sculptural qualities, he stressed that aesthetics should follow on from consideration of sustainability and practicality. “One of the key issues at AS+GG is the premise that form follows performance,” he remarked. “Burj Khalifa contains certain elements that are highly energy-efficient.

"For example, the entrance pavilions have double-wall technology. The office areas have solar shading, and the building also contains solar hot water panels.” He also commented that the tower is one of the first buildings to use a condensation collection system, which collects 20m gallons of water a year for grey water and irrigation.

One of Smith’s most hotly-anticipated projects is Kingdom Tower. The architect stated that construction will start soon on the mega project. He also outlined an upcoming eco-project for a hotel that adjoins the famous Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. Smith emphasised the need to ensure that existing buildings are energy-efficient. “Our immediate aim is to address the existing stock,” he stressed.

In terms of the Kingdom Tower’s contribution to green building, Smith said: “One of the main goals of Kingdom Tower is to attract growth and density. In doing so, the efficiency of all systems is improved. Simply put, it is the opposite of urban sprawl. Within a desert environment, urbanisation is even more important, given the energy and efficiency loss of all systems associated with covering large stretches of land.

"The high-performance exterior wall system also maximises natural lighting, while at the same time reducing solar heat gain. It will feature low-emissivity reflective glass,” revealed Smith.

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