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Healthy, wealthy and wise

Atkins | 07 Sep 2015 | Comments

As calls for united global action on climate change grow stronger, cities are increasingly seeking out more resource-efficient ways to be healthy, sustainable and smart.

Over 40,000 delegates are expected in Paris this December for the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference. Its main objective is to reach a universal legally binding agreement on combating climate change and boost the transition towards resilient low carbon economies.

Reaching an agreement at a global level is needed to ensure that contributions pledged by individual countries add up to a sufficient level of global action, providing financial support for adaptation and the low carbon transition. ‘’When the deal is hopefully struck it will make a significant difference to the ability of individual countries to tackle climate change as it will provide a clear signal for businesses to guide investment toward low carbon outcomes,’’ says Charlie Francis, Atkins’ associate director of landscape and urban design, based in Qatar.

Important discussions are also underway to agree a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will create a roadmap of how change can happen at a country level, with efforts set to focus on both mitigating climate change and adapting to existing changes, while setting a clear path for international development for the next generation.

For Dr Neil Kirkpatrick, head of sustainability for Faithful+Gould in the Middle East, this is a huge opportunity, as well as an enormous challenge. But he says an emphasis on collaboration throughout the group is delivering fantastic results for clients, many of which recognise that sustainable design is not only good for the environment but can also save money too. He says that starting from a commercial perspective and then bringing in the most appropriate technical solution is key. “The business case to what we call Future Proofing Cities begins to influence how you use the land in terms of building design, public realm and infrastructure. We then guide that process to get better outcomes in terms of reducing water consumption, more efficient use of materials and better, more integrated transport systems,” he says noting that the hot climate of the Middle East requires its own unique set of conditions to deliver the most sustainable outcomes possible.

Another important driver is the philosophical approach that leaders of Gulf States are taking. “The vision here is often truly inspirational. Those developing cities and planning for the future don’t have to think in short term election cycles like folks in many other parts of the world and they will often consider time horizons of 50-100 years– which means that they really are considering what life will be like for their children and grandchildren and more importantly, what decisions can we take now that will make their lives more sustainable,” says Kirkpatrick.

At an international level Kirkpatrick and Francis point to initiatives such as Abu Dhabi’s zero carbon Masdar City, being developed by the government owned Mubadala Development Company. The city is using smart investments to pioneer a “greenprint” for how global cities can accommodate rapid urbanisation dramatically reducing energy and waste. At its heart is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a research university dedicated to cutting-edge solutions in the fields of energy and sustainability. Companies are encouraged to foster close ties with the university and partner to spark economic growth and accelerate breakthrough technologies to market. This includes the promotion of solar energy with rooftop energy systems installed on buildings as well as a 10MW photovoltaic installation. Water conservation is also heavily promoted too with low flow fittings, onsite reuse of wastewater for irrigation, water metering and a water tariff to monitor use.

“To initiate this model on this scale was a really brave thing to do and it will be interesting to see how it develops,” says Francis, noting that there are parallels between this and another important development in Qatar known as Msheireb, described as the sustainable regeneration of downtown Doha. “Sustainability is at its heart and a lot of lessons have been learnt from how the city developed and functioned in the past. The street patterns, materials, building techniques and architectural styles are identifiably Qatari and the development density is high creating a walkable, compact neighbourhood in which to live, work and socialise, reducing significantly the need for the car and all its associated infrastructure and space requirements,” says Francis. With the reduced dependency on car-based transport the streets can be made narrower and in combination with high buildings creates shade, with the street and building form orientated to maximise the prevailing winds to create a natural cooling effect to both buildings and open space. Francis states: “There is no new science or thinking being created here, it is simply the application of environmentally responsive design which saves energy and creates liveable and sustainable places for people. It’s a fundamental part of good design.’’

This local context specific approach is vital says Kirkpatrick: “Creating sustainable cities doesn’t mean always implementing an off the shelf technology. You are looking at the work of many different people to deliver these projects,” he says, explaining that Atkins’ approach sees a vital combination of sustainable management practitioners working with technical experts. “We have brilliant people in Atkins on the specialists and smart technology side to ensure we can make the most efficient transport system or how to control heating and cooling, but this needs to be set alongside key performance indicators and data collection and modelling. It is that combination of management and technology that gives us the added value, and our role is to provide the vehicle to do that.”

Atkins is working with clients across all industries to embrace sustainable and smart development into its projects. For example a local hospitality industry client recently saw financial benefits at a new hotel development thanks to Atkins’ design which incorporated balconies on all rooms. “This provided extra cooling reducing the operational cost of air conditioning, the capital cost of the HVAC system but at the same time saw revenues at the hotel increase,” says Kirkpatrick.

Another initiative where technical experts from Atkins have been involved is the recycling of crumb rubber from old tyres to create a polymer modified bitumen for road surfacing. “This has lower maintenance demands than traditional surfacing and by recycling materials we are reducing import demand and trucks on the road at a global level,” says Kirkpatrick.

Initiatives aimed at water saving are increasingly being considered around the region, particularly in Gulf states which rely on energy intensive desalination for potable supplies. “When it comes to water and energy consumption education is key,’’ says Francis. Qatar has the highest per capita water consumption in the world which has led the Qatar Electricity and Water Corporation to launch Tarsheed – a national campaign for the conservation and efficient use of water and electricity to raise awareness and to educate its citizens on the need to manage water and energy consumption.

“It’s a sensible step when you consider that the country will need approximately $6 billion USD over the next ten years to properly develop its water network. A significant portion of these funds will be used to build and install new desalination plants,’’ says Francis. “To achieve an effective reduction it needs more than just products. Changing fittings, limiting potable water use and the use of recycled water for irrigation and industry must go hand in hand with education.”

When it comes to future proofing cities and making them more sustainable, influencing behaviour is vital too, says Kirkpatrick: “For example by removing the air conditioning control from the individual and making it centralised you stop people constantly adjusting the temperature and can save a lot of energy,”

Another way to influence behaviour at a large scale is to mandate sustainability targets for developments, which could be something that a new international climate change agreement could kick start. However Francis and Kirkpatrick advise caution over the use of the various energy efficiency standards and systems which promote good practice but if not used appropriately risk becoming an expensive “add on” to projects particularly if they are not considered as part of an overall approach and strategy for delivering more sustainable solutions.

For the Gulf, where a lot of development is new build, there is great potential for creating smart, healthy and sustainable cities. “With new cities there is a huge opportunity to get it right,” says Kirkpatrick. “The design outcomes are available and it is up to us to take clients on a journey and show them how to get there. It is an exciting time.”

Future proofing cities – key terms:

    Healthy cities
  • Masterplanning – The layout and arrangement of a project often has the biggest potential for sustainability with many benefits available from concentrating development in cities
  • Materials cycle – Reduce, reuse and recycle are now embedded in design practice but adding in “restore” will take cities to true sustainability
  • Biodiversity – Before urbanisation plants provided basic processes to support human need, encouraging this can breathe life into cities
  • Transport – Integrated public transport systems reduce car use and regenerate cities by improving connectivity
  • Energy – Global warming is directly impacted by energy use. Reduction of use and encouraging clean energy sources are vital
  • Water – Healthy cities use water efficiently and can actively restore resources encouraging reuse and restoration
  • Sustainable city – Designed to consider environmental impact and minimisation of resources including energy, water and food, and also minimising waste and pollution.
  • Healthy city – Designed to promote public health considering key issues such as clean air and water, sanitary waste disposal, food quality and disease prevention.
  • Smart city – Uses digital technologies to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with citizens

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