The audacity of Dubai is proverbial. Concrete, glass and steel buildings and infrastructure have sprung up over the past three decades on the Arabian sands to create a mega city on the world map. The Mall of the Emirates epitomises this rapid build, where inside the Mall you can window shop at Prada, Dior and Alexander McQueen before pushing through the glass doors of Ski Dubai.
Outside to inside temperatures go from +50°C to -8°C. Humidity levels are stifling (towards 100%) because of the proximity of the sea.
There are no permanent rivers in the Emirates and next to no soil suitable for growing crops. For centuries, Dubai was a fishing village and trading port, small and poor. Then, oil and a wild real estate boom modelled on Singapore transformed it into the city it is today with the world’s third busiest airport. From a point of view of sustainability, you probably wouldn’t have done it here.
Indeed, Dubai (UAE) is the country with the largest ecological footprint per capita, largely because of its carbon emissions.
Dubai burns far more fossil fuel to air condition its towers of glass. To keep the taps running in all those buildings, it essentially boils hundreds of Olympic pools’ worth of seawater every day. And to create more beachfront for more luxury hotels and villas, it has buried coral reefs under immense artificial islands.
And yet a sustainable city is precisely what Dubai’s government now says it aims to create.
Following Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City (the world’s first zero-carbon city) sustainability research and education development next door, lessons learned have been applied, as federal government moves away from dwindling reserves of fossil fuels towards lowering energy requirements and tapping into renewables (Solar in particular) to push forward with the city’s progress.
A new housing development called the Sustainable City recycles its water and waste and produces more energy than it consumes. Out in the desert, Dubai is building a giant solar-power plant. This will soon be producing some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity on Earth. The government recognised that the growth of the economy is not sustainable without taking action on emissions. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has declared the city will get 75% of its energy from clean sources by 2050. He wants it to have the smallest carbon footprint in the world. Actually, many people believe the city might pull it off.
On the compact streets of the Sustainable City, its 500 villas shade each other, reducing air conditioning needs. This contrasts with the neighbouring larger lanes, lots and homes. Each villa has solar panels; the net-zero energy community generates all its own power and grows to produce in 11 domed greenhouses.
At SpaceShapers we have worked on numerous projects in the Middle East in terms of low energy design consultancy services.
These include Dubai’s Expo 2020 site. We worked extensively on it at the concept stage to deliver environmental design principals to inform the design process. Now, this is starting to come to fruition on site.