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Open-plan offices… the bane of sustainable development

Msheireb Properties, in Qatar, which is nearing the completion stage, will arguably see the largest cluster of Green Buildings in the GCC region. An estimated 100 buildings that are either LEED Gold or LEED Platinum are expected to come on board, in a major boost to the greening efforts under way in the region. In […]

| | Feb 17, 2016 | 3:43 pm
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Msheireb Properties, in Qatar, which is nearing the completion stage, will arguably see the largest cluster of Green Buildings in the GCC region. An estimated 100 buildings that are either LEED Gold or LEED Platinum are expected to come on board, in a major boost to the greening efforts under way in the region.

In the UAE, Dubai has embarked upon an ambitious plan to retrofit 30,000 buildings to address energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues. And several other initiatives, aimed at reining in rampant power consumption, are under way in the country.

A significant stumbling block exists on the green pathway, though, in the form of open-plan offices, which are often described as the bane of sustainable development.

Open-plan offices are called so, because the interior layouts are kept open, save for the common areas, because architects and MEP engineers, despite their expertise, have scant idea of the end-user profile of the commercial space, the number of occupants, the number of meeting rooms and the management hierarchy, which is a determining factor in the number of cabins that will be erected. That is because the building owners themselves are probably in the dark about who they will be leasing the property out to.

As a result, the architects and engineers work according to a general assumption and, at best, can give HVAC air systems for the entire area and not on the basis of individual sub-zone requirements. Entire ducting layouts go up, as do thermostats, fan-coil units or variable air volume boxes, without any understanding of the peripheral and inner zones. The speculative effort, in one broad sweep puts paid to all sustainable development initiatives, because the occupants of the peripheral zones, look to lower the temperature setting to compensate for the heat gain from the sunlight coming through the windows, whereas, those in the inner zones feel cold and uncomfortable.

Thermal discomfort comes in the way of productivity, and the energy inefficiency resulting from a lower thermostat setting adds to the operating expenses and to emissions.

The situation can be addressed only through a more sophisticated engagement among the multiple stakeholders involved in all the phases of construction. While it is understandably difficult to predict the end-user profile, especially during volatile economic times, when businesses move in and move out, closer cooperation, and greater planning and discipline can ensure a certain measure of control. For instance, building owners and developers, in general, would do well to arrive at a certain profile of the type of tenants they wish to lease their premises out to and, equally, try to explore long-term prospects. Further, leasing teams and technical teams could engage in a dialogue to better understand and appreciate their respective spheres of concern. The clarity that emerges through the cooperation will go a long way in limiting the speculative aspects of design that plague the industry.


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