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Master-planning for sustainability

The route to delivering sustainable cities begins with a holistic understanding of the relationship between buildings and the community in which they will be placed, says Sougata Nandi.

| | Oct 18, 2016 | 2:58 pm
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– Sougata Nandi


Sougata Nandi

Sougata Nandi

The biggest sustainability trend that has gained traction in the UAE in recent years is the development of Green Buildings. After initial scepticism, coupled with lack of knowledge, the Green Building movement has picked up quite nicely, largely led by the Estidama and Trakhees mandates. Together, they have positioned the UAE in the top 10 countries of the world in terms of the number of Green Buildings. This is a great start that has nicely set up the next level of maturity in the evolving sustainability movement – sustainable master-planned cities.

True sustainability is a result of an integrated design and development approach that involves all stakeholders, particularly the developer, from the beginning to the end of the project development. To an extent, some of the Green Buildings that have come up in the UAE, or are being developed, have engaged, or are engaging, a multitude of stakeholders at the design development phases. While the Green Building certification programmes have largely necessitated the practice, the true purpose or benefit is yet to be fully realised. While we continue to grapple with engaging “all” stakeholders, it is time to start involving the bigger stakeholders, who are not directly involved in the individual building projects. These are namely the various authorities, like utilities, municipalities and the traffic departments. Currently, their role is to ensure the design elements of the individual buildings follow the standards or regulations laid down, and to issue NOCs.

In the course of the master-planning, the master-developer has already demarcated plots with pre-designated building orientations

A greater involvement of these entities will necessitate a genuine evolution of their Standard Operating Procedures, though, and may take a while. On the other hand, several developers are developing master-planned communities. For mixed-use communities, typically there is a master developer, who develops the infrastructure and possibly a few buildings. In addition, there are individual developers, who design and develop their own buildings, as per the Development Control Regulations specified by the master developer. For residential master-planned communities, it is generally a single developer that is developing the entire project.

True sustainability is when a building synergises with the community and becomes a true part of the greater whole. In order to understand this, we need to appreciate that true sustainability goes beyond energy and water efficiency in the building operations and ensures that the building itself, as well as the community, are reducing resource utilisation, much beyond that possible by the buildings on their own.

buildings_green cover_uneditedWe always hear of the classic case of building orientation as a fundamental tenet to reduce energy consumption of a building. If a building is wrongly oriented, it will have excessive solar exposure, thus increasing its energy consumption. Unfortunately, building orientation is not a choice of the building developer. In the course of the master-planning, the master-developer has already demarcated plots with pre-designated building orientations. Therefore, for each building within the master-planned development to have the correct or energy-efficient orientation, the master-developer should have factored that in. This needs to be reflected in the Development Control Regulation, which is the guide for individual developers within the community. This is easier said than done, though. Master-planning for an entire community to have the correct orientation is not an easy task, especially given that traffic flows, end-use of plots, proximities and other necessary infrastructure elements need to be efficiently incorporated, as well.

Sustainability is as much about showcasing as it is about application of technologies. Children and adults will practice by default all that they grow up observing or witness on a daily basis. Installing streetlights comprising LED lamps and 100% powered by solar photovoltaic would be a classic application of a technology that has made rapid techno-commercial progress in the past decade. While streetlights could easily be powered by ‘Green energy’ through the grid, the mechanism would lack the social and transformational impact that visible solar photovoltaic panels can create in a community. In addition to eliminating the use of conventional energy, solar photovoltaic-powered streetlights eliminate the need for large-scale cabling, thereby reducing the requirement of resources and accelerating the speed of installation.

Several other design development features, when applied synergistically between the master-development and the individual buildings, can scale the heights of true sustainability

The trend should also be to develop mixed-use communities that are master-planned to accommodate commercial, residential, retail, hospitality, healthcare and educational sectors. True sustainability can be achieved through reduced vehicles and transportation requirements. When children can go cycling or walking to their school in a safe and controlled environment, and when at least some residents can walk to their offices, using well-shaded, comfortable and safe walk-ways, greater resource optimisation takes place. In addition to the reduced environmental impact, a significant social transformation also occurs since citizens are not isolated in their cocoons of private transport any longer. Community shuttle buses that are clean fuel-powered, further add to the sustainability of the master-planned community. In addition, such communities need to be connected to the greater city through shuttle transport, further eliminating long-distance commutes by private vehicles.

Master-planned communities have a large expanse of landscaped area, sometimes up to 25% of the overall development. In addition, individual properties have their own greenery inside their plot boundaries. Therefore, the water required for landscaping is significantly high. Now, landscaping does not require potable water. Interestingly, the primary source of non-potable water is the buildings themselves, which generate black and grey water, neither of which can be utilised directly. Keeping in mind that buildings are the primary source of waste water and that landscaping is the main consumer of treated water, the master developer as well as the developers of individual buildings can, therefore, work in synergy by setting up a wastewater treatment plant and a network of treated sewage effluent (TSE) water. This arrangement can not only reduce the demand for the community’s potable water by more than 50% but also eliminate wastewater exiting the community, reducing the load on the municipal sewage network. From a multitude of angles, the sustainability implications are much higher.

There are several other design development features, which when applied synergistically between the master-development and the individual buildings, can scale the heights of true sustainability. We will continue to look at these in Part 2 of the article, in November.

Sougata Nandi is CEO of 3e Advisory. He can be contacted through sougata.nandi@3eadvisory.ae

CPI Industry accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided here.

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