Educating to build ‘greener’ will raise Dubai awareness

Dr Ahmad Okeil, head of the Institute of the Built Environment at The British University in Dubai (BuiD), talks to CW about the promotion of ‘greener’ building methods and how these can be put into practice.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  June 24, 2006

|~|127int200.gif|~|Dr Okeil says that it is difficult to get clients to spend more during the construction phase by incorporating ‘green’ aspects into a building’s design.|~|How long has the Masters in Environ-mental Design of Buildings course been running at the BuiD?

The course is almost two years old now. At the moment we have 12 students from a range of countries, including the UK, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, as well as UAE nationals.

We have two modes of delivery — one is a full-time MSc course, which we have not yet started because most of the applications were from people already working; right now we have 12 students on the part-time course, which takes around 27 months to complete.

What does the course include?

To complete the course students have to take six modules and write a dissertation. The modules are: Climate and Comfort, where students are introduced to the basic concepts of environmental design; Passive Design, which looks at passive methods of lighting, heating and cooling buildings; Skins and Spaces, which covers techniques to integrate the environmental performance of the building’s walls with air movement and heat distribution; Efficient Building Services, which focuses on optimising services such as cooling, heating and ventilation using traditional, low carbon and renewable energy sources.

There is also Renewable and Sustainable Resources, which examines the potential for re-use, recycling and renewal of materials, consumption of energy and water and the production of waste; and finally Investigations in the Built Environment, a critical course that introduces students to investigative and analytical methods and techniques.
Each of the six modules can also be taken separately as a Continuous Professional Development module.

Does the course have links with industrial partners?

Atkins is supporting the institute and is sponsoring a research associate here. It is also providing scholarships, which are given to students to cover 50% of their tuition fees. We also have links with consultant, Hyder, which recently joined and is also offering scholarships.

We expect more industry partners to join as it seems there’s a great need for this topic in the region.

How does the course differ from what is already on offer here?

It’s one of the first courses of its kind in the region. There are already masters courses offered for architecture and urban planning, but this is one of the first in the country to focus on the environmental design of buildings.

Why was it decided to establish the course here?

It’s part of the mission to make Dubai the region’s ‘capital of knowledge’. Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities — what happens here is being copied elsewhere in the region — so if we can establish a good example this will set a precedent, which can be copied elsewhere in the region.

Do you think we’re seeing a shift in attitude within the region towards a more environmentally friendly approach to building and building maintenance?

I think it’s changing from day to day. Whether you talk about the authorities, contractors or developers, attitudes are changing but not at the same level across the board. But at least something is happening.

Is it hard to convince people to take a ‘greener’ approach?

Establishing this course is only one step — there have to be other measures as well. If we compare what’s happening here with Europe; there, governments are providing incentives to designers, developers, contractors and end-users to adopt greener approaches. One reason why this is not happening here yet is because electricity is so cheap.

Also, when we make proposals to have green features within a building and start making our calculations, we find it’s very difficult to convince some clients to spend more money at the initial construction phase — when they do their own calculations they make a decision based upon economics. We, on the other hand, are looking at the environmental impact.

Convincing clients needs an increased awareness and the collaboration of several entities; not only academia but support from the government and from industrial partners as well.

Is the course helping to change opinions about the built environment?

Take the example of buying a car: you like to know how much fuel it consumes per kilometre. But we are not that far advanced yet when it comes to apartments and villas — for example when you buy an apartment you never ask how much energy it consumes.

But the time will come when people look to buy or rent properties that consume less energy. In turn, this will mean that developers will try to design and build structures that use less energy, and this will create a demand for people who can build these types of building. It may take some time but I think we’re moving towards it.

Can you give an example of some of the ‘greener’ methods that can be incorporated into a building’s design?

In our Passive Design course we look at using ambient energies, including solar energy, to make buildings more comfortable from the inside without going through mechanical or electrical systems — by only using the architectural elements of the building.

Other strategies include solar chimneys, which capture solar energy, convert it into heat, and then heat the air. When air is warmer than its surroundings, it rises, and when it rises it can be used to produce ventilation inside the building or to eliminate heat from other parts of the building.||**||

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