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Building cities that nurture

Building cities that nurture

 
Creating tomorrow’s sustainable cities is not just about innovation
When we talk about the cities of the future it’s often a tongue-in-cheek dinner table scenario with more than a hint of sci-fi hypothesising. The advent of 3D printing and increasingly sophisticated building information modelling (BIM) software exemplify technological advancement in the built environment, but innovation in designing sustainable communities that also soothe our souls is just as important.
According to Baharash Bagherian, director of Baharash Architecture, lead designer for phase two of Dubai’s Sustainable City community, benchmark models for future cities are yet to emerge.

For Andrew Whalley, deputy chairman of Grimshaw, the architectural practice behind the World Expo 2020’s Sustainability Pavilion, the whole issue of sustainable cities is at the centre of our future.
“We are seeing massive global population growth, which, according to the latest UN figures, will increase by a further 30 per cent in just over a generation, effectively doubling the current size of our cities,” notes Whalley.
 
With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, Whalley is looking beyond bricks and mortar issues. He says: “The real goal, mentally, is to develop environments that address social wellbeing and health and this is all set against the ever-increasing speed of evolutionary technology and impact of IT on our cities.”
Innovation 101
 
When it comes to design tools, technology has “raced ahead” according to Whalley, but it’s not the same when it comes to building technology. “Cities are mostly built in terms of buildings and infrastructure, and one part of the world that’s moved at an absolutely glacial pace is building technology — the technological evolution of architecture is way behind.”
While Bagherian also highlights the role technology innovation has to play in shaping improved city models through design analysis, energy performance optimisation and intelligent project cycle management with BIM systems, he notes that a holistic approach to innovation is required.
 
“This means designing sustainable projects that address all three key pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental,” says Bagherian. “We believe that great architecture is more than buildings; it’s about creating resilient and inclusive destinations that make people feel healthy to live in, inspired to work in and want to visit.”
 
At the heart of this is connectivity, an area that has seen Grimshaw work on some of the world’s most high-profile transportation projects, including London’s under-development Crossrail line and Manhattan’s Fulton Centre transit complex.
Says Whalley: “The fundamental backbone of a city is its transportation system and our ability to be mobile in a pleasant and enjoyable way. If you look at Los Angeles, previous generations were wedded to their cars and only recently has there been investment into the new metro system and the younger generation has happily switched across.”
The other major innovation consideration is underpinned by our relationship with nature, as Whalley explains: “We are still wired in a way that goes back millennia, where having a relationship with nature and the outdoors is critical to our health and wellbeing, and research supports this so parks and recreational amenities are vital.”
Nature lessons
 
Mother Nature is an educator — and Whalley cites two relevant examples from the Grimshaw sustainability stable to prove this: the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami and Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station.
For the former, the firm replaced conventional air-conditioning systems with a design that uses sea breezes to help cool the series of four “open-arm stance” buildings and bring nature from the outside in.
 
In Melbourne, the Grimshaw team also followed a natural ventilation approach, creating a sand dune-reminiscent roof for the station that makes the most of the city’s strong prevailing winds to respond to the structure’s internal need for diesel extraction and ambient cooling.
“In this region it’s not energy that’s the big issue, it’s water. There are things we are doing now that could quite easily be adopted for the next generation of buildings in Dubai that would be far more efficient,” remarks Whalley. “We’ve all seen the water drops that a dehumidifying air-conditioning unit leaches. This could be captured, recycled and reused to run grey water systems, which would be far more efficient and cost-effective than using expensive potable water.”
 
For Bagherian, intelligent sensors that control indoor lighting and temperature, and are adjustable based on exterior weather and light conditions as well as variables such as the number of occupants in a room, will be a fixture of future cities.
He says: “Embedding sensors in buildings to detect motion, temperature, noise, moisture, fire, smoke, etc. provides real-time data. Once these sensors are connected to the Internet of Things, buildings can communicate real-time data to various departments within the city.
“For example, waste can be collected upon receiving automatic notification of full receptacles and user data can be analysed to provide an estimate of the day and time for future waste collections.”
 
Trending technology
The Grimshaw team recently showcased a completely new under-development technology for the production of 100 per cent recycled glass house panels that are extremely strong, fire resistant and highly insulated.
 
Says Whalley: “What’s starting to happen in housing is a much greater use of prefabrication. I think the only place it’s been done successfully to date is in Japan, but we are now seeing Europe and, a little further behind, the US taking this on board.”
 
Bagherian adds: “Modular construction allows for shorter construction times, more consistent quality and more economic savings. Technology is also helping modular construction through parametric modelling, which defines relationships among building elements and this makes it possible to change one aspect and instantly understand its impact on the overall design. Thus technology is fuelling a more intelligent workflow in the development of sustainable cities.”
He also flags 3D printing as an opportunity driver, with the ability to also provide more flexibility in the shape of buildings. “For example, curvilinear structures can be achieved without having to worry about the extra costs of creating formworks.”
Paving the way
 
Addressing the challenges and opportunities facing governments, urban planners, architects and city stakeholders everywhere, Bagherian raises the question of designing environments to fit the needs of a rapidly changing world.
 
“A major challenge is designing projects that are fit for our needs for the next 30-50 years. How can we provide a holistic solution to development while also future proofing them at the same time? This means making sure that they are resilient. A resilient city should have the capacity to maintain the same level of quality of life should there be any future shocks and stresses to its environment. Most of our cities however, are far from resilient,” he says.
Baharash Architecture is also supporting the advancement of knowledge of affordable sustainable practices, and launched the Knowledge Hub for Sustainable Development this year to explore new solutions and strategies to facilitate progress on sustainable thinking in the Middle East and North Africa.
 
“In terms of where we are on the journey, we are at the very beginning, and this has to be a commitment to and for future generations,” says Whalley.
 
By Claire Malcolm
Gulf News