With a mixture of curiosity and dread, the Gulf projects industry is anticipating the publication later in 2009 of the region's first compulsory green buildings regulations. They are likely to come into effect in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The curiosity is about the extent to which the codes will correspond to the two most popular forms: Leed, which was developed in the US, and Britain's Breeam. The dread is about the prospect of additional costs at a time when the UAE construction industry is being hammered by a cash-flow squeeze.
The case for green buildings, however, is irresistible. Real estate agents accept that buildings which save energy and water generate higher long-term returns. But going green is more than a technical challenge. It entails adopting a philosophy that is seen as a peripheral luxury in much of the Middle East.
Designers say going green can be simplified into four elements. The first is positioning. Energy savings of at least 10 per cent can be achieved by arranging new buildings to absorb less sun.
Static design was the basic principle of Middle East urban development before air-conditioning.
Qatari architect Ibrahim Jaidah told MEED's Qatar Green Buildings conference in March that Doha's original street design ensured buildings were orientated to avoid direct sunlight and provide shade in areas where people walked. Roads were aligned to allow prevailing northwest winds to flow freely.
Static design expressed itself in houses with wind towers that captured breezes and cooled interiors. The best-known wind tower design originated in Bastak. This area in southern Iran is inhabited by Sunni Muslim Arabs, some of whom migrated to Dubai. The area of the city they lived in is named Bastakiyah after them.
The second element is efficiency. This entails using materials and equipment that minimise energy and water consumption. Glass cladding magnifies the heat of the sun. It's better to use heat-reflecting materials and little glass on areas most exposed to the sun. An alternative is double or, even, triple glazing.
There are many solutions to the equipment challenge. These range from district cooling and water-saving bathroom fittings to recycled fibre carpets.
Positioning and efficiency are comparatively straightforward challenges. The final two elements aren't. The first is recovery. This starts with minimising waste in the construction phase and includes using grey water, the output of washing machines, hand basins, showers and baths. This can involve installing grey water reverse osmosis units. Sanitaryware manufacturers are developing combined hand basin and water closet units where waste from the former is used in the latter. Mind-boggling innovation is on its way.
The fourth element is renewal. Earlier in 2009, the wind turbines were activated on Bahrain's World Trade Centre. The final challenge was connecting the building to the national grid to allow the disposal of surplus power.
Solar energy has made slow progress. It's an expensive way to produce power in countries where grid electricity is cheap. Solar units are difficult to maintain in Gulf environments.
The visionaries, nevertheless, are turning dreams into reality. The Pacific Controls building in Dubai is the first in the Middle East with a LEED platinum rating. Work has started on Dubai's Lighthouse Tower, also designed to platinum standards. It incorporates all four green elements: positioning, efficiency, recovery and renewal.
The headquarters of Qatar Energy City is to be compliant with green building standards. Also in Qatar, Dohaland, a new real estate company backed by the Qatar Foundation, has adopted green principles as a founding principle. The world's most remarkable green building initiative is Abu Dhabi's Masdar City, the first parts of which start operating this autumn.
The green building movement is spreading. It's likely all GCC states will soon have green building standards.
That is why the call made by Dohaland's chief executive officer Issa al-Mohannadi at MEED's Qatar Green Buildings Conference for common GCC standards is so timely. Horrifyingly, there are already 252 different green building codes. There is no need for another six, but the UAE alone is about to create two on its own.The GCC should co-ordinate their green building strategies. And, Al-Mohannadi suggests, this should be done as soon as possible.