The second panel discussion at the 2018 designMENA Summit looked at ways in which architects can propose the idea of sustainability as a financial asset, as well as ways in which local architects and designers can adopt local materials to create more eco-friendly and contextual work.
“From my experience, when a client is not an end user it’s a very difficult conversation. You try to outline all the expectations and ambitions of a project or a development and when the client is a developer and not an end user, all these ambitions start to fade fairly quickly into the background,” said Jeroen Kortekaas, head of architecture, Bluehaus Group.
“I think there is an enormous opportunity in the future for repositioning, redevelopment, and refurbishment. Imagine if you can double the lifespan of a building, you are immediately twice as sustainable,” he added.
Omar Nakkash, founder of Nakkash Design Studio, said that architects need to find ways in which to position sustainability in a way that it becomes seen as a financial asset for developers.
“There is a lack of sustainability in the field of interior design [in the region],” he explained. “The demand here is in control of the supply, so there is a lack of demand for sustainable design, there is lack of education around it. I think we need to find a good balance between sustainability and financial sense in order for it to be more commercial.”
The architects agreed that using local materials is one way to stay sustainable, as well as contributing to maintaining and employing the local context.
Marta Galvez, senior architect at JT + Partners, stated: “In terms of materials, I think the context and the location are essential. It’s not only about colours and it’s not only about sustainability, it for us to remember and not forget about the culture in which we are located.
“I think all this will require a lot of effort from our side because it is all about the research, studying, and looking for new materials and use them in a way to create something different.”
Jennie Binchy, design director at Binchy and Binchy, agreed: “Architects went through a phase of being remorseful or apologetic about their work because it was almost like ‘we are architects so we are not sustainable, we building things, we are using materials’. I think architects now are celebrating sustainability more and it is part of their material choice and part of actual architecture.”
Duncan Denley, managing director at Desert INK, used the Sustainability Pavilion as an example in which architects can pioneer the use of local materials, all while minimising long term cost, and staying contextual.
“If we look at landscapes created by humans in the last 30 to 40 years in [Dubai], you will see that most of the species that have been used are mostly imported from overseas. We have got so clever that we are literally going against nature – we are putting plants out of context and they are not growing well.
“What the Sustainability Pavilion is all about is leading the way to something new. We went out into the deserts and mountains of this region and found plants growing in rocky crevices and in the low areas of the desert and took seeds from these plants and cultivated them and some of them responded very well to cultivation to the extent that they require minimal input but will grow fantastically well with much less water, much less fertilization, and much less maintenance. And therefore, it is cheaper to maintain and this is where it all needs to go. We need to convince our clients by saying ‘sustainability will save you money’. That’s where I think we have a big card to play with developers.”
He continued: “With the Sustainability Pavilion, already the Dubai Municipality is using them along Al Wasl Road and Beach Road. So they are now replacing plants that were changed three times a year and needed much more water and lots of maintenance.
“I think in landscape terms it is a little bit easier for us to be sustainably aware because of the materials that we work with. I always say to our team, ‘if you are relying on a fancy material to make your project successful then you are not doing your job as a designer’,” he added.