Dubai can’t be built in a day

Global architectural firm Hok’s regional senior vice president Daniel Hajjar provides a view from the frontline of sustainable design.

Providing consultation, planning and design for the built environment, HOK designed the first LEED-rated airport terminal at Boston Logan International and provided retrofit for Hong Kong’s first LEED- rated offices.

It is this experience which has given the company’s senior vice president and regional man- ager for MENA, Daniel Hajjar, the insight and understanding to analyse how the region works and how it can work smarter.

Drawing on Dubai as an example, Hajjar explains how futuristic design and fast-paced construction isn’t always progressive.

“When you look at the old desert cities and how they grew; it made sense. These cities still have a core to them and are compact with local services and shaded streets.

“If you look at Diera, the streets, cityscape and actual scale of the area, it’s better designed than Sheikh Zayed Road; because when you develop along a line you’re stuck. Cities don’t work along a line, they work when you actually have a network that connects up.”

Desert to metropolis

Hajjar has been in the role since the company’s expansion into the region in 1999.

“You can see which buildings are built during a boom, because you look back afterwards and think ‘why did we do that?’”

Witnessing first hand Dubai’s growth from old desert city to modern-day metropolis, his experience of how the built environment needs to serve the social and cultural environment is extensive.

“There is a whole societal aspect to knowing how to build a city and knowing what that soci- ety will accept,” he explains.

From the height of garden walls to neigh- bourhood amenities, these aspects underpin the success of developments. To “really crack the nut of what people want”, he says developers must concentrate on these needs to reduce expensive retrofits and energy consumption.

In a time when more people commute than ever before, Hajjar says basic requirements; national railways, reliable and renewable power sources and localised amenities, are increas- ingly urgent, especially following a lack of focus during the boom years.

“You can see which buildings are built dur- ing a boom, because you look back afterwards and think ‘why did we do that?’

“You need to take a sobering look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Cities don’t happen overnight.”

A rocky road

There was no period more sobering than 2008 and the seismic shift in priorities — in both the industry and daily life — is still producing shockwaves. While he says the key benefit is that those who survived want to be here, the region is not immune to future turbulence and there are even more issues facing green design.

“There were a disproportionate number of speculators to investors and their priorities are different. To really address that in the future there has to be some fundamental structural shift but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

In terms of the future, Hajjar says asking key questions and returning to simplistic, tried and tested design will increase the sustainability of communities: “People want security, decent infrastructure and good schools. Those attrib- utes are global and communities need to be designed in a certain way.”

Hok Topics

Where and when:

Wednesday November 24, 9:30—10am Sustainability in the Middle East: Reality Vs. Perception

What will you speak about?

“In this part of the world, our carbon footprint is substantial and disproportionate to the popula- tion. We need to ask if we have gone too far in terms of building and creating. One of the big challenges everyone is going to face here is under- standing what is genuine sustainability and what is green wash.”

Why do people need to hear this?

“The world is moving on; there is a change hap- pening now; environmental, social and financial factors have come together in a way unprece- dented since the US depression and I think there is going to be a fundamental shift in how people live their lives and how we design for that.”

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