Designing for sustainable tourism

Steven Velegrinis speaks about the importance of combining environmental planning with cultural heritage conservation to design for a resilient and ecologically sensitive form of tourism

Steven Velegrinis

Resilience here refers to the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. It equally relates to the ability of elements of natural and cultural heritage to be resilient to increasing tourism numbers.

The latest MENA Hotel Construction Report by TopHotelProjects states 83 hotels will open in 2018, with 200 in the pipeline, including 164 in Dubai, 25 in Abu Dhabi and 12 in Ras Al Khaimah. As architects, we must look at sustainable options to manage such growth within the region without irreparable damage to the local ecosystems.

The good news is that resilient design doesn’t need to be austere – it can be hedonistic and luxurious, as it must be for hospitality design. A good example of a resilient yet luxurious design concept is what we delivered for a Resort Island in the Maldives.

Faced with the seeming inevitability of sea level rise, hedonistic resilience is realised through a reclamation plan that triples the amount of available beach front and mangrove habitat and reprocesses all waste water in the island landscape. The project also grows significant amounts of organic food on site, is fully self-sufficient in energy as a consequence of underwater tidal turbines, and enhances the marine reefs and lagoons by introducing artificial reef structures to protect against storm surges on the exposed side of the atoll.

The built elements are also designed to be both the ultimate in luxury and privacy, accessible only by private boat, while responding to sea level rise as they are designed as floating villas with underwater fish breeding platforms.

We expect to see an increasing number of these types of requirements coming in over the course of the next decade. Considering the waterfront developments coming to fruition at the moment, such as the NEOM Project recently announced in Saudi Arabia, architects will be challenged to respond with complex levels of environmental intelligence applied to their conceptualisation and design.

The UAE is serious about the challenges of climate change, proactively addressing them through policy and projects, with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment dedicated to such solutions. This body has prepared the UAE National Climate Change Plan 2050, which makes climate change mitigation a national goal, and architects are being asked by government-linked developers to produce master plans with this firmly in mind.

As a result, the future of UAE ecological preservation looks to be in safe hands, especially within the hospitality sector, which is excellent news for the UAE’s sustainability vision and tourism growth plans.

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