Outlook for 2019: Saeed Alabbar, managing director at AESG

Leading figures in the UAE construction industry predict the major trends and issues that will disrupt the market in 2019

The urgency of transitioning to near-zero or net-zero energy buildings came to the fore in 2018, with the IPCC releasing a report in October seen as ‘’a final call to save the world from climate catastrophe’’. This dramatic report on keeping global temperature rise under 1.5°C says the world is now completely off-track, heading instead towards a 3°C rise. This new study says that going past 1.5°C is dicing with the planet’s liveability. And the 1.5°C temperature ‘guard rail’ could be exceeded in just 12 years, a frighteningly short timescale.

On the positive side, 2018 saw the start of far-reaching actions necessary to achieve the targets of the Paris agreement, as leaders from some of the world’s biggest cities plus two major regions have committed to enact regulations and/or planning policies that will require all new buildings within their jurisdiction to operate at net-zero carbon from 2030; and all buildings, including existing, to operate at net-zero carbon by 2050, under the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.

We have already seen the first movers in this space and are working with some forward-thinking clients on net-zero and near-zero schemes. We anticipate that in line with global trends, this will be an area that will continue to gain significant momentum in the Middle East in 2019.

Economic challenges in 2018 continued to drive the need for value engineering (VE), though all too often clients opted to do so too late, resulting in the VE exercise being reduced to mere cost-cutting at the expense of quality. Clients often wait until they finalise their building layouts with the architectural teams before engaging the rest of the team.

However, having the engineers work closely with the architect to optimise the building design and distribution, and details such as the location of main plant rooms, provides the greatest likelihood of ultimately achieving the best value. Or take for example MEP works, wherein there is a lot of repetition and abortive works between the consultant and contractor. The current design process must change to avoid this and the conflicts that arise from it.

To be truly effective, VE must commence at the start of a project and involve close collaboration between teams, and should be woven into the project development process rather than treated as a cost-cutting exercise carried out only once designs have been completed.

With current market conditions, it is inevitable that developers and building owners look more closely to their existing assets to maximise their value and revenue potential. This is coupled with the market reaching a maturity level wherein there is an increasing number of aging assets that are in urgent need of refurbishment.

I predicted that this would be a growth area for the industry in 2018, as clients looked to ensure that their assets met modern standards and codes and explored opportunities for renovation or change of use for older or distressed assets.

We certainly saw this trend come to the fore in 2018, and we conducted many projects to upgrade and recommission existing assets to ensure compliance with updated life safety codes, health and wellbeing criteria, and energy efficiency goals. We were also requested to conduct several building surveys for clients looking at a major upgrade of existing assets or change of use to better suit changing market conditions. I certainly see this being a continued growth area in the market as the region’s property sector evolves to a more mature market status.

One challenge that has been evident in this process is the lack of accurate documentation and records for existing buildings, including those that have been recently handed over. A BIM model with asset data attached is the best method for managing data throughout the project, from concept to handover to the FM team.

Unfortunately, the use of BIM is still concentrated on visual elements rather than information, so this needs a mindset change before it can work successfully. Logging and reporting on this information could be used to draw comparison with predictions from the design. This would then give building owners the ability to correct operating issues quickly and reduce their OpEx, while also increasing the life of their investments.

Overall, 2018 saw a solid foundation being set in place, and I remain optimistic that this will be built upon in the year ahead.

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