Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council development manager james reed and director of development review and urban design Saood Hamad Al Junaibi tell The Big Project how the emirate’s Capital District is putting the just-launched Estidama Pearl Rating System to the test
Capital District, the largest single initiative within Abu Dhabi’s Urban Structure Framework Plan, Capital 2030, will be the first large-scale development to implement new sustainable standards set by Estidama.
The anticipated Estidama Pearl Rating System (PRS), managed by Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) and designed to assess the sustainability performance of buildings, communities and villas, was unveiled at Cityscape Abu Dhabi last month, where UPC development manager James Reed revealed to The Big Project that Capital District is being developed in accordance with Estidama guidelines to set an example of best practice for other developers to follow.
Eventually, most Abu Dhabi projects will receive a ranking from one Pearl to five; the highest rating a development can achieve after a detailed submission to an Estidama Assessor.
“Capital District will be its own city in many ways; a standalone development where we can implement best practice in sustainability, urban planning and leadership,” says Reed.
“UPC’s Estidama team has been working with the Capital District team and the design consultants over the past two years to keep the development in line with all of the Estidama principles.”
The 45km² triangular-shaped district situated between Abu Dhabi International Airport and the mainland will provide more than 32 million m² of office-, residential-, hotel-, retail- and leisure space, as well as key government buildings, mosques, schools, community facilities and health amenities. In the UPCs promotional material, the project is referred to as “arguably Abu Dhabis most sustainable and important development.” The developent comprises six precincts; City Centre Precinct, the Sports Hub Precinct, the South Spine Precint, the Palace Precinct, Emirati neighbourhoods and — possibly most significantly — the Federal Precinct.
The Federal Precinct will serve as the national seat of government for the UAE. It will be centred in a new ceremonial public space called National Square and will include the International Park and Monumental Park. It will also be home to other significant institutions, such as libraries and museums, as well as local, regional and national government ministries within the Ministries Zone and Institutions Zone. Capital District is slated to become the federal heart of Abu Dhabi and will occupy the equivalent of 75% of the emirates land mass.
Reed says the government buildings within the Federal Precinct are “likely to have a higher Pearl rating requirement than anything around.” UPC director of the Capital District development Jody Andrews adds that the objective is to create a leading sustainable, modern Arab capital.
“The Capital District reflects the passion and vision of the emirates leadership to transform Abu Dhabi into an economically-, socially- and environmentally sustainable city that reflects the values, culture and heritage of its people,” adds Andrews.
The design of the capital is based on Four Cs; Capital, Central to Business, Connectivity and Community.
The implementation of Estidamas Pearl Rating System (PRS) principles has been critical to meeting these objectives, according to Reed. The system incorporates a Pearl Building Rating System (PBRS), a Pearl Community Rating System (PCRS) and a Pearl Villa Rating System (PVRS). Together, they introduce rating practices across design and construction phases, and provide measurable guides for rating sustainability performance of communities, buildings and for largescale developments. The guidelines address seven key areas; integrated development process, natural systems, livable communities and buildings, water, energy materials and innovating practice. For each category there are mandatory and optional credits, as well as weights with maximum-credit points delivered to each.
PRS will cover three levels; Pearl Design Rating engaged at design phase and relevant until construction is complete. Pearl Construction Rating introduced for two years from completion. And Pearl Operational Rating, which then assesses the operational performance of an existing development for a minimum of two years after completion (once 80% occupancy has been reached).
Capital District, which is moving on from the master-planning stage to engineering, is implenting PBRS and PCRS guidelines that apply throughout the design and construction phases.
UPC says that through the application of PRS, communities in Abu Dhabi will be equipped with walkable, shaded, well-connected streets and public realm for livability and reduced reliance on motorised vehicles. Buildings and villas will have a framework for measuring their sustainability performance and meeting goals by emphasising water and energy efficiency, optimum selection of materials, indoor environment quality and the reduction of waste.
“Sustainability at this phase is looking at the guidelines in terms of infrastructure. So were considering how wide roads are; can we reduce concrete by reducing the width of the roads? By applying the PRS were ensuring we dont overbuild the infrastructure, or underbuild it,” Reed says.
“How the area becomes livable — wider streets, shading and open spaces for example — are all part of the design and development process. Whether people want to stay living or working within the development is directly linked to sustainability and whether the project is a long-term investment.”
Tailored to Fit
Reed says the PRS addresses many aspects that are not considered within global rating systems, such as LEED or Breeam. He says this is because PRS has been tailored to the region. “The Pearl system is more localized than other systems. It looks at regional challenges like the climate.”
Reed asserts that projects within Capital District will adopt the PRS and will not vye for other certification; LEED for example. “We will encourage Pearl ratings of one-to-two Pearls or higher for individual projects.
However, we understand that as ratings get higher the costs tend to go up so we want to be reasonable,” he adds. But UPC director of development review & urban design Saood Hamad Al Junaibi says attaining a Pearl rating “isnt going to be as expensive as people think”, but rather a “marginal percentage” of the total price.
He adds that the return in terms of power and water savings can add up to as much as 30-40%. “This is the first sustainable standard applied by the government. Its going to be a gradual shift to bring up standards, but we have to move as soon as possible.
Designs are not to the standard we would like to see,” says Al Junaibi. However, he adds that the programme will be piloted in Abu Dhabi first, to make sure that it is “really workable in our own area”. “Then we can look at applying the system in the UAE”.
Developers and design consultants are eligible to receive training by Estidama experts on how to apply the PRS in designing projects and rating their sustainability performance (training sessions will be announced on Estidamas website). Ratings are achieved by submitting a successful detailed submission to Estidama. As one of the system’s first clients, Reed says the guidelines have been “very easy to follow, implement from design stage and easy to accomplish without spending a lot more money”.
“I’ve worked with a lot of governments and I’ve never seen anything so organised from a
government agency with regard to sustainability. Most rating systems are voluntary; some people adhere to them because it elevates their efforts. But here it’s going to become part of the approval process to know, view and rate using the Pearl system, which will be highly efficient.
“By doing this, you regulate and you help the municipality to measure sustainability issues and plan for the future,” asserts Reed. But before the system can become part of the approval process, awareness must be raised,” concludes Al Junaibi.