Given the history of the construction industry in the middle east, it may seem surprising that the best bet for the recovery of the region’s stalled economy could come through sustainable building.
Many nations throughout the middle east have economies that have traditionally been highly oil-dependent – almost antithetical to green concepts. Furthermore, the construction industry in the middle east is well-known for massive developments that have cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai from small villages to booming international hubs. When the region was hit hard by the Global Financial Crisis, many major construction projects were put on hold.
Now, Abu Dhabi is hosting the World Eco Construct, which promotes and offers information on sustainable building technologies and ideals. That it would host such an event speaks to the seismic shift in the region’s building ethos.
The UAE is planning for a huge rise in sustainable housing projects in the coming year, thanks in part to over US$15 billion in contracts. That figure marks an increase of over 26 per cent in sustainable building contracts over 2011.
A shining example of the construction shift comes in the form of Masdar City, slated to become the most sustainable urban area in the world. The city, on which construction is due to start soon, has been designed with an eye to having a low carbon footprint and low total waste output. It will also be heavily reliant on renewable energy sources.
This green plan is mirrored in the US$60 billion Sustainable Economic Cities of Saudi Arabia, the construction of the environmentally-sensitive Energy City in Qatar and Sabah Al Ahmed International Finance Centre in Kuwait.
There are, of course, reasons to questions whether such a huge change in philosophy will be attainable. Given the size and scale of the massive cities throughout the middle east, it would be difficult to make them solely reliant on renewable energy in the foreseeable future.
There is also the question of whether the shift in focus is a real green push or a reaction to the depletion on the oil reserves on which the region has been so dependent for so long. Even with the increased investment in sustainable development, that money pales in comparison to the US$871.6 billion being poured into less eco-friendly projects such as oil, gas and petrochemicals.
The area’s long-standing reliance on the oil industry and other pollution-inducing technologies makes it seem unlikely that the middle east will truly become a green-friendly region any time soon. Nonetheless, the ambitious push toward sustainable building is at the very least a step in the right direction.