Green buildings on the rise in Persian Gulf states
But as the university campus shows, the region is also tapping technologies that are centuries old to solve its energy problems.
Along with its water savings and solar power, the project features wind towers, lattice-like shading on windows known as mashrabiya and a tent-inspired roof system that blocks the sun and extends throughout the campus.
‘‘When we start a project, we will do some research on what people built in this location before they had electricity. How did they keep buildings warm or cool?’’ said Bill Odell, a senior vice president for HOK Architects who designed the KAUST campus. ‘‘We did that on this project and there were serious techniques that clearly worked. ... All these ideas we took out of traditional Islamic architecture.’’
The challenge now, experts say, is going beyond a handful of high profile projects and applying green building practices to the bulk of Gulf construction — such as low-rise office towers or residential housing projects.
To do that, governments in the region will have to make green building codes compulsory — most are now voluntary — and provide greater incentives for developers to build or retrofit more sustainably.
The other hurdle is sourcing building materials locally, which would cut down on emissions from transporting such things as steel, cement and wood to the region. Due to the lack of resources in the Gulf, most everything is imported and companies producing things like recycled steel are still too few to meet demand.
‘‘If you want to build a green building, you need environmentally-sourced concrete, glass, aluminum,’’ said Steven Platt, a UAE-based expert on LEED. ‘‘Although there are local suppliers, they aren’t the greenest materials available.’’
Those were among the challenges Qatar faced when it set out to design an exposition center that met LEED’s Gold certification. With few green construction materials at home, it went as far as Belgium and South Korea to get the environmentally-certified wood, steel and glass. It increased the initial cost — and contributed additional carbon emissions from shipping — but in the end helped ensure the building produces 32 percent less energy than a comparable convention center.
‘‘There are limitations for how much you can do,’’ al-Khalifa said.
‘‘We don’t want to fool ourselves. We were trying to be part of the system,’’ he said. ‘‘We went to the greenest whenever we could find it. When we selected manufacturers, we didn’t go for a cheaper supplier who didn’t use recycled materials.’’