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Time To Stop Relying On Outdated Building Codes

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CleanTechnica written up by Carolyn Fortuna provides an overview of the specific situation of the struggle against climate change in the developed world via building better-adapted codes. So is it time to stop relying on Outdated Building Codes?
Instead of adopting the same process in the MENA region, it was decided to opt for solar/renewable Building Codes instead, quickly labelled Green Buildings. These are at this conjecture, a popular demand-side support scheme by the industry.
Green buildings contribute to sustainable construction and environment and benefit building owners and users with increased comfort, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and fewer maintenance costs.
The impact of such green building codes on solar thermal technology is relatively small. And despite that, several countries in the MENA region have shown keen interest in adopting a unified green building code.
So, what to do?

It’s Time To Stop Relying On Outdated Building Codes

Building codes and referenced standards need to be updated to replace historical weather data with future-focused climate data.

Outdated building codes are a real problem. Today’s changing global weather and other unexpected events such as high winds, flooding, wildfires, and heatwaves makes it imperative for international collaboration to design updated, practical, and appropriate codes. Building codes rely on climate data, and that data is generally updated on a 10-year cycle. The requirements related to structural/ atmospheric loads for wind and snow/ ice, energy use/heat stress, flooding, and wildfire/ bushfire protection have changed tremendously in the last 10 years due to the climate crisis.

It’s time for countries around the world to step up and assess the way they review building codes.

As the weather becomes more severe from year to year, the underlying historical data simply does not accurately reflect the risk to buildings as a result of these extreme weather-related events. The building codes in some countries, particularly in Europe and the US, do reference design standards and dictate the energy performance and structural standards that impact wind loads and snow/ice loads. The issue is that the underlying data is updated on an “as needed” basis, which can exceed the 10 year average.

So a new struggle has emerged in the building industry. Relying on historical climate and weather data no longer provides the same level of safety and resilience for future extreme weather events as they have in past years and decades.

The Global Resiliency Dialogue

Building code developers/ researchers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US have launched the Global Resiliency Dialogue as a joint initiative to inform the development of building codes that draw on both building science and climate science. Their goal is to improve the resilience of buildings and communities to intensifying risks from weather-related natural hazards.

The following “Findings on Changing Risk and Building Codes” statement outlines the work by the members of the Global Resiliency Dialogue, including:

  • Identifying strategies for the identification of future risks and the development of building code solutions that support adaptation to those risks
  • Cooperating on the development of international building resilience guidelines and further exploration of the relationship with land use planning instruments that help determine the location of buildings
  • Supporting research initiatives to better understand climate science, to assist in aligning expectations for building durability and resilience with the projection of future hazards
  • Developing and deploying messages and resources that enhance understanding of building codes, support a common understanding of risk and communicate the importance of up-to-date building codes
  • Advancing risk and impact analysis to recognize the multiple economic and social benefits provided by resilience investments and the desirability of alternative approaches that fully capture the benefits and costs provided by the building codes

The primary function of building codes universally is to protect life/human safety. Often this requires structural durability, resistance to fire, adequate means of egress, and other related functions to ensure that lives are protected. However, in discussions of natural hazard mitigation and community resilience, particularly as risks continue to become more severe and impact different geographic locations, the question of greater levels of property protection and bounce back recovery of function following an event is increasingly debated by key decision makers.

Survey findings from the Global Resiliency Dialogue describe the status of international building codes today. Currently, none of the building codes in use in the surveyed countries addresses future climate risk – all are focused on addressing risk based on past weather experiences and extreme events. However, — and this is a really good thing — discussions are underway about how to include future-focused risk in outdated building codes. As is to be expected, some countries are farther along than others.

Integrating Climate Data & Building Codes

Most building code development and research organizations rely on outside organizations with expertise in natural environmental sciences to develop the climactic and hazard maps that are included in the codes. The climate data used to inform provisions of building codes is generally not limited to the building safety industry and has the potential to impact other sectors of society. That’s important, particularly because the key science agencies are often national bodies that service the diverse needs of state, provincial, tribal/indigenous, and local jurisdictions.

Most building codes that address extreme events do so as part of the design standard and based on the probability of the occurrence of the specific event, with the design requirements changing based on the potential severity of the event, location, or the importance of the building. Design events are frequently measured in probabilities, with the ratios varying greatly by country with no apparent international consistency. In some cases, certain extreme weather occurrences have been determined as difficult to address through building codes due to either the localization of an event or the severity of the natural forces involved. Two such examples are hailstorms and storm surge impacting coastal regions.

As countries consider modeling scenarios to incorporate future climate-related risk in building codes, one option under wide consideration are Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) – scenarios that consider the emissions and concentrations of the full suite of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and other chemically active gases, along with land use by the year 2100, based on the radiative forcing limit reached on earth before emissions begin to decline. If climate modeling is used, building codes and referenced standards will need to be updated with future-focused climate data. In most countries, this type of change will follow the standard code revision process.

Assuming that code provisions can be adjusted to address future climate risk assessments, countries will need to have a process in place to ensure that the changes are not only adequate but equally suitable and proportionate in scope. This work will fall primarily to the building code development and research organizations in each country, where they utilize their own internal processes. Some entities may develop new standards to assist with regulatory impact analysis.

In the US, a National Climate Assessment is conducted every 4 years by the US Global Change Research Program, a joint effort of 13 federal agencies. To date, the assessment has only  focused on the built environment at a relatively high level. As the fifth assessment gets underway, there may be increased focus on the needs of the design and construction industry, which may result in a deeper dive into outdated building codes.

Final Thoughts About Outdated Building Codes

A whole bunch of job types are involved with the design and implementation of building codes:

  • Academia
  • Architects
  • Building owners/managers
  • Building safety professionals & industry associations
  • Conformity assessment bodies, such as product evaluation services
  • Consumers or consumer advocacy groups
  • Contractors
  • Developers
  • Energy efficiency advocates
  • Engineers
  • Fire safety professionals
  • Government entities: federal/national, state, provincial, tribal, territorial, local
  • Home builders
  • Insurance industry representatives
  • Manufacturers of building products
  • Professional societies
  • Plumbing professionals & industry associations
  • Subcontractors
  • Subject matter experts
  • Supply chain/distributors

As Forbes notes, building codes must keep pace with technology advances in order to help tap much larger potential energy savings and cost reductions. By adapting to reflect the growing trend of fuel-switching and electrification to enable zero-emissions technologies like efficient electric heat pumps and electric vehicles, policymakers can cut consumer costs and harmful pollution while supporting the transition to a clean economy.

Carolyn Fortuna

Just in Time for Earth Day: 7 New Sustainable (and Stylish) Hotels

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Architectural Digest‘s TRAVEL published just in time for Earth Day: 7 New Sustainable (and Stylish) Hotels would not typically create interest. However, in these extraordinary days of planet earth being heavily affected by human interference coupled with a semi-cloud of worldwide pandemic infection, the following are most welcome. They would find customers and many.

The picture above is for illustration and is of AlUla in Saudi Arabia.

Just in Time for Earth Day: 7 New Sustainable (and Stylish) Hotels

From Brazil to Mozambique, these posh properties are taking a thoroughly environment-first approach

By Monica Mendal

Sussurro in Mozambique.Courtesy of Sussurro

There’s a stigma that anything “eco” or “sustainable” must be low-budget, when in fact it’s just the opposite. Prior to the pandemic, the travel industry was one of the few that had been moving toward a more sustainable future. Hotel developers began looking at the extra costs of creating a sustainable luxury property as an investment, going beyond simple initiatives like prohibiting single-use plastic. Instead, they’ve focused on ways they could implement sustainability from inception. The past year of shutdowns and travel bans revealed the impact that the travel industry has on the environment, with carbon emissions dropping 7% globally in 2020. According to recent data from Booking.com, 70% of consumers are likely to book an accommodation that they know is implementing sustainable practices. And with the alchemy of sustainable hotels in the luxury space, travelers are quickly realizing that you don’t need to sacrifice luxury for sustainability. In many ways, sustainable hotels go hand in hand with high design. From hotels that are powered entirely by solar energy, to others that are built using vernacular architecture, luxury design hotels are paving the way to a more sustainable future in hospitality from the ground up, without skimping on all the comforts a luxury experience typically provides.

Below are the seven best openings this year.

Courtesy Sussurro

Sussurro, Mozambique: Opened January 2021

Situated on a secluded beach on a saltwater lagoon in Southern Mozambique and run by Sarah Birkett, Sussurro features various beachfront bungalows with indoor and outdoor bathing areas, as well as a library and gallery space, a lap pool, a yoga deck, and a bar and restaurant. Every aspect of the architecture, design, and experience has sustainability on the forefront. “Solar-generated power wasn’t an afterthought, like so many African safari lodges and hotels,” says Birkett. “More than 90% of the residence was built utilizing renewable energy. We began with the sustainable systems at inception.” Vernacular architecture is another way in which Sussurro is fundamentally sustainable. Using only natural and endemic materials native to their ecosystem is a means to preserve heritage craft skills as well. In this spirit, 100% of the materials are sourced and made in Africa. Sussurro’s commitment to protecting the environment is further emphasized through its efforts in their regenerative mangrove reforestation plan, where they plant carbon-rich mangrove seeds in their nursery in order to re-afforest an old salt pan that has been heavily eroded with native mangroves.

Courtesy of the Company

Casa di Langa, Italy: Opening June 2021

The new Casa di Langa in Italy’s Piedmont region is setting a new standard for luxury through sustainability. Situated across 100 acres of working vineyard and rolling hills, the 39-room property features a bar, a restaurant, and a spa, all combining traditional Piedmontese design with sustainable practices. Milan-based design firms GaS Studio and Parisotto + Formenton Architetti, who teamed up on the project, sought to create a property that was luxurious for both the guests and the environment. The team carefully incorporated a sustainable approach to both architecture and design. “Casa di Langa is committed to operating on 100% sustainable energy. That is why we designed the hotel with geothermal heating and cooling, installed solar panels on-site, and pay extra for utility electricity that’s certified renewable,” says Kyle Krause, chairman and CEO of the Krause Group.

Courtesy of Habitas Bacalar

Habitas Bacalar, Mexico: Opening July 2021

Set on Mexico’s Lake Bacalar, Habitas Bacalar is slated to open this July as an eco-sustainable oasis comprising 35 cabanas with lagoon-facing views, a restaurant with an open-air kitchen, and a Mayan spa. Staying true to the brand’s innovative modular build and in an effort to minimize their environmental impact and carbon footprint, the rooms were designed by their local in-house team, which were then delivered and assembled on-site using only sustainable materials. “Biodiversity is another key pillar for the property with architecture that blends with the jungle and Bacalar lagoon,” says cofounder and CEO Oliver Ripley. As the first hospitality group to build on Lake Bakalar, there’s an added responsibility to protect it, so Habitas Bacalar will partner with a local organization to join forces for an environmental and water quality citizen science project that provides sound information for the management and conservation of the lagoon and its unique biodiversity.ADVERTISEMENThttps://3b3e19fefff3a6b64b9cbbe9421a9232.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Courtesy of Habitas AlUla

Habitas AlUla, Saudi Arabia: Opening September 2021

While over the past few years AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s isolated and expansive desert region, has been a backdrop for art and music events, Habitas will be the first luxury hotel group to open with an 100-room property, featuring a yoga deck, wellness center, restaurant, and pool. Core to Habitas’s mission is sustainable hospitality. Much like its other properties, Habitas AlUla will be built using a modular construction plan, with organic materials only, and much of the power will be supplied by solar panels. Guests will also contribute to offsetting carbon emissions by using electrical buggies and bicycles that will be provided by Habitas to transport guests around the vast resort grounds.

Courtesy of Six Senses

Six Senses Botanique, Brazil: Opened Feb 2021

Easily accessible from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, Six Senses Botanique is located in the heart of the lush Mantiqueira Mountains. The property consists of seven suites in the main building and 13 villas scattered throughout the property, all of which are constructed modularly and using only local materials, such as jacaranda wood, natural stone, and chocolate slate. The hotel also features a farm-to-table restaurant and bar, a spa, and an experience center. Additionally, there are seven natural springs on the property providing guests with their own mineral water (avoiding single-use plastics such as bottles) and a treatment station to return clean water back to nature.ADVERTISEMENT

Courtesy of the Company

Treeful Treehouse Sustainable Resort, Japan: Opened April 2021

Located in Nago City, in the north of Okinawa island, the Treeful Treehouse Sustainable Resort is the ultimate luxury glamping destination. The property, which is operated exclusively by solar power, consists of four design-forward tree houses along the Genka River. The tree houses feature floor-to-ceiling windows and hammock swings on the outdoor decks for a fully immersive experience, and are made from wood that is 50% carbon. The resort also features the Aerohouse, a communal treehouse consisting of a kitchen, bathrooms, and relaxation rooms, as well as a roof that will be covered with solar panels. The father-daughter team behind Treeful Treehouse have also been focusing on ways to help the local community, like rebuilding a watermill at the Shizogumui waterfall that had been destroyed over a century ago.

Courtesy of Capella

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands: May 2021

From Capella Hotel Group, Patina Maldives, in the Fari Islands, designed by renowned Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan of Studio MK27, will open with 90 beach and water villas and 20 studios, built using natural and renewable materials. Along with the property being powered by solar energy, used water is preserved, filtered, and recycled as irrigation. As coral reefs play a big role in the local community and ecosystem, the Patina Maldives team is also investing in its younger travelers by offering free diving lessons to kids in order to encourage next-generation respect for the environment.

The case for sustainability

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Shalini Chandrashekar, principal designer and co-founder of Taliersyn – Design & Architecture, writes that the case for sustainability is of paramount importance and relevance in the present day and future.

Architects are increasingly faced with the dilemma of building something that answers the immediate fanciful demands of their clients or orchestrate responsible end-user behaviour for generations at the inhabitant’s end.

The case for sustainability

The proposition of taking contemplative pauses that yield intimacy and delight often seems unattainable in modern-day living. Resisting the temptation to get caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life doesn’t come naturally to any of us these days. But acknowledging the psychological distress that fast-paced lifestyles are posing on our physical and mental well-being has become crucial.

Back in the day, when people weren’t so blinded by the allure of modernity and took time to unwind themselves in the lap of nature and the arms of their loved ones, daily routines did not turn exhaustive as quickly as they do now. With the electronic skein rapidly winding around us, there is a pressing need to identify the importance of hosting built environments that iterate a harmonious lifestyle.

Throughout humanity’s life history, evolution has been central to its synergy with nature. We, as human beings, are inextricably bound to the well-being of our environment. We thrive when our natural surrounding thrives. Since its prevalence, architecture has helped humans to devise this affiliation with its context through tangible curations.

But amid the prevalent technocratic paradigm, where we have resourcefully restructured all aspects of earthly life; it becomes an architect’s social responsibility to identify with the urge to express affinity towards nature where an environmental disaster seems to be pending.

Seeking the well-being of current and future generations within the limits of the natural world, architects are now trying to strike a balance between how short-term interests at the individual and organisational levels are at odds with the global systems and communities in the longer run.

Today’s conscious design behaviour at the architect’s end can orchestrate responsible end-user behaviour for generations at the inhabitant’s end. Whereas end-use behaviour can determine what happens in a situation, design behaviour often determines the case itself. While the end-user is an office worker deciding whether to put on a sweater or turn up the air conditioning device, the architect decides whether to heat that office with renewable solar energy or with mechanical systems powered by fossil fuels.

An architectural design that does not contemplate its local and global repercussions and fails to adapt to the ever-evolving future dynamics becomes infeasible for subsequent generations. Individual comfort can only be endured if achieved collectively with a sustainable consciousness on a larger scale.

Design practices worldwide, have started feeling accountable for devising socially equitable development that is respectful of nature now more than ever and, have started resorting to new approaches towards more sustainable energy usage in buildings. While technological advances pose some challenges in creating contextually sound built forms, its progressive attributes in terms of modern innovations ease the desperation to rely on natural resources. Contemporary practices like opting for solar panels, incorporating automation systems, or imbibing something as fundamentally classic as rainwater harvesting can contribute a fair share in taking care of our atmosphere.

But the pursuit of sustainability doesn’t come easy. It is a layered and interdependent network of judgments and decisions shaped by specific socioeconomic contexts and must consider both existing and preferred states of complex Anthropocene situations. Along with which architects also face challenges while narrating their environmental concerns to the clients who, on most days, are inspired by the fanciful ideas and foreign concepts for their dream abodes that might not sanction a contextually inclusive design intervention. Working on tight schedules and a decline in skilled labour furthers this dilemma on the creator’s side when, as a designer, all he aspires for are meaningful and appropriate design solutions.

We, as architects, hustle with the situational impositions and invest all our will in crafting architectural volumes that strike equilibrium amid the user, nature and the context. We identify with the moral sense of safeguarding the environment and composing poetic architectural vocabulary derived from human behaviours in response to its habitat.

Spaces rooted in the landscape and inspired by the local vernacular have been apparent in introducing a healthy living experience and motivating productivity in the work-life. Tethered to user experience and sustainability, these spatial identities offer a deeper resonance with harmonious life patterns by inducing a contextually inclusive built environment.

Conclusively, in today’s time when chronic modifications to the environment have registered a direct impact on our quality of life and health, holistically curated sustainable built forms willingly induce a sense of calmness among its inhibitors by offering them a contemplative pause they rightfully deserve amid their fast-paced lifestyles.

The GCC consulting market faces 6 key post-pandemic challenges

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AMEInfo‘ Hadi Khatib, business editor, in an exclusive article about how the GCC consulting market faces 6 key post-pandemic challenges elaborated on the consulting sector in the Gulf area of the MENA.

The consultancy business is directly or rather proportionately related to the construction sector that is predicted by GlobalData to recover in 2021 slowly but after contracting by 4.5% in 2020. The region ramping up vaccination programmes is optimistically forecast to recover with 1.9% in 2021 and 4.1% in 2022, by the same leading data and analytics company. So, let us hear Hadi’s thoughts.

The GCC consulting market faces 6 key post-pandemic challenges

After a 12% contraction last year, the GCC consultancy sector faces six challenges to continue leveraging the region’s aspirations for sustainable and profitable business and economic development

  • The standout performer in 2020 was healthcare, seeing exceptional growth of more than 19%
  • GCC’s largest consulting market, financial services, took a big hit in 2020, with revenues falling by $160 mn
  • A strong consulting market growth of approximately 17% across the GCC region forecasted in 2021

The GCC consulting market contracted for the first time in its history—down by just over 12% in 2020, with COVID-19 wiping out nearly $400 million in revenues. The market is now worth around $2.7 billion, a new report by Source Global Research revealed.  

2020 saw nervous clients put consulting projects on hold, particularly in hard-hit industries, such as retail, hospitality, and aviation, but also mega projects such as NEOM, World Cup 2022, Qiddiya, and more.

AMEinfo interviewed Edward Haigh, Joint Managing Director at Source Global Research, to inquire about last year’s results and next year’s forecasts.

The discussion revealed six key areas consultants need to keep in mind to gradually recoup their losses and continue leveraging the region’s aspirations for sustainable and profitable business and economic development.    

“Consultants will continue to play an important role helping clients in all sectors create greater efficiencies in their organizations, but the key for consultants today will be to re-engage and re-align with their clients in this new normal,” Haigh told AMEinfo.     

Areas where COVID-19 boosted consultancies  

The standout performer in 2020 was healthcare, seeing exceptional growth of more than 19%. 

“So much of that initial surge and response to the pandemic has already happened, and as such consulting to the healthcare sector will slow down in 2021, but pick up again in 2022,” Haigh said. “Consultants will bring new solutions and world-class innovation and expertise to bear on the issues healthcare professionals are facing, particularly around engaging with patients, embedding technology in everything organizations do, and providing remote diagnosis and access to healthcare.”  

The GCC consulting market also saw growth in the technology market segment in 2020, as the need to rapidly facilitate the shift to remote working drove strong demand of 5.2%. 

Cybersecurity services performed particularly well as companies sought to secure remote work, driving growth of 11.4% last year. Source Global Research expects the cybersecurity consulting market to grow a further 30% in 2021, taking total revenues to $236 mn. 

While the GCC’s largest consulting market, financial services, took a big hit in 2020, with revenues falling by $160 mn, Source Global Research expects consultants working in this sector to regain their losses in 2021, as banks push forward with ambitious digital transformation projects, spurred on by both customers embracing digital banking and the competitive threat from fintechs.

Consulting bounce back: Forecasts for 2021

Source Global Research is forecasting strong consulting market growth of approximately 17% across the GCC region in 2021.  

Some 63% of organizations in the GCC say their use of consulting support will increase over the next 18 months, with an especially strong interest in the energy & resources, technology, media & telecoms, and manufacturing sectors. Healthcare will prove to be an important sector for consultancies as well.

“The current underpinning the GCC healthcare market today is the creation of a state of the art, forward-looking, citizen-centric, healthcare system fit for its time. There is far less legacy that’s being carried forward if we are to compare the GCC with markets such as the US or UK,” Haigh explained. “This presents a far greater opportunity to create a future healthcare system from scratch, and a greater opportunity for consultants to provide support, too.”  

6 challenges facing GCC consultancies

1- Consultancy fee rates 

Around 44% of clients expect consultants to cut their fees this year, with 13% expecting the cuts to be steep, in contrast to pre-pandemic expectations that 84% of GCC clients expected rates to rise. 

The reason provided was that 55% of clients said they believe many firms are qualified to perform the work that needs to be done, driving down rates.  

Haigh said: “Given the ongoing pandemic and its deleterious effect on the consulting market last year, one might well expect consulting fees to suffer over the next 18 months.” 

2- Freedom of movement 

 “The GCC’s consulting market arguably relies on two things more than anything else: freedom of movement for consultants and reliably high oil prices.” 

While oil prices suffered during the pandemic with average closing prices of $40, 20% less than 2019, oil has rebounded in 2021 and is currently flirting with $65 going to $70, spelling relief for consultancies. 

“Access to Qatar has, historically, not been easy and only those who had previously established presence in the country were able to operate there, but enough work exists in other parts of the region— Saudi and the UAE for example—and so attention shifted elsewhere,” Haigh said.

“But to some extent, the events over the past 12 months have helped find a solution to that. For many, instead of having to be on-site, remote consulting proved it matters less whether someone is based in Riyadh or Dubai,” Haigh revealed. “The really exciting opportunity for leaders in Saudi, UAE, and other GCC countries is that this provides access to consultants wherever they are in the world, not just in the region.”

3- Geopolitics and reputational risks

Geopolitics and reputational risk weigh very significantly on the minds of consultancies, according to Haigh. 

“The risks are prevalent in the GCC more than anywhere else. They have the potential to cause dramatic changes in consultants’ businesses, whether that’s a market shutting down suddenly, the taps being turned off, or a leader insisting on changing consultancies midstream,” explained Haigh.  

“Consultants have helped clients identify some of the problems that they themselves are creating, but honestly, consultants are used to working in these fairly extreme conditions.” 

4- Relationships

Relative to other parts of the world, those with relationships tend to benefit more significantly in the GCC. In the early days, consultants had to invest a lot of time building those relationships with clients. Spending a year on building a personal and professional relationship before seeing anything in return is quite normal here.

5- Client ambitions

Haigh said consultants don’t mind their clients’ desire to get things done very quickly, but “Consulting firms tend to find themselves cast in the role of naysayers a bit.”

“They are often put in a position where they affirm their ability to perform the project at hand, but have to caution the client that it will take more time than originally allocated,” Haigh said.

“Based on their experience with other projects, consultants are always trying to insert more realistic time frames and find a way to harness and manage their clients’ ambitions and expectations.”

6- Talent allocation

UAE and Saudi have recently been involved in a tug of war to attract business, each easing regulatory frameworks and offering business incentives to pull SMEs, entrepreneurs, and large corporates over to their side.  

“This is a healthy competition for supremacy on projects, and it has been a major driver of growth for consultancies for a number of years,” Haigh explained.

“But, I think what is less clear, is how this will impact the market in terms of supply. Saudi is the largest consulting market, but UAE is where most of the consultants are based. And moving consultants between those two countries has been an enormously challenging thing,” Haigh indicated. 

Haigh added that there is a real supply issue for consultants across the region, not just in terms of keeping up with demand, but also figuring out who to put where. 

“Making sure that the expertise is available on both sides was made all the more challenging with physical restrictions on talent getting into the country, or talent themselves preferring to work in and from the UAE, instead of more restrictive areas,” said Haigh. “Localization efforts in many GCC countries has exacerbated supply challenges.”  

hadi.khatib@thewickfirm.com

Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark

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Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark by Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Anglia Ruskin University is more than an eye-opener on the person behind all those unconventionally looking buildings.

Changsha Meixihu Culture and Arts Centre, in Hunan province, China. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2019. Jason_x.j / Shutterstock.com

Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark

In the five years since Zaha Hadid’s passing, much has been written about the glorious and towering legacy the fabled British-Iraqi architect left behind. Thinking about what she started, though, is more instructive.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, Hadid – aka the Queen of Curve – fundamentally altered the contours of modern architecture and design. She shattered gender stereotypes too by, in 2004, becoming the first woman to receive the Pritzker prize – the highest award in her field.

Antwerp Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, Antwerp, Belgium. Claudia Lorusso on Unsplash, FAL

As the world grapples with how to respond to the climate crisis, architecture is in the spotlight. The built environment is responsible for almost 36% of global energy consumption. Cement alone causes 8% of global emissions.

In this context, Hadid’s most valuable contribution is the inspiration she represented and the innovation she embodied. She conceived of modernity as an incomplete project, to be tackled. And she demonstrated to students not just how to imagine revolutionary forms but, crucially, how to bring them to life.

The Daxing International Airport in Beijing, China. Hao Wen on Unsplash, FAL

Problem solving

The seductive nature of Hadid’s buildings means that the approach she took to sustainability is often overshadowed. It also wasn’t an explicit aspect of her early works, but rather became so later on in her career, in projects including the Bee’ah Headquarters in Sharjah, and Eco-park stadium in London. In 2015 she memorably highlighted sustainability as a defining challenge of her generation and stated that “architects had solutions”.

Hadid was a problem solver. From the outset she was unique in harnessing both technology and talent, through her groundbreaking interdisciplinary research group. She was one of the early adopters of a fully digitised 3D design process. When virtual reality became a thing, her practice was one of the first to adopt that too.

Morpheus Hotel by Zaha Hadid Architects in Macau, China. Macau Photo Agency / Unsplash, FAL

This ability to make things happen was hard won. As a student at the Architectural Association in London in the mid-1970s, Hadid turned heads from the start with her otherworldly ideas. But it took her over a decade to get her designs realised. It was with her first big commission – the 1993 Vitra Fire Station in Germany – that the world finally got to see up close the power of her architectural imagination.

The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (founder of Bjarke Ingels Group, one of the most dynamic contemporary architectural practices) described visiting Vitra Fire Station as an “eyeopening experience” that brought to life the kind of visual impossibilities people usually only dream of. For all its ambition, though, the Vitra building was criticised as unsuitable by the firemen who occupied it.

Zaha Hadid’s groundbreaking design for the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany. kamienczanka / Shutterstock.com

Undeterred, Hadid went on to create daring, experimental designs for London’s Millennium Dome exhibition spaces and the Serpentine Gallery’s annual summer pavillion. She gave Innsbruck a new landmark – the Bergisel Ski Jump – and became the first woman to ever design an American art museum, with her iconic Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.

Immeasurable influence

Although her career had begun with that infamous tag of her buildings being unbuildable, Hadid rapidly established herself as a radical architect by creating a strong and unique design statement globally. Hadid expanded her global brand and her reach to product design, fashion and jewellery.

In Canadian architectural historian Despina Stratigakos’s book, Where Are the Women Architects?, Hadid explained how she survived and fought sexism in her profession. Her inspiring attitude and professional demeanour was gender-neutral. She was able to switch between femininity and masculinity as required to survive and excel in what is a ruthless and ultra-competitive business.

In this way, even though her projects saw her labelled a starchitect, Hadid’s ideas set her apart from the old school. They opened a radically new path for later generations, like this year’s Pritzker laureates, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal.

Her presence continues to be felt across the contemporary design and architecture worlds. With around 1.2 million Instagram followers, Zaha Hadid Architects is now the most followed architectural practice in the world. Her sinuous lines and captivating shapes have been referenced by set designers on trendsetting movies including Black Panther.

The Nanjing International Youth Cultural Center by Zaha Hadid in Nanjing, China. Denys Nevozhai / Unsplash, FAL

Her words – especially the famous quote, “There are 360 degrees. Why stick to one?” – have stuck with architects in China and designers in Germany and India. Her principles have fostered new possiblities in architectural research, thinking and process.

In every way, Hadid remains a muse. She was rebellious and defiant. She embraced the unimaginable. Known for provoking controversies, even her critics agreed to the fact that without Hadid, architecture would be less interesting.

When she won the Pritzker prize in 2004, the jury noted how consistently she defied convention. Even if she’d never built anything, they said, Zaha Hadid would have radically expanded the possibilities of architecture. She was lauded as an iconoclast, a beautiful mind. As the critic Joseph Giovannini put it at the time, “Rarely has an architect so radically changed and inspired the field”.

Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Senior Research Fellow, Future Cities, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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