Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers are a great environmental folly that could have been avoided: Henrik Schoenefeldt, University of Kent.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly
New York restricts the growth of glass skyscrapers.
Shutterstock.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared that skyscrapers made of glass and steel “have no place in our city or our Earth anymore”. He argued that their energy inefficient design contributes to global warming and insisted that his administration would restrict glassy high-rise developments in the city.

Glass has always been an unlikely material for large buildings, because of how difficult it becomes to control temperature and glare indoors. In fact, the use of fully glazed exteriors only became possible with advances in air conditioning technology and access to cheap and abundant energy, which came about in the mid-20th century. And studies suggest that on average, carbon emissions from air-conditioned offices are 60% higher than those from offices with natural or mechanical ventilation.

As part of my research into sustainable architecture, I have examined the use of glass in buildings throughout history. Above all, one thing is clear: if architects had paid more attention to the difficulties of building with glass, the great environmental damage wrought by modern glass skyscrapers could have been avoided.

Heat and glare

The United Nations Secretariat in New York, constructed between 1947 and 1952, was the earliest example of a fully air-conditioned tower with a glass curtain wall – followed shortly afterwards by Lever House on Park Avenue. Air conditioning enabled the classic glass skyscraper to become a model for high rise office developments in cities across the world – even hot places such as Dubai and Sydney.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyThe UN Secretariat building. United Nations Photo/Flickr., CC BY-NC-ND

Yet as far back as the 19th century, horticulturists in Europe intimately understood how difficult it is to keep the temperature stable inside glass structures – the massive hothouses they built to host their collections. They wanted to maintain the hot environment needed to sustain exotic plants and devised a large repertoire of technical solutions to do so.

Early central heating systems, which made use of steam or hot water, helped to keep the indoor atmosphere hot and humid. Glass was covered with insulation overnight to keep the warmth in, or used only on the south side together with better insulated walls, to take in and hold heat from the midday sun.

The Crystal Palace

When glass structures were transformed into spaces for human habitation, the new challenge was to keep the interior sufficiently cool. Preventing overheating in glass buildings has proven enormously difficult – even in Britain’s temperate climate. The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park – a temporary pavilion built to house the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851 – was a case in point.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyPainting of Queen Victoria opening the Crystal Palace in London, 1851. Thomas Abel Prior/Wikimedia Commons.

The Crystal Palace was the first large-scale example of a glass structure designed specifically for use by people. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, chief gardener at the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Estate, drawing on his experience constructing timber-framed glasshouses.

Though recognised as a risky idea at the time, organisers decided to host the exhibition inside a giant glasshouse in the absence of a more practical alternative. Because of its modular construction and prefabricated parts, the Crystal Palace could be put together in under ten months – perfect for the organisers’ tight deadline.

To address concerns about overheating and exposing the exhibits to too much sunlight, Paxton adopted some of the few cooling methods available at the time: shading, natural ventilation and eventually removing some sections of glass altogether. Several hundred large louvres were positioned inside the wall of the building, which had to be adjusted manually by attendants several times a day.

Despite these precautions, overheating became a major issue over the summer of 1851, and was the subject of frequent commentaries in the daily newspapers. An analysis of data recorded inside the Crystal Palace between May and October 1851 shows that the indoor temperature was extremely unstable. The building accentuated – rather than reduced – peak summer temperatures.

A timeline of the temperature in the Crystal Palace, May to October 1851. Henrik Schoenefeldt., Author provided

These challenges forced the organisers to temporarily remove large sections of glazing. This procedure was repeated several times before parts of the glazing were permanently replaced with canvas curtains, which could be opened and closed depending on how hot the sun was. When the Crystal Palace was re-erected as a popular leisure park on the outskirts of London, these issues persisted – despite changes to the design which were intended to improve ventilation.

Chicago glass

These difficulties did not perturb developers in Chicago from building the first generation of highly glazed office buildings during the 1880s and 1890s. Famous developments by influential architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, such as the Crown Hall (1950-56) or the Lakeshore Drive Apartments (1949), were also designed without air conditioning. Instead, these structures relied mainly on natural ventilation and shading to moderate indoor temperatures in summer.

In the Crown Hall, each bay of the glass wall is equipped with iron flaps, which students and staff of the IIT School of Architecture had to manually adjust to create cross-ventilation. Blinds could also be drawn to prevent glare and reduce heat gains. Yet these methods could not achieve modern standards of comfort. This building, and many others with similar features were eventually retrofitted with air conditioning.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyChicago’s Crown Hall. yusunkwon/Flickr., CC BY-SA

Yet it’s worth noting that early examples of glass architecture were not intended to provide airtight, climate controlled spaces. Architects had to accept that the indoor temperature would change according to the weather outside, and the people who used the buildings were careful to dress appropriately for the season. In some ways, these environments had more in common with the covered arcades and markets of the Victorian era, than the glass skyscrapers of the 21st century.

Becoming climate conscious

The reality is that the obvious shortcomings of glass buildings rarely received the attention they warranted. Some early critics raised objections. Perhaps the most outspoken was Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who in the late 1940s launched an attack on the design of the UN Secretariat, arguing that its large and unprotected glass surfaces were unsuitable for the climate of New York.

But all too often, historians and architects have focused on the aesthetic qualities of glass architecture. The Crystal Palace, in particular, was portrayed as a pristine icon of an emerging architecture of glass and iron. Yet in reality, much of the glass was covered with canvas to block out intense sunlight and heat. Similarly, the smooth glass facades of Chicago’s early glass towers were broken by opened windows and blinds.

There’s an urgent need to take a fresh look at urban architecture, with a sense of environmental realism. If de Blasio’s plea for a more climate conscious architecture is to materialise, future architects and engineers must be equipped with an intimate knowledge of materials – especially glass – no less developed than that held by 19th century gardeners.The Conversation

Henrik Schoenefeldt, Senior Lecturer (US: Associate Professor) in Sustainable Architecture, University of Kent

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

Read more:
A short history of tall buildings: the making of the modern skyscraper

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Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Architecture in the GCC “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development

Rima Alsammarae wrote in Middle East Architect of 17 April 2019 that:

According to Jordanian architect and founder of award-winning London-based practice OAOA, Omar Al Omari, architecture in the GCC has “lost its direction” due to recent hyper-development across the region.

‘Architecture lost its direction’ in GCC, says Jordanian architect Omar Al Omari

“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.

Omar Al Omari, founder and director of OAOA

“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”

Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.

OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021

The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.

Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.

“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”

Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.

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What is the most destructive material known to humans?

What is the most destructive material known to humans?

What is the most destructive material known to humans? Plutonium? Cyanide? Whatever the hell they put in Marmite? No, it would have to be concrete. The Guardian recently ran a series on the environmental impact of concrete which is worth a read.

The environmental impact of concrete

Posted on March 31, 2019 by daryan12

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A concrete cement mill in operation

Much of the focus on climate change mitigation, or pollution in general, tends to focus on energy production. However, in truth this is merely one of several sources of carbon emissions. Agriculture and land use changes tends to be the next biggest headline at about a quarter of emissions (which is actually arguably larger than it looks given the amounts of fossil fuels used in agriculture both by farm machinery and the production of fertilisers).

After that its the acquisition of raw materials (mining, refining and processing of base metals and minerals). And concrete, as one of the mostly widely used materials in the world, tends to figure quite highly in this category. And at almost every step in its life cycle concrete has an environmental impact.

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As I discussed in a prior post, the world is running out of sand for concrete production. Hence, there’s now a whole series of “sand Mafia’s” emerging in the developing world to steal sand, so the issues with concrete goes way beyond just climate change. Then you have to transport all these ingredients long distances, which consumes a lot of energy (cos they are kind of heavy!).

System-boundary-of-CW-life-cycle-assessment

Then there’s the process of making concrete, which consumes rather a lot of energy. Making just the cement component consumes 1,700 KJ/kg and, due to chemical reactions, releases releases 750 kg’s of carbon dioxide for every tonne of concrete produced. And given its weight, simply pouring concrete entails yet more energy consumption and carbon emissions. Furthermore, poured concrete undergoes an exothermic reaction, which may require external cooling as it hardens.

And, at the end of the building’s life, when its demolished, you’ve got numerous environmental problems. Notably the disposal of masses of concrete rubble (at one point back during the boom in Ireland they did a survey and found that 4/5’s of all the material entering Irish landfills was builders rubble).

Of course, as an engineer I’d have to point out that there are good reasons why we use concrete. Its cheap, it can be moulded into complex shapes, its durable, easy to maintain and fire proof. Basically you can do your worst to a concrete building and it will still stay standing. Hell, there was even a concrete building close to ground zero at Hiroshima that took the full force of a nuclear blast and survived. And keep in mind, we’ve been using concrete since ancient times. So we need to move beyond the simple “concrete bad” narrative, same way plastics is a bit more of a complex issue than it seems at first glance.

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The glory of the Roman Pantheon, concrete at its best

While concrete can be recycled, its more a form of downcycling. That is too say, you’ll get a lower quality of concrete afterwards, so you can use it for say roads or backfill, but not build a new skyscraper from the stuff. Another alternative is to change the composition of the concrete, using other materials such as fly ash, shredded rubber, waste glass, etc. into the mix. The downside is that this is again downcycling, not recycling and its generally not going to have the same structural properties.

Flow-chart-of-the-concrete-recycling-method
The concrete recycling process, which isn’t 100% effective

Hence why other more radial measures are being proposed, for example a concrete tax. I’d point out that perhaps the problem here is the short life cycle of many modern buildings. I’ve seen concrete buildings that are maybe only 20 years old getting demolished. Sticking a carbon tax on, with the condition that some significant portion is refunded if the building stays in use for some extended period (e.g. at least a hundred years), or that its design life allows it to last that long, would create an incentive to only use concrete where necessary and make sure those buildings are built to last (as well as a financial incentive to refurbish rather than demolish).

There’s also alternatives to concrete. Wood as a construction material is something I’ve previously discussed. And while there are structural limits and issues with fire safety that need to be addressed (as well as where you source the wood from of course), these aren’t insurmountable. And there’s also the option of steel framed buildings. Now while yes steel, like most metals, is very energy intensive to manufacture, it has one unique advantage over concrete (or wood for that matter) – it can be recycled with 100% material efficiency (i.e. virtually no waste). So encouraging steel framed construction would offer several advantages.

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Wooden skyscrapers have recently been proposed

But as so often is the case with climate change we are confronted with a problem whose dimensions aren’t immediately apparent. And where there is no nice and neat one size fits all solution, just lots of hard choices.

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Governments in developing economies often lack the capacity to conduct thorough reviews of proposed capital projects. A streamlined approach can identify those ready for funding. 

By Rima Assi, Nicklas Garemo, and Arno Heinrich studying an issue of vital importance for all developing countries, came up with the following essay.

They addressed the most likely to be affected which are the oil-exporting countries of the MENA region as impacted by the volatility of their earning capacities.  In the recent past, and before 2014, when free-flowing budgets allowed development without such restrictive measures, governments that get about 90 per cent of their revenue from oil exports did not bother about such issues. However plunging oil prices could mean budget cuts for major exporters like the GCC countries, but these are not expected to be large enough to stop growth, hence the need still of what is proposed by Mckinsey’s people here.

How developing economies can get more out of their infrastructure budgets

In developed economies, policies and practices for balancing diverging interests in public infrastructure spending are well established. South Korea, for example, established the Public and Private Infrastructure Investment Management Center in 1999 to conduct feasibility studies on large public investments and expanded its mandate to include appraising and managing public–private infrastructure partnerships in 2005. Since then, the center has reduced project overruns by 82 percentage points. Similar units include the United Kingdom’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof, and Australia’s Infrastructure Australia.

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But in developing markets, many governments have yet to build a capacity for conducting extended project reviews and feasibility studies, because talent is scarce or internal priorities conflict. As a result, these governments often end up funding ill-prepared, poorly designed capital projects, whose scope often diverges from real demand. Overlaps between projects are not uncommon—and actual project costs often exceed forecasts. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the money devoted to global investments around the world is spent ineffectively as a result of bottlenecks, a failure to innovate, or market failures. In developing economies, these ineffective expenditures amount to over $1 trillion a year.

It may be too much to ask that every proposal get a full-scale, in-depth evaluation that takes months to complete. Even in developed markets, that’s not always possible. But it is possible for finance ministries to conduct more streamlined financial assessments of the preparedness and design of projects in only days or weeks. Indeed, we have seen developing countries in the Middle East and Africa embark on such programs by adapting centralized control units and the required level of governance to their own circumstances.

The initial assessment of project preparedness

As a first step, a government must ensure that all projects have been thought through at a sufficient level of detail. This may sound obvious, but projects that fail to describe their rationale properly, don’t evaluate alternative solutions, or lack detailed budget plans are hardly uncommon. What’s more, implementing ministries often lack strong capabilities in project planning, and rely instead on the private-sector organizations that design and implement such projects to review their own work. The resulting incentive structures, far from optimizing costs, tend to inflate the scope and specifications of these projects. 

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When the finance ministry in one African country reviewed proposals to build new roads, for example, it found a number of them significantly exceeded benchmark costs—often coming from design firms that consistently produced designs with higher costs. When a more thorough evaluation isn’t feasible, a streamlined one- or two-day review can help. Typically, an oversight body would pose a series of straightforward questions assessing how clearly a problem is defined, along with a capacity and demand analysis and a consideration of alternative solutions. This kind of evaluation would examine a proposal’s financial aspects, like planned budgets and cash-flow requirements. It would also probe the operational elements: a realistic implementation plan, compliance with regulatory requirements, and interdependencies and overlaps with other projects. Knowing that it lacks this capability, the government of the country in the example is now setting up an in-house unit to oversee contracts with design companies and challenge their products.

The impact can be considerable. One government in another developing economy took this approach with more than 250 projects in its portfolio and found that only a quarter of them were adequately prepared. Most frequently, project owners failed to quantify the capacity–demand analysis and alternative ways of meeting future demand. As a result, they were granted only enough of their requested budget to conduct studies to increase their preparedness.

A deeper review of project design

Once the initial assessment—often of hundreds of projects—narrows down the pool, finance ministries can conduct a more thorough review of each project’s overall design. That, too, can be streamlined. The finance ministry of the country in the example developed a way to conduct reviews that lasted just two weeks. In that time, it identified opportunities to reduce costs by an average of 20 to 40 percent, without reducing outputs. During the reviews, which will now be a standard part of the annual budgeting process, the cost-review unit of the finance ministry met with owners of projects and tested their design through a series of questions aligned with the initial assessment exercise above. These included the following:

  • ·         Public priorities. Does the scope of a project focus on services and features that people really want? Is there evidence that the project is truly needed and meets the country’s socioeconomic objectives?
  • ·         Capacity and demand. Does capacity match future demand? Are the expectations for demand realistic? Can alternative solutions reduce demand?
  • ·         Costs. Do unit costs reflect benchmark levels? Can costs be cut by adjusting a project’s time frame (to reduce the need for tight deadlines) or by calibrating the schedule to the availability of capital?
  • ·         Productivity. Could existing assets improve operations?
  • ·         Funding. Are the funding requirements realistic? Are there any opportunities for private-sector funding? Will the assets generate revenues that could fund the project? Can implementation be deferred or slowed down to stretch out the need for funding?

These project reviews can be significant: a two-week review of a public convention complex, for example, identified $1.7 billion in potential savings (Exhibit 1). Elsewhere, one ministry of health’s $300 million request for additional beds for intensive-care units (ICUs) was nearly halved after reviewers considered benchmark utilization data. They found that the proposal’s assumptions about the average length of stay per ICU bed were twice as high as the benchmark, mainly because facilities lacked intermediate beds and had nowhere to send discharged patients. As result, the ministry of health was advised to procure lower-cost intermediate beds and fewer ICU ones.

Exhibit 1

A two-week capital-expenditure review of a public convention complex identified $1.7 billion in savings.

 

Or consider a proposal by another country’s housing ministry to develop affordable housing. In-depth reviews found that the proposed design included features—such as skylights, longer driveways, and larger bedrooms—that increased costs but would not necessarily be valued by residents. The optimized design featured more bathrooms, but (unlike the original proposal) with showers instead of tubs; more but smaller bedrooms; and shorter driveways with less internal parking. These homes were better aligned with the expectations of likely residents, but cost 15 percent less—so the ministry could build more homes on its $4 billion total budget.

 

 

 

 

Middle East construction looks bad on paper

Middle East construction looks bad on paper

AMEInfo published this Expert opinion on how, on August 28, 2018, the Middle East construction looks bad on paper as narrated by Stephan Degenhart, Managing Director at Drees & Sommer Middle East, a leading European consulting, planning and project management enterprise .

“One of the main causes of poor efficiency in the construction industry is a majority of industry players still depend upon paper documentation, such as supply-chain orders, design drawings and daily progress reports to keep track of current processes and deliverables.”

 

Without digitization, significant delays can be incurred when sharing information.

Relying on paper trails to share documents increases the risk of data being exposed to human error when being captured and analyzed. It is important this is properly managed as detailed performance analytics can help avoid future issues.

Due to the vast amount of information that is processed throughout the duration of a project and the time it takes for a document to change hands, paper trails are notorious for slowing down and hindering the efficiency of processes. This leads to disagreements between clients, developers, and contractors, highlighting an impending need for digitized project-management and solutions to aid collaboration and mobility. A greater uptake of digitization will lead to project management in the construction industry having increased access to mobile-enabled field supervision, digital project planning, digital budgeting and the efficient management of documents across the entire scope of a project.

Digitization

Digitisation in project management allows for smoother and more efficient processes on site, resulting in significant time and financial savings. For example, a recent study by the consulting firm, Roland Berger, found construction workers only devote 30% of the time to their principal activity. The remaining 70% is consumed by other errands such as looking for materials, transporting materials to complete a job and cleaning up on-site. Introducing digital tools can help streamline these processes and mitigate the loss of both time and financial resources onsite and throughout the construction process. Materials and equipment can be tracked at the click of a button and manpower allocated where and when they are needed.

Software has been developed to ease processes such as the delivery of building materials to the site, ensuring they arrive precisely when they are needed. Storage needs can be significantly reduced as a result. Smart, connected construction machinery can help optimize the utilization of workers and construction vehicles, ensuring certain jobs are not over-allocated with human or technical resource – another common issue digitization has helped many developers overcome.

To support digitization as a growing trend in modern construction, certain technology has already been developed to help locate products and materials. This enables construction workers to devote more time to their principal activity rather than engaging in time-wasting activities that can cause delays to the entire project. Products fitted with RFID2 technology can be identified using magnetic fields. These products can also be registered and scanned, which creates transparency regarding the whereabouts of machinery and human resources on site.

Recent research by McKinsey & Company found construction is currently one of the Middle East’s least digitized industries. The sector stands to achieve significant benefits by adopting technologies that increase productivity as digital collaboration tools, which could raise productivity by as much as 15% and reduce project costs by up to 45%.

BIM

Of course, an important tool being used by many in the digitization of the construction industry is Building Information Modeling (BIM). The main benefits presented by using BIM include: minimized planning errors, timely calculation, quantified extra costs and alternative strategies. BIM also provides a digital simulation of the entire project before the first brick is even laid. Due to rapid technological advances and the rate at which the global construction industry is becoming digitally orientated, the absence of digitization is very likely to result in companies falling far behind their more digitally-inclined competitors. Tools such as BIM include all parties involved in the project, from the initial planning phase of the construction process through to completion. This makes processes and responsibilities transparent and comprehensible for everyone, contributing to the efficient implementation of the entire construction process.

The McKinsey & Company study also found 75% of those companies adopting BIM reported a positive return on their investment. The same report found companies who had adopted BIM reported shorter project life cycles and savings on paperwork and material costs. Given these benefits, a number of governments, including those in Britain, Finland, and Singapore mandate the use of BIM for public infrastructure projects.

As the UAE transitions towards a knowledge-based economy, the construction industry is also evolving, so projects can be executed smarter and more efficiently than ever before. By implementing digital methods in project management, construction companies will be able to gain an edge, boosting productivity and efficiency. Conversely, companies that prefer to stick to older more traditional methods are likely to be overtaken due to lower quality of projects they are able to deliver, as well as the inevitable delays to match the standards set by their competition.

Shift needed

UAE companies that choose to adopt and implement these approaches will have to initiate a major shift in their internal planning, design, procurement and construction processes. Investments will need to be made into automation and an effective supply-chain system to ensure streamlined and on-time transportation of materials to the construction site. Companies that decide to integrate their supply chains will also have to plan for other manufacturing-related investments to stay ahead of the curve.

BIM is already much more than a software: as it changes the way people collaborate and the coordination processes, the digital revolution encompasses so much more than software and programmes. Digitisation means digitally enhancing everything that can be improved or optimized. It is easy to use digital tools to manage people and track customer relationships, but the real challenge is changing the way people work. In order for the Middle East’s construction industry to keep pace with international markets, digitization needs to start from the inside, processes need to be revolutionized step-by-step, people need to be trained and there needs to be a shift in thinking towards a more digitized future. This will pave the way for a more productive, cost-efficient, profitable and technologically-driven regional construction industry.

 

MENA region’s Construction Disputes at $91 million in 2017

MENA region’s Construction Disputes at $91 million in 2017

Zawya #CONSTRUCTION of August 13th, 2018, posted this article by Anoop Menon, Thomson Reuters Projects News about an omnipresent side of the MENA region’s construction disputes in its diverse markets since the advent of oil and its ensuing building and infrastructure development dynamics. Like everyone knows this market has unlike preceding times become characterised by a high volume of claims and disputes mainly since market conditions that were booming up to the sudden crash of June 2014 oil prices have altered to the point where the MENA region’s Construction Disputes at $91 million in 2017 seem to continue into this year unabated. Meanwhile, the report says in its Executive Summary:

Since then, the region is feeling the pinch, and in such an environment, cents are cherished and counted. Many contractors are struggling and are naturally looking to squeeze as much as they can from contracts. This includes pursuing any payments that they’re owed through claims and formal disputes if necessary.

The value of construction disputes in the Middle East last year was double the global average and reached its highest level since 2011, although the time is taken to resolve them reduced marginally, according to a new report by building consultancy Arcadis.


Middle East construction dispute value double the global average

Average value of construction disputes in the Middle East touched $91 million in 2017, says Arcadis Getty Images/PhotoAlto/getty images

Average value of construction disputes in the region touched $91 million in 2017, says Arcadis report.

Arcadis’s annual 2018 Global Construction Disputes Report said the average length of time needed to resolve a dispute in the Middle East in 2017 declined 1.5 percent year-on-year to 13.5 months. The global average increased by 6.5 percent to 14.8 months.

However, the average value of disputes in the region in 2017 increased by a whopping 62 percent year-on-year to $91 million, despite the volume of disputes being about the same as in the previous year, the report said. In comparison, the global average dispute value increased by 33.5 percent year-on-year to $43.4 million.

The report’s findings are based on an assessment of the construction disputes handled by the Netherlands-based firm’s contract solutions team over the previous 12 months.

According to the report, the 2017 dispute value is the region’s highest since 2011, when the average dispute value was $112.5 million. However, 2011 also saw the region reporting the lowest average length of disputes at nine days, before moving to double digits in subsequent years, where it has remained.

A press statement that accompanied the report attributed the steep rise in value to “a small number of high-value disputes and a flow of ‘mid-value’ final account claims.”

The report pointed out that the economic backdrop for 2017 remained similar to 2016, when liquidity issues “due to a comparatively low oil price” squeezed cash flow across the supply chain and saw contractors taking a tougher approach to entitlements.

Recurring factors

The most common reasons cited for disputes saw two new entrants in 2017. A failure to make interim awards on extensions of time and compensation was the top cause of disputes, while owner-directed changes took the third. Failure to properly administer the terms of a contract, a recurring issue for the past three years, took the second spot.

The report pointed out that both the first and third causes are related to “client responsibility”.

“When the project manager or engineer is the material influence for the dispute, the most common causes include a failure to be impartial to the employer’s interests, a lack of understanding of the procedural aspects of the contract, or a lack of authority that is limited by levels of authority issued by the employer (i.e. not allowed to issue variation orders over a certain value),” it said.

Rob Nelson-Williams, regional head of contract solutions for Arcadis Middle East, said in the press statement that the firm continues to see “a lot of the same issues” crop up in its analysis of construction disputes in the Middle East.

“This underlines the need to get the basics right, and the importance of seasoned technical and commercial advice when it comes to contract or claims strategy,” he said.

According to the report, as regional construction-related events loom closer and as pressure increases to meet fixed deadlines, “a sharper focus on removing ambiguity from within a contract at the very outset and better training on how to prepare a robust and credible claim are two relatively simple steps that would make a significant difference.”

On the dispute resolution front, as in previous years, party-to-party negotiation and arbitration were the two most common methods of resolving construction disputes in the region in 2017, the report said, with a Dispute Adjudication Board taking the third spot.

(Reporting by Anoop Menon, Editing by Michael Fahy)

(anoop.menon@thomsonreuters.com)

© Thomson Reuters Projects News 2018