Have you noticed how schools use bright and cheerful colours liberally? Or how hospitals almost always have white walls and floors? Or how residential areas always include green spaces and energy-saving lighting? In recent times, there is plenty of awareness about how the built environment can influence your moods. The built environment can make you feel happy, sad, intimidated, or even depressed, simply due to the design of the space surrounding you. However, when designed appropriately, the built environment can enhance well-being and support healthier communities. In the UAE, several efforts in this direction are already underway. For example, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has set the goal of reducing Dubai’s energy demand by 30 percent by 2030, and retrofitting existing buildings is an integral part of the strategy so that they are sustainable.
In this backdrop, Dr. Anas Bataw, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction at HeriotWatt University Dubai explores some of the recent trends in the built environment that one should watch out for:
Like many other industries, the construction sector is very cognizant of its impact on the environment and is looking for ways to mitigate it. One way is through circular construction: when a building is demolished, recycling of materials where possible can slash carbon emissions and lower the time and cost required to demolish a building and put up a new one. With its focus on maximising the use of resources, circular construction is important in making the built environment green. Another example is building net-zero buildings, which can cut down on carbon emissions, water consumption, and solid waste, which would otherwise be transported to landfills. Finally, building and construction activities consume 3 billion tons of raw material each year globally. However, we are now seeing a surge in the use of more sustainable and alternative materials such as grasscrete, bamboo, wood, and more. Going green is, therefore, a key trend in the built environment today
The Use of Technology Technology
can transform, and the built environment can benefit in a variety of ways. In residential complexes as well as commercial spaces, smart building management can greatly ease processes and the living experience. It can aid in maintenance, smooth functioning of all aspects of the building, ensuring security, managing footfalls, and more. In the pre-construction stage, technology can also help. Drones, for example, can survey and analyse spaces. They can reach areas that may be difficult for humans to reach and produce quicker and more accurate results. Similarly, Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools can create an intelligent 3D model of the planned construction and enable coordination and simulation of the project, resulting in greater efficiency.
In general, the built environment is static, unlike the natural world, which constantly adapts to its surroundings. However, there is now increasing awareness of the need to create a built environment that is flexible, can change to meet shifting needs, and is moveable and multi-purpose. This has resulted in the rise of modular or off-site construction, the use of 3D printing, the ability to reconfigure space as needed, and the creation of multipurpose furniture such as movable shelves and fold-down desks. The goal is to enable a dynamic approach rather than the traditional “one size fits all” building approach.
Improved Focus on Health and Wellbeing
The built environment continuously aims to offer a more holistic approach to ensure the well-being and improved productivity. For example – lighting can impact humans in many ways. Visually, it can affect performance and visual comfort. Mentally, the type of lighting can affect emotional wellbeing. At the same time, excessive illumination can be uncomfortable. This is just one example, and there are numerous other aspects such as noise levels, building markers, paint colours, physical properties of walls and ceilings, and much more than the built environment today caters to ensure well-being. Key trends, such as the above, are significant to ensuring the built environment continues to work towards being sustainable, digitally enabled, and adaptable.