With 2017 in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the building industry to set its sights on the year ahead. Whilst still challenging, the last 12 months have definitely seen an uptick in the market as regional governments and the private sector have adapted to the new paradigm of lower oil prices and set in place strategies and programmes that provide a more economically sustainable development pathway.
As a result of these programmes, the coming year holds much promise for the industry particularly for those well placed to capitalise on the new trends in the market. Despite this, the lower levels of liquidity in the market is certainly driving regional government and private developers to be very strategic with their investment decisions. To quote Charles Darwin, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’
So, with a sense of cautious optimism, I would like to set out what I believe, in my humble opinion, will be the key trends and areas of focus for the building industry, in 2018.
Zero and Near-Zero Energy Buildings
Off the back of the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, the world is beginning to set in place a clear roadmap for decarbonizing the global economy. Buildings, which account for over 40% of global carbon emissions, form the frontline of the fight against climate change and in order to reach the objectives of the Paris agreement, we need to reach a point where the building stock is net zero by 2050. With regional governments being signatories to the Paris Agreement, the region’s building industry will be faced with the challenge of adapting to this requirement. Those that act now will have a significant competitive advantage once such targets make their way into regional building codes and regulations – something that has already commenced in Europe.
While the adage ‘you can’t get something for nothing’ generally holds true, we are now at a stage where near-zero energy buildings are a reality and can be made possible through cost-effective means. The interest is clear. In fact, even though reaching a point of net-zero is slightly more challenging, it too is gradually becoming more main stream and there are several upcoming projects that have set net-zero targets. We are currently even working with a number of developers that have set near zero and even net zero energy targets on their projects.
Fire and Life Safety
Given the number of high profile façade fires globally and regionally, fire safety for facades has been a focal point for the industry, and is vital for developers to manage their liability and safeguard their investments. By now, all countries in the Middle East have well established fire codes that are continuously updated and enhanced. It will become increasingly necessary for fire and life safety teams to work together with façade teams to ensure that the façade designs themselves are developed following best practices for fire safety.
In addition to these efforts put into new developments, it is the maintenance and operation of existing fire safety systems that will largely impact the efforts to reduce fire related incidents. Upgrading these systems at existing properties is key, and we will see developers taking retroactive steps to make sure their properties to meet new fire codes. In fact, our façade engineering and fire and life safety team have worked together on several projects where building owners, who have become concerned with the fire risk exposure of their new and existing assets, have required detailed surveys and remediation plans to address the risk of façade fires on their buildings.
Though commissioning has rarely been given its due attention in the past, it is in my humble opinion the most essential part of the project as it brings all the systems and services together and ensures they work in harmony. I always use the adage that no airline would receive an aircraft that has not undergone a rigorous testing, commissioning and integration regime. Modern buildings, which in many cases have more system components than a jumbo jet and represent a similar level of investment, therefore also need to receive the same care and attention when being brought into service. I always tell clients that if they try and cut corners and save costs in commissioning, they are basically accepting that they are happy to receive a building that does not work as intended- and consequently they are not getting what they paid for. Not only does inadequate commissioning pose a significant risk to the safety and health of those within the building, but buildings not properly commissioned will use upwards of 25% of the energy they would have used had they gone through an exercise of optimisation and integration of systems.
As the market has matured over recent years and a number of developers have observed the losses they have incurred during operation of inadequately commissioned buildings, we are now seeing greater focus on this area and most developers are now employing the services of third party commissioning specialists to manage and oversee the commissioning process right from the start of design until handover. This in turn will create greater professionalism and accountability in the MEP sector and significantly improve quality, which in my opinion is much needed in the region. To use another analogy – the historic practices of allowing MEP contractors to carry out their own testing and commissioning is like asking school children to mark their own exam papers without the teacher verifying that they have marked their work correctly or honestly.