UAE-headquartered waste management company Bee’ah is building its new headquarters in Sharjah – a project that promises to “push the boundaries of sustainability”. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the office is, according to Bee’ah officials, a tremendous feat of engineering, design, and environmental efficiency, and will become the most sustainable office in the emirate upon completion in 2019.

“Bee’ah has aspirations to push the boundaries of sustainability and the new headquarters is part of that ambition to open up the road for others to demand more from their buildings and the environment,” Nada Taryam, director of civil and architectural projects at Bee’ah, tells Construction Week.

“We recycle all of the water we use on site. All of the fittings and fixtures we use are water-efficient, and all the lighting is LED. We have efficient air-conditioning and trench cooling that helps to limit the effects of façade and glass heating,” she explains. “We also have slab cooling in the lobby areas of the building, which means the entire space does not need to be cooled with air-conditioning and this, of course, helps to lower the total energy consumption of the building.” 

Located in Al Saj’ah, the under-construction office sits on a total built up area of 7,450m² and will be the place of work for 170 staff, with sufficient room for 200 people. It will have an open-plan office, a café, an art gallery, a visitor centre, an auditorium, a control room to monitor Bee’ah’s bins and vehicles, a research lab, water features, a car park, eight meeting rooms, and an 18m-tall domed roof.

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The building will push forward Bee’ah’s waste reduction, renewable energy, and sustainability targets, with environmental considerations woven into all parts of the futuristic office. A photovoltaic farm with approximately 3,000 solar panels is being built to generate electricity for the office. It will eventually produce enough clean energy to power the headquarters, helping it become a net zero carbon building. Tesla’s powerpack technology will be used to store the solar farm’s energy – the nine storage packs it has acquired from the US firm boast a total capacity of 1,890 kWhs. Bee’ah is also building a water treatment plant onsite that will recycle water for toilet flushing.

Tesla’s technology and the solar farm will help Bee’ah’s aspiration to secure a LEED Platinum rating – developed the United States Green Building Council – for its headquarters. Taryam says there are no LEED Platinum-rated buildings in Sharjah, meaning this building may be the first in the history of the emirate.

The construction team on site is using recycled steel, concrete, aggregate materials, and grey water to ensure these aspirations are met. Raw building materials have been acquired from sustainable sources, and lighting on the perimeter fencing of the project, which covers more than 93,000m², is solar powered. The longitudinal shape of the structure was designed to maximise the natural heating and cooling benefits of wind and sunlight.

“There are lots of aspirations for the project,” explains Taryam. “When we first started working on the building it was mostly about the architecture, but there are bigger aspirations now. This is an office of the future, it’s going to be a leading smart building and it will employ a lot of the latest technologies for modern offices. We are working with leading companies to make this building smart, so it has a soul of its own. It’s not just the architecture that makes this building special, it’s the technology that goes into it too.”

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Taryam says that the most advanced technologies will be deployed to make the headquarters a future-ready office. While details about the specific tech tools have yet to be disclosed, she says that an integrated software will be developed as part of the process. This smart platform will be linked to the headquarters’ building management system to provide live data on the sustainability and energy-efficiency of the building.

“We are still working on all the technology at the moment, and right now [the prospects of] what we can do are vast – but we need to tailor it to make sure what we have suits the needs of the building and its employees,” she says.

There are major milestones that need to be completed before this futuristic technology can be used to manage what Taryam describes as an “office of the future”. Construction teams on site are working towards finishing the envelope of the building, as well as testing and commissioning the headquarters’ mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems.

Construction work started in 2016 when Al-Futtaim Carillion (AFC) was appointed main contractor in May. While the project has faced some challenges beyond its control due to the collapse of Carillion in the UK, work is advancing at pace and as scheduled. The superstructure and concrete dome have been completed, and work on the standing seam envelope and glazing steel is ongoing. External work for the underground facilities, such as drainage and piping, is also under way.

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Work is ticking along at good speed with approximately 350 workers on the site, but Taryam admits the complex geometry of the project can pose administrative and logistical challenges that would worry most seasoned builders.

“Because of the complexity of the forms, everything needs to be coordinated prior to installation,” she says. “All of the parts come together seamlessly, but this building is not a box. Everything is curved and has its own form, so you have to ensure that everything down to the light switches are coordinated and fit nicely within the interior of the building.”

The challenge for the interior of the one-storey building is in creating a seamless design that reflects the nuances of the organisation. While most of the open-plan office features monochromatic hues of grey and white, the management suite will have a “richer feel”, juxtaposing the rest of the building, Taryam says. Located on the first floor, the management area will have a timber veneer-style interior design to give the seemingly prestigious area its “own character”.

The outdoor areas and breakout places, which Taryam calls the “lungs” of the building, will include two water features and a wealth of local vegetation. Self-sustaining plant communities that do not require intensive maintenance will be incorporated. Bee’ah is looking to promote the biodiversity of the native plant community, and using native plants to restore the desert landscape to help reverse the trend of species loss.

The landscape in which the headquarters is located inspired the building’s form, which was designed in 2012 to resemble rolling desert dunes. The complex, curving dome can make it challenging to engineer and design the project. Glass reinforced concrete was selected for the outermost layer of its façade, since it is significantly lighter than precast steel. Due to its reduced weight, it is also more environment-friendly than other materials, such as precast concrete.

By choosing sustainable and recycled materials such as steel, concrete, and aggregate materials; using grey and recycled water; and building an onsite solar farm and water treatment facility, Bee’ah’s new headquarters ticks many of the boxes required for LEED Platinum certification. Combined with the technology it will feature to become an office of the future, Bee’ah’s building could become an iconic addition to Sharjah’s architectural landscape – and also live up to its promise of redefining sustainable design in the country.