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Sustainable architecture: Learning from the past to build a greener future

Ali Al Kuwari, CEO, Msheireb Properties shares how by integrating innovative design practices with traditional elements we can shape a more sustainable world

Sustainable architecture: Learning from the past to build a greener future

When I consider the phrase sustainable architecture, it fills me with anticipation about the possibilities out there for the future of our industry—which to my mind, are only limited by how far our imagination can take us. 

Building sustainable developments that have an innate respect for the environment at their core is the foundation of Msheireb Properties’ ethos—but we are by no means the only ones championing this approach. The work that our neighbours in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are doing with projects such as ROSHN and The Line, for example, is nothing short of remarkable.

Ali Al Kuwari, CEO, Msheireb Properties

Msheireb Downtown Doha—Msheireb Properties flagship development is the world’s first fully built sustainable and smart city district, and through the myriad of projects in motion across the entire MENA region, we see the construction industry embracing modern, sustainable design at every turn.  We are proudly becoming a global hub for pioneering a more environmentally friendly construction sector, with so many projects that are not only sustainable and that use innovative smart features, but are also carefully considered in the way that each building is used in harmony together.

To achieve this, I am always pleasantly surprised at the way that I see colleagues looking backwards, to meet the needs of our collective future. That means treading softly and decreasing our overall environmental impact by drawing from the architectural practices of our ancestors, with a modern twist, of course!

An example that we see often being deployed by architects across the region are traditional courtyards, which, incredibly, act as a natural ventilation system by facilitating the flow of the breeze. We also see this with barajeels, another popular sight in Arab countries that are not only synonymous with our unique design heritage, but work as natural air conditioners, by funnelling hot winds from outside a building, inside to the lower floors. 

Another much-tested approach is the use of high-dome roofs, which serve a very real purpose, aside from their distinctive aesthetic. This roof style helps shade the rest of the building, providing a natural cooling aspect when the sun is shining.

Our design teams spend a long time considering the form and function of an entire development, before getting to work on the individual attributes of each building—and this is something that I encourage all property developers to ponder.  By considering how a group of buildings need to interact with one another, we can make sustainable architectural decisions, which means the finished product works as a cohesive unit—while still looking beautiful. 

In Msheireb Downtown Doha, buildings are massed to shade one another, and streets are orientated to capture the wind from the Gulf, keeping the streets shaded and cool, year-round.  This is complemented by modern technology, such as systems that recover rainwater and air conditioning condensation into basement tanks, where the water is also reused for irrigation and to flush toilets, without losing the aesthetic of the high roofline.

Across the MENA region, we have had no choice but to develop the way we think about city and building design to embrace the natural environment. Yet, as building practises advance, and new materials are developed, we continue to find that some of the greatest lessons can be found in what has gone before.

Within the sector, we are also working hard to use what we have in abundance. That means using light-coloured, locally sourced building materials to bring down the internal temperatures of buildings and reduce transportation costs to get materials to the site in the first place. We also deploy techniques like thicker walls, and smaller windows to retain cool temperatures inside for longer.  Overall, these techniques mean using less energy for cooling, which minimises our impact on the environment. 

The innovation and creativity that come from within the construction sector every day means that the possibilities are endless, and as we embrace new practices that offer more sustainable approaches to solving historic challenges, it’s exciting to consider where we might head next.