Bahrain: Sustainable construction

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The construction sector will be operating in a new environment starting next year when building regulations mandating the use of eco-friendly best practices are due to be implemented. However, the shift toward greater sustainability may prove challenging for some.

Scheduled to come into force at the beginning of 2013, the proposed building regulations will require new developments to be constructed using international environmental standards. Current guidelines for greener building practices include making better use of natural lighting; widespread use of high-efficiency light bulbs, air conditioning and heating; improved ventilation; noise and emissions reduction; and green building materials, among others.

As set out in the new code, new developments must also incorporate a minimum 50% of greenery in their total land space, which should include the planting of palm trees and indigenous vegetation. Additionally, each new development’s rooftop must have a green zone that makes use of at least 50% of available space.

When the draft legislation was unveiled in July, Abdulrazzak Al Hattab, the chairman of the Central Municipal Council, said that once the code is in place, the Kingdom will become a leader in sustainable building practices.

“The law is so comprehensive and detailed that pollution rates would sharply drop, whatever their sources are,” he said. “It includes strict criteria for new buildings, which for now excludes villas and homes, and will reduce the level of all pollution, whether noise, gas, sewage, electricity, water, eyesores and others.”

While the finishing touches are being finalised by various state agencies, the code and its criteria is expected to be presented well in advance of January 1, the date of implementation.

Bahrain’s green building credentials will be showcased in a major new development project, which could serve as a model for future projects. In mid-June, plans were unveiled for the construction of a new town development comprising an area of 356 ha, divided almost equally between the Northern and Central Governorates. In addition to high-end villas, the township will also have schools, a library, a theatre, a health centre, and office and commercial complexes, all of which will be built to eco-friendly industry standards.

According to Joel Oana, the senior urban planner at the Ministry of Municipalities and Urban Planning, the green community will attempt to provide the best of two worlds. “Our plans are eco-friendly … while at the same time enabling urbanisation and modern development,” Oana said.

It is not just the upper end of the market that will benefit from the introduction of green standards, however. In its latest tender for state housing, a $550m project awarded in January to Chase Manara – a consortium including Manara Developments, a local real estate development firm, and Chase Perdana, a Malaysia-based construction firm – the Ministry of Housing specified that green building practices must be utilised in the construction of more than 4000 units. There is a long waiting list for affordable homes in the Kingdom, however, and the new legislation could be seen as a deterrent for some developers looking to enter that market.

This shift to environmentally friendly building practices looks set to have a very real impact on the construction industry. Firms will be required to adapt their methods to best utilise the latest technology and materials. This will also open doors to firms, both local and foreign, that until now may have struggled to break into the highly competitive construction and materials market in Bahrain.

However, it may take time for contractors to get up to speed with the new regulations and the changes in market conditions, as companies who have shifted to green construction methods in other markets have incurred rather high costs at the outset. Talik Chalabi, a founding partner at Austria-based Chalabi Architekten & Partners, said many regional building firms have been slow in adopting green construction standards, failing to see any short-term financial benefits, a blind spot that could harm their longer term prospects.

“I believe the majority of construction companies perceive the change to green methods as a nuisance, but they must adapt for the long term or perish. Green building practices serve a function to improve industry standards, raise the bar in terms of quality and, above all, protect the community and public interests at large,” Chalabi said in an interview with industry magazine Construction Week earlier this year.

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