Urban planners need to respond to environmental concerns, say leading architects at Perkins+Will

Masterplanners are now being asked to solve the most complex problems facing humanity – namely climate change, says Perkins+Will associate principal Steven Velegrinis.

“There is already a very mature discourse around the idea of urban resilience, sustainability and ecological urbanism and it’s an approach we are promoting through our work,” he added. “Our multi-disciplinary team is dominated by landscape architects who are really well suited to ecologically-focused masterplanning and we are increasingly seeing it in demand by developers and clients across the region and beyond.”

The comments came as part of a larger discussion held between Velegrinis and Perkins+Will’s principal and design director of architecture at the Dubai Studio Firas Hnoosh and design director Diane Thorsen.

According to Thorsen, incorporating sustainability into regional masterplans means creating opportunities to apply lessons learned from vernacular architecture, such as the placement of courtyards and the creation of natural shading.

“There’s something called the urban heat island,” said Velegrinis, “and what it refers to is when you build cities and the temperatures in the cities becomes higher than in the areas around it due to the human activity.”

However, in cities in the Gulf, he added, the opposite has happened. It’s the only place in the world where the cities are cooler than the surrounding areas. Researchers have found that Dubai is about two degrees cooler than the land around it, and Velegrinis explained that it’s because there’s a direct correlation between the greenery in the city and the dropping temperature – as vegetation increases, the temperature reduces.

“I think the really interesting things that are coming across masterplanning at the moment has to do with this kind of environmental focus,” said Velegrinis, “and the need to masterplan projects that respond to the environment, wherever it is you’re working.”

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