Cities are becoming choked with a jungle – a jungle of concrete, steel and glass. Architecture here is influenced needlessly by concepts from predominantly the Western world. We must remember that most of the iconic designs have been developed by expatriates. One of the most difficult problems for expatriates in the Middle East is their relative lack of experience of the public realm.
I often wonder why is any element of existing heritage of the Middle East, be it cultural or spiritual, is always identified with the past, while the image of ‘progress’ is always borrowed from elsewhere. This process of disassociating from one’s own heritage is a very harmful one.
In the past few years, the expatriate idea of building ‘green’ has been brought in, but the word is misunderstood by most of the engineering fraternity. However, when a definition becomes so overarching, it loses all significance. Architects are now neglecting basic building design principles.
It is unfortunate that rating systems like LEED and BREEAM Gulf have converted architecture into an accounting exercise. This has digressed completely from what could have been a healthy exercise in producing truly good architecture. It is unfortunate that we are missing an opportunity to produce good architecture by allowing these accounting or statistical procedures to dominate our logical thinking and creativity.
Advocating bicycle racks or trying to invest in a rainwater harvesting system in the Middle East is another perfect example. While it may fetch you extra points in a LEED rating, the whole initiative, if analysed, is a wasteful one. The use of glass is still celebrated. There is no account of the money spent on the pointless additional cooling required and superfluous cleaning of all the building’s dust-laden façades.
I urge clients and developers to be open-minded in terms of LEED. There is no point in accommodating ‘green’ ideas and techniques and ultimately landing up with a building that is not comfortable to live or work in.
Commonsense is the key element. Traditional architecture in the region included many innovative, functional and ecological design principles, but none of them have been perpetuated by the new generation of architects.
The world needs ‘green’ buildings a lot more than ‘green’ buildings need LEED certification. If certifications such as LEED and BREEAM Gulf continue to cost too much money, time and effort, we will not necessarily stop building green projects, we will just stop certifying them.
As architects, we have to convince Middle Eastern elites and ourselves that the optimistic concept of importing ideas of ’progress’ will only kill the character of a place and its public realm. The future of architecture in the Middle East desperately lies in logical design, controlled urban growth and in the acceptance of one’s own cultural roots. I remain hopeful.
Romi Sebastian is a project architect with AECOM in Doha.