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GREEN ROOFTOPS SPROUT TO LIFE

Green roofs and living walls, a rising trend in the MENA region, holds unlimited possibilities for the future of architecture and sustainability.

September 2015

While the idea of green roofs and walls may raise a few eyebrows in the Middle East, experts believe there is immense potential in the region to create a new and innovative form of living architecture to drive sustainability through the simple use of vegetation on rooftops and vertical walls.

Even though the trend is fairly young and there are many areas that need advancing, it is clear that the benefits outweigh the challenges. With a range of extensive environmental and economic advantages, including insulation and cooling properties, greening rooftops have already taken root in the MENA region.

GREEN PUSH

While the green roofing trend may be fairly new in present-day Middle East, the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon in ancient Iraq are widely known as one of the earliest examples of urban greening projects in the world, says Linda Velazquez, architect, green roof design consultant and founder of Greenroofs.com.

“The burgeoning sustainable building practices in the Middle East are driving interest in designing more with nature in mind, and more tapestries of plants on roofs and walls (both inside and out) are beginning to be created for the enjoyment of city dwellers,” she says.

“As more local projects are documented with lessons learned, this is one up and coming trend to increase in the near future as advantages and barriers to implementation are explored. Many municipalities are embracing sustainability and green building techniques in a general effort to reduce carbon footprints,” she says.

The implementation of vegetated roofs and walls in the MENA region reflects the desire to adhere to green building practices and align these with international best practices. “It’s a trend that is leading to corporate and government-funded project stakeholders who are pushing for green buildings that sometimes include green roofs and walls.”

CURRENT PROJECTS

In the Middle East green roof and wall companies have installed projects or have projects in the pipeline in the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai), Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“The green wall trend in the MENA region started about 2008/2009 with several beautiful projects from Le Mur Vegetal (the hydroponic Vertical Garden) by creator and botanist, Patrick Blanc, and others, with projects in many of these cities,” says Velazquez.

Blanc’s Vertical Garden can be seen at Sofitel Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, where it covers an area of 6,000 square metres. Last year the hotel received the Green Globe certification, following an extensive sustainability audit. The five-star hotel has 24 interior vertical gardens with 170 different types of plants.

Upcoming living architecture project is the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, which will be the largest hospital in the UAE when it is completed in 2018.

The 279,000 square metre building in the heart of Abu Dhabi is three hospitals in one. Architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has used natural and lush gardens to create living architecture within the hospital. The hospital is lined with living walls and palm trees.

Over the last few years green rooftop and living wall trends have slowly, yet steadily developed with small and effective green rooftops in Dubai at Belhoul Villas, Al Jalila Hospital.

THE BENEFITS

According to Eco Mena, a consulting, training and publishing organisation with a mission to foster sustainable development in the Middle East, green roofs are emerging technologies that provide a wide range of benefits to communities who want to protect their environment.

“The major benefits of green roofs are reducing energy use as well as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing stormwater management and water quality, decreasing heat island effect by regulating temperature for the roof and the surrounding areas and providing aesthetic value and habitats for many species,” according to an Eco Mena report on the prospects and challenges of green roofs in the MENA region.

Velazquez agrees: “With the traditional hot and arid environment in the region, business owners, employees, and residents would not only benefit from the welcome additional recreational areas that living roofs and walls provide, but enjoy lower temperatures due to the cooling properties of vegetation, thereby helping to reduce the urban heat effect prevalent in cities with a high number of impervious surfaces. Residents in other MENA areas with greater rainfall would enjoy the same plus a much greater palette of living architecture benefits.”

She says that additional private and public benefits include cleansing urban air (and sound) pollution which improves human health; providing displaced biodiversity habitat areas for a multitude of beneficial insects; and prolonging the life of a roof or façade by two- or three-fold and perhaps longer.

OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD

Velazquez says that even though there are challenges for the region such as inexperience, cost considerations and climatic conditions, there is also the advantage of harvesting and recycling rainwater in combination with renewable energies such as solar.

“This could create a wonderful symbiosis with green roofs and walls. The kaleidoscope of benefits that living roofs and walls provide when covering our façades is unique in the construction industry,” she says.

The Eco Mena report states that some of the major barriers to green roof expansion in the Middle East include a lack of awareness and education about green roofs, and limited data quantifying green roof benefits.  “However, with proper support these barriers can be easily overcome through research and innovation in design by the green roof industry.”

So, what about end-users? Velazquez says that due to the increased costs and relative newness of the trend in the region, it’s more confined to institutional, corporate, government and educational levels at present. “But as more projects are built, homeowner interest will also rise, albeit more slowly.”

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