Posted on January 24, 2017 | The National
The future certainly isn’t what it used to be on the dusty patch of land that faces the Siemens HQ at Masdar City. There, on a plot dedicated to experimental projects, a deceptively ordinary-looking four-bedroom villa has been built – and it appears decidedly at odds with Masdar’s earlier "greenprint" for our sustainable urban future.
Not only are self-ventilating wind towers and egg-shaped rapid-transport systems noticeable by their absence, they’ve been replaced by a new architectural vision of low-rise, low-density residential housing that sports unremarkable, off-the-peg fixtures and fittings, ample carports and an en-suite bathroom for every bedroom. Experimentation is out, it would seem, and has been replaced by the Khaleeji equivalent of architectural "normcore".
Appearances, however, can be deceptive. This is still Masdar City, a venture that may now be investigating what it describes as "sustainable real estate", but for which innovation remains an essential part of its DNA. The point of the Eco-Villa, explains Chris Wan, Masdar’s head of design management, is not to "wow" architectural critics but to meet the expectations of local families, to be comfortable and, most importantly, to deliver on its environmental and commercial potential.
"This villa doesn’t scream and shout, it looks like a very nice but ordinary villa from the outside, but that’s deliberate and was also part of the original brief," the architect says. "We want to show that sustainable design isn’t about aesthetics or about the technologies you can glue to a building, and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do something for the environment."
The Eco-Villa’s environmental performance is being assessed according to Estidama, Abu Dhabi’s home-grown sustainable rating system, which calculates efficiency in terms of percentage reductions in possible resource use. This means that the Eco-Villa is being rated separately for the efficiency of its construction, which can only be assessed after it’s been built, and its design, which has already been awarded 4 Pearls, the second-highest rating possible.
Not only does the design of the Eco-Villa claim to be 72 per cent more energy efficient than the traditional concrete structures that still form the majority of the emirate’s housing stock, but Masdar’s tests have shown that its energy consumption also outperforms more modern, code-compliant housing by 45 per cent. If that wasn’t enough, the addition of solar panels to the Eco-Villa’s roof allows the home to generate enough energy over the course of a 12-month cycle for it to ultimately run without having to draw excess energy from the grid. "We found that we have sufficient room on the roof of the villa to be able to instal photovoltaic panels that offset the remaining energy requirement," Wan says. "That makes this villa net zero energy."
To achieve this, the Eco-Villa uses a number of what Wan describes as "common-sense" strategies and technologies that stand as a testament to the cumulative impact of small-scale design decisions. They also point to the recent progress that has been made in residential construction techniques and the design of standard fixtures and fittings. "The majority of the fittings and materials are already commercially available here in the UAE," Wan notes.
"If we want this to be a model that’s taken forward and multiplied so that thousands of units work on the same principle, it needs to be something that’s beneficial for the economy in general. That’s why wherever we can source materials locally, we have done."
Many of the Eco-Villa’s savings have been arrived at thanks to measures that are either mundane – such as its use of energy-efficient LED lights and water-efficient taps – or entirely invisible.
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