CallisonRTKL (CRTKL) reveals five key trends for the development of net-zero cities in the Middle East and North Africa region. Experts highlight the need to ensure sustainable construction materials, use design processes and tools to enable sustainable construction, implement smart cooling systems, and foster wider industry collaboration as key pillars of further net-zero development in the region.

The five key trends for enabling net-zero cities in the region are:

1. Zero embodied carbon

One of the central barriers to net-zero development can be in the selection of construction materials that developers are using. Mining, transportation, and manufacturing building products have significant environmental costs: concrete, iron, and steel production produce around 9% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Not only do materials have environmental costs created solely in their production. They may be inefficient in helping a building optimise its energy consumption, and can also be environmentally costly to dispose of.

Net-zero developers in the region have to take into consideration a significant range of factors when designing buildings, choosing materials which are not environmentally costly to produce, transport, or dispose of. While in other regions, materials such as timber are to enable net-zero development, the Middle East has to be innovative in adapting and reinventing products to be able to offset carbon emissions during manufacture.

2. Performance driven design

Not only do regional designers have to consider a range of environmental performance factors when assessing building materials. The whole process of design has to be driven by enabling social, economic, and environmental impact throughout the design phase. When designing a net-zero city, architects cannot neglect one aspect for the benefit of another: no-one wants to live in a sustainable city that has no community spirit, or reside in an economic powerhouse that has no concern for green space.

Using smart, digital design tools to able to foster performance driven design is a critical enabler of wider sustainable development across the Middle East region. Using computational models to be able to assess building’s lifetime energy consumption and development’s construction requirements can enable wider environmental savings in the future while meeting community’s needs today. Fostering and enabling design based on environmental performance is an additional central aspect of wider net-zero development.

3. Availability of digital design tools

Any design or architecture project requires careful planning and consultation to be able to bring it to reality. When designing for net-zero, the requirement for careful planning is compounded, as designers not only have to consider the energy required to construct a building, but also for its operation, alongside its eventual decommissioning. Such a level of planning for the entire lifecycle of a building requires thousands of individual data points to be conceptualised, creating significant challenges for any planner.

Advanced digital and computational tools can help ease the pressure on architects, with modern software now able to match the complex planning requirements of a net-zero project.

4. Keeping the Middle East cool

As a region with extreme temperatures, the Middle East has long been reliant on air conditioning to be able to sustain day-to-day life. Analysts have predicted that, by 2050, air conditioning will use around 13% of global electricity and produce 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. For regional planners, being able to innovate new ways to keep cool is a key aspect of designing the net-zero city.

When considering this, there is a key solution embedded in the region’s past. The iconic wind towers of the Gulf region have been tools used for the past three thousand years to increase ventilation into buildings and keep homes cool. By updating traditional structures to match 21st century requirements, CallisonRTKL’s Xylem Pods leverage technology to use wind to cool water, which then circulates through pads in buildings to keep areas cool compared to external temperatures.

Combined with other construction techniques that can enable cooler climates, including solar responsive windows and filtered daylight, these cooling systems can create net-zero climate control in the Middle East. While the technology still needs to be developed further before being able to replace conventional air conditioning, it nevertheless represents an exciting opportunity for sustainable based climate control in the MENA region.

5. Industry wide collaboration

Enabling both regional and global net-zero development is a task that is greater than any design and architecture firm, both in its ethical imperative and its scale of technological and logistical co-ordination. Planners and architects from across the region have been, and will be, coming in closer cooperation with one another to solve key challenges that presented in the task of net-zero development.