Gerard Evenden, senior executive partner and head of studio at Foster + Partners, on how the only workable strategy to protect future generations is to have effective sustainable designs

Sustainability in the built environment requires sustainable design which needs to address multiple and intertwined issues – environmental, economic, and social. Environmentally, the stark reality of climate change and the creation of environmental problems means the pursuit of sustainability and mitigating the widespread impacts of our current way of life is an urgent objective for humanity.

The challenge of sustainability
The building industry has a substantial role to play. According to the UN, the construction and operation of buildings today accounts for around 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The International Energy Agency has stated that in order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, all future infrastructure – including cities, buildings, power stations, industries, and agriculture needs to be designed to be low carbon. The impacts of climatic change will be felt strongly in the Middle East. Water stress and extreme temperatures will become more intense, surpassing even the record-setting levels we see today.

Tackling the problem
Both globally and regionally, frameworks and policies exist to help mitigate the effects of climate change. But technologists, architects, urban designers, planners, and their clients also have a role to help develop the strategies that address the climate challenge and to find tangible and practical ways to bring about change. A well-designed urban environment that makes use of the latest technologies to use energy efficiently, is generated through sustainable means and uses fewer, and less carbon-intensive materials can tackle emissions – all while creating an environment that is geared towards the occupant’s comfort and social sustainability. Honed design methods that include learning from vernacular traditions and examining topography and local climate can be extended to address the ecological and infrastructure challenges that face us globally.

Gerard Evenden

“The impacts of climatic change will be felt strongly in the Middle East. Water stress and extreme temperatures will become more intense, surpassing even the record-setting levels we see today.”


Following this route also offers a means of economic diversification for the Middle East, reducing reliance on oil reserves for growth. Supplying affordable, good quality low-carbon housing while supporting emerging areas like high-tech manufacturing can provide new jobs while simultaneously addressing climate change.

Use of right materials
The materials chosen for a given project are essential for regulating temperature in a sustainable S way and can have a significant impact on its overall ecological footprint. Material sourcing is an important consideration – local materials or suppliers should be prioritised to reduce carbon content. And it is important that developments are designed to use as few materials as possible and do more with less.

Using alternatives for concrete rather than relying on typical Portland cement can significantly lower carbon footprints. Desert sand is typically too smooth to be used to make concrete, but by adding graphene this local resource can be utilised – which would avoid the need to transport sand from overseas. Utilising treated wastewater in the curing process can also lower the environmental footprint of concrete.

Last month, Foster + Partners hosted an zexhibition—“The Art of Sustainability” at Dubai Design District

Dubai has ambitious goals for 3D printing. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has recently launched the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy, which aims for every new building in the city to be 25% 3D printed by 2025. As well as tapping into a new global market, this strategy could be fundamental in helping use fewer materials in the construction of new buildings, particularly through increasing construction efficiencies and reducing waste in the construction process. It is important that we recognise the urgent need to bring about change now.

We are the last generation that can reverse the effects of climate change and we owe it to our future generations to make every effort to do so. Designing modern, technically enhanced environments that are truly sustainable – in every sense of the word is the only workable strategy.