Dubai and mostly every major city have adopted glass façades in tall and supertall structures. These complex structures have permeated our urban landscape. The maintenance and management of such buildings are daunting. It would be less daunting if FM companies are decidedly involved at the early design and construction stages of various glassed-monolithic behemoths that now consume Dubai’s skyline.
There is a world renowned American architect called Peter Eisenman who is known for his deconstructive designs. He designed a house which was non-functional. It would have rooms but lacked staircases to get to them. It was designed as a “dream of pure structure,” in the words of the Italian architecture historian Manfredo Tafuri, and was not bound by traditional architectural rules. In other words, it was an unlivable house by conventional standards.
However, according to architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the idea behind the house is “the creation of an absolutely pure object”.
Drawing parallels to the story, in that sense, if you want a building to remain functional, it is also important to involve FM players at the beginning, else it would be difficult to access points where it is not possible to clean or maintain, and thereby retain the functionality of a building for years.
Kurt Russell, architectural advisory manager at Gulf Glass Industries (GGI), agrees that FM should be involved in the early stages of design. He says: “Just like the glass and glazing decision, it’s clear that the maintenance teams should be in the same room, if not at the same table, as early as possible in the design phase. Despite the simplicity of the answer, in practice this can often be difficult to accomplish. If the developer does not plan to be the owner/operator when the project is completed then operating expenses are not at the top of list during design phase.”
Another expert reveals the reality in the region where FM players are the last to be consulted during the design of most buildings. Alain El Tawil, CEO and founder, Grako, says: “Typically an FM team steps in at the post-construction phase to create a façade cleaning tender which in most cases is too late [to be involved].
Kurt Russell, architectural advisory manager at Gulf Glass Industries (GGI)
“Even when access systems are devised earlier in the design stage it’s still pretty much a theory, unless recommended by a hands-on high level access professional. As the project comes closer to handover many façade access issues arise and new solutions are usually recommended; they are not limited to building maintenance units (BMUs) but to rope access and mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) machine access as well as robotic cleaning options and pure water pole cleaning.
“The unfortunate part is that clients end up purchasing very expensive and inefficient access BMUs systems that in some cases are too costly to run, maintain and replace over the lifetime of the building.”
Grako was the first high-level cleaning companies established during UAE’s supertall buildings property boom in 2004.
El Tawil adds that the biggest challenge during high-access glass façade maintenance is encountering poor quality construction, poor workmanship and incorrect installation which leads to loose panels, water leaks and other challenges when cleaning. He says: “As soon as any pre-existing issue is spotted, it becomes such a huge liability to prove to the client through pictures and snag reports the condition of the property; we check the glass panel by panel, and report immediately.”
Alain El Tawil, CEO and founder, Grako
It is best to avoid the abovementioned problems. Russell asks, how can a manufacturer of glass or provider of maintenance services enter into an early discussion? He says: “GGI’s approach has been to be the main source of solid, objective technical knowledge rather than a simple supplier of glass. We make it easy for interested or curious parties to contact us and to learn – just learn – without the pressure of an immediate sale.”
Several projects in Dubai do factor in FM at the onset. The ongoing One Za’abeel project is one such story. One Za’abeel sits at the centre of Dubai, in a strategic position between the old and new business districts of Dubai, with overhead connectivity to Za’abeel park. The 480,000m2 two-tower, high-rise mixed-use development incorporates luxury residences, a luxury and ultra-luxury hotel, serviced apartments, office spaces, a retail podium, and a panoramic sky concourse.
The project will also feature the world’s largest cantilever, The Link, floating at 100 metres above ground and offering fine restaurants and lounges. In essence, One Za’abeel straddles a four lane-elevated highway.
Talking about the project, Robert Stephens, executive director and founding partner at the global consultancy firm Inhabit, says: “We were appointed [for the One Za’abeel project] by Nikken Sekkei architects and we’ve worked on the project probably for about six years now. Our role is really to look at the façade and building maintenance. We have this cantilever above a four-lane highway and it’s enveloped in glass. So in terms of safety and in terms of access and maintenance it has been a really challenging design. I think probably the most challenging aspect was how to install and maintain this glass over this four-lane highway and the approach had to be integrated. So it involved designing the building maintenance system as we were simultaneously designing the actual glass system as well.”
Robert Stephens, executive director and founding partner at the global consultancy firm Inhabit
Nikken Sekkei has confirmed the cantilever will be hoisted into position in early 2020. Measuring 230 metres in length and weighing over 8,000 tonnes, the cantilever construction will set new global standards in structural ingenuity.
Stephens says that a lot of thought was gone in the design of the BMU system for The Link. The firm looked at two options mainly monorail and tracked BMU systems. He says: “We looked at various options based on our in-house knowledge; before tendering, we tested those options with the suppliers we knew in the region and internationally to see if it really made sense from a BMU supplier’s perspective.
“Once we had them tested. We then selected what we thought was the best system in terms of aesthetics, architecture, capital cost and ongoing maintenance.” He says that collaboration is key here. “You should be getting feedback from the facility management team, even before construction. And then during construction you need to get an updated feedback and refine [the design] based on current market conditions, changes, or new requirements from the client. We knew because the risk [of building something] over a four-lane highway was so high we knew there would be many questions from the main contractor at tendering, façade contractor, and probably the facilities management team, even if the solution was perfect. That’s why we engaged with all the stakeholders before.”
Stephens says that although the firm is appointed to carry out building maintenance from the client side, it is not always introduced to the facilities managers from the client side to get the feedback on what FM would like to improve. “I think that’s something as an industry we could improve on but equally I think from in terms of facilities managers sometimes they may be not as aware of some of the construction constraints that we face. It would be good to get the dialogue going between facilities managers and the front-end design teams more
Is glass better?
One important question that comes to mind is, are glassed buildings energy-efficient? Some people would argue that the MEP systems consume more energy in glass façade buildings. Russell debunks this myth by saying that the “human element” is what matters. He says: “All activity in buildings is human activity and human comfort is essential to that activity. Comfort is more than just being cozy. A better term is wellbeing. The wellness of workers, patients, customers, residents, students, and children has been understood for many years. Wellness encompasses many factors such as air temperature, air movement, acoustics, smells, colors, lighting and, of course, daylighting.
“Glass façades provide a tremendous amount of daylighting, which has a knock-on effect on the wellbeing of the occupants. With all this in mind it is easy to see that glass as a cladding material ticks all the boxes that make a good building. The human element is just as important as efficiency and performance.”
The question on whether heavily glazed buildings are less efficient than traditional brick/concrete buildings, Stephens says that it’s not an easy answer and gives an alternate view. He says: “You can’t just look at the MEP systems or one aspect and say that glass buildings make the MEP systems work harder and they’re less energy efficient. To give some context if you try to build a traditional 500-meter brick tower, possibly there might be reduction [of energy consumed] because it’s solid and the U-values, or thermal transmittance are better, but there may also be negatives such as the façade will be heavier, which means you have to put more material into the slabs. So you cannot gauge on just one parameter. When you look at a building you need to look at the site and the use of the building, and then you need to go through a process of evaluating glass versus concrete. It’s not one-solution-fits-all.”
But it should be noted that glass technology has evolved progressively. El Tawil says: “Glass façade technology has dramatically emerged over the past decade with many innovations that not only improve the natural balance, of a work place with properly designed and sunlit spaces, but also reduce MEP consumption and improve energy efficiency through various innovations. Whether it’s a specialised coating that acts as a solar panel or one that uses nano innovations for longer protection weather conditions. Some façade technologies even communicate with BMS systems to regulate temperature, lighting hours and lighting intensity to avoid meaningless power consumption.”
The most important factor is that the developers and architects need to emphasise on the quality of the glass façades to achieve strategic and long-term goals of the project. El Tawil says: “They need to define the objectives of such an investment; for example, visibility, temperature, sound, water and dust isolation requirements and the secondary effect of each on monthly energy bills.”
Rendering of One Za’abeel in Dubai
Future of glass
The development on glass has been improving. Stephens says: “You can have a very high-performance glass which costs much higher compared to a low-performance glass. Coatings have also improved. We have these glass coatings that stop different wavelengths of energy coming through. They allow the light to come through which is one wavelength of energy but not heat. What’s really looked at now is not lowering the heat that can come through glass but it’s more about lowering the increasing amount of light that can come through.
“There’s probably more work being done on the U-values and that’s about the air temperature outside compared to the air temperature inside.” U-values (sometimes referred to as heat transfer coefficients or thermal transmittances) are used to measure how effective elements of a building’s fabric are as insulators. That is, how effective they are at preventing heat from transmitting between the inside and the outside of a building. The lower the U-value of an element of a building’s fabric, the more slowly heat is able to transmit through it, and so the better it performs as an insulator.
Gulf Glass Industries, which started production in 1991, is the oldest, largest and well-equipped glass processor in the region. Russell concludes: “Despite the very demanding environmental conditions of the Middle East, certain areas, not least of which the UAE, have made bold decisions to really push the potential of materials. I think it is highly unlikely that we ever see thick walls and punched openings in a big way here. As long as clients, architects, designers and engineers insist on testing the boundaries of what is possible, glass façades will play a leading role.”