How to cure the curse of sick buildings

 The Abu Dhabi skyline as seen from the Breakwater Corniche. Silvia Razgova / The National
The Abu Dhabi skyline as seen from the Breakwater Corniche. Silvia Razgova / The National

Collectively we spend a lot of time in artificial environments. Given seasonal weather constraints and the fact that many of our buildings – malls, residential spaces or offices – are inviting, much of our lives are lived inside, especially at this time of year. One unsavoury aspect of our time spent indoors, as The National reported this week, is Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Dust, fungal spores and other airborne particles thrive in buildings that are not properly maintained and/or constructed. The result is that many office workers complain of sore throats or itchy eyes and a general sense of fatigue. This is a serious issue in our region and a growing concern in other parts of the world, which makes sense, given that a larger number of people than ever before are living in urban environments.

The good news is that SBS is a problem that can be fixed – but it must be addressed before a foundation stone is even laid. Designing air-conditioning conduits in a manner that doesn’t encourage dust and enables better ventilation is a good start. The use of advanced materials that are better resistant to fungus is another tried and tested method of fighting SBS. Swift construction of large building projects is also a priority, as buildings that are left exposed to the elements during the construction process for too long are prone to SBS down the road.

From contractor to builder and building manager, there are several people who must make competent decisions if we are going to properly combat SBS. This is not a bad thing. Given the pace of construction in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this country could easily become a leader in healthy buildings. We have the experience and the capital to build properly from the start to guard against sick buildings in the future.

Other countries, most notably Germany, have a long history of innovating in building design to better combat the elements. Just look at its window and glass industry for proof of how the country has been able to export its engineering knowledge around the world.

From this vantage point, SBS is an opportunity to innovate and design in a manner that will have influence far beyond our shores. The only question is whether developers are willing to make the first step today, instead of playing catch-up in the future.

Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM