A mother struggles to hoist a pushchair up the steps to her bank. A blind man rides a lift without Braille buttons, and is uncertain about the floor he arrives on. A woman in a wheelchair reaches with difficulty to pull a fire alarm switch.
These are daily scenes in an emirate without proper construction standards for life-saving features and accessibility requirements. But while Abu Dhabi currently follows a mishmash of international regulations that do not adequately address these problems, sweeping changes are taking place. In a bid to bring all building practices into a uniform framework, the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) this year will introduce emirate-wide building codes based on the International Code Council's standards. The council sets the standards for building codes in the US.
The DMA has proposed that the new codes be adopted in the first half of this year, with a plan for them to take effect shortly after. While all new buildings would have to comply with the regulations, existing structures would not require retrofitting. Additions and extensions, however, would have to adhere to the codes, which are meant to protect the health, safety and general welfare of all building occupants, as well as create a safe and cost-effective environment.
Describing the existing standards as "somewhat outdated", Rashid al Hajeri, the chairman of the DMA and of the Building Codes Higher Council, said in December that the new codes "would require building owners to constantly maintain in good working order all installed safety systems in buildings." Otherwise, he added, buildings could not be occupied. Farhad Shad, an associate director at Ramboll, an engineering consultancy, applauded the move.
"The most important benefit is that it provides a sort of uniform platform based on international, well-accepted and robust codes," he said yesterday. "That basically leads all these structural engineers and designers into one streamlined consistent way of design. " Ramboll was involved in DMA workshops to introduce the building codes last October. Mr Shad said the code is continually maintained and updated, "so it's consistently developing itself - and ensures the UAE is moving along with the latest international engineering practice".
The adopted codes would include provisions for fire, energy conservation, mechanics, plumbing, property maintenance and sewage disposal. This single set of standards is intended to provide a safe environment, conserve energy and natural resources, improve accessibility for the disabled, enhance building durability and preserve culture. Development of the codes will be segmented into three phases: immediate adoption, a second phase next year to make refinements to meet local conditions, and a final phase to integrate and create the Abu Dhabi International Building Codes, expected to be complete in early 2012. "Adopting one code for all the jobs basically provides one uniform resource for all the engineers, and we can seek an internationally professional body for queries," Mr Shad said. For several months, extensive training on the codes has been under way for the public and private sectors. Among the stakeholders are the DMA, the emirates's three municipalities (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Western Region), the Urban Planning Council, the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Police and Civil Defence, Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, the Higher Corporation for Specialised Economic Zones and the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council. There are also plans to stock the published Abu Dhabi International Building Codes in UAE bookstores. The photos and information boxes on this page illustrate a few of the changes that residents might encounter in the future, once builders are required to comply with the new codes. firstname.lastname@example.org
? Fire alarms will be audiovisual devices with strobe lights for the hearing-impaired ? Sprinklers should be placed throughout the building, and there should be enough to spray the entire area of a floor ? At least one fire extinguisher in every apartment ? Smoke detectors are required in all sleeping quarters ? Maintenance and upkeep of all fire-safety systems semi-annually ? Smoke control system to allow pressurisation of smoke to maintain a clear exit ? Firepull stations at all exit stairwells ? Fire escape designed to allow a fireman with a backpack to enter through a bedroom window. Opening must be 60.96cm high and 50.8cm wide, and must not be higher than 111.76cm from the floor, allowing clean air into the escape routes so airflow is always away from the escape
? Buildings will be tested during construction for air leakage rates, which would not be allowed to exceed two litres per square metre ? Shading devices must be part of buildings, including tinted glazing and awnings for windows ? With some exceptions, windows will be restricted to 30 per cent of a wall's area to reduce thermal energy, allowing for less air conditioning to be used ? If a residential high-rise has offices, there should be an occupancy light sensor and time-clock controls to automatically turn off the lights ? Rooftops should have a reflective coating. A 35˚C day would raise temperatures on a black rooftop to 77˚C; temperatures on a white rooftop would not exceed 49˚C
? Outdoor parking spaces will have an "accessible aisle" next to the space with a minimum width of 152.4cm ? Routes to a building will lead to a ramp with a maximum incline of eight per cent. The ramp should be 91.5cm wide ? Doorways will have a minimum width of 81.3cm for wheelchair access ? Easy doorhandle shapes that can be grasped with one hand and do not require pinching or twisting of the wrist ? Lever-action doors at public access areas ? Two per cent of units must be handicapped accessible ? Emergency and temperature controls should be no higher than 112cm above floor level. ? Accessible stairways should have contrasting steps for the visually impaired ? Electrical outlets must be a minimum of 38cm above floor-level
? Proper roof drainage systems with eavestroughs and tailpipes so water does not accumulate and stagnate ? Low-flow plumbing fixtures such as showerheads and toilets for water conservation