Smart luxury skyscrapers: where sustainability meets high-rise opulence

As Dubai’s ever-expanding population demands high-density living, high-rise towers have emerged to help address the housing gap. In the midst of this, smart skyscrapers are becoming icons of sustainable and luxurious living. Not only do they embody smart ways to save energy, they also offer extended conveniences to residents.
What are they?

“Smart skyscrapers are spaces that enhance our health and wellbeing, spaces that encourage our children to be creative and our older generation to live comfortably,” explains Farah Naz, associate sustainability consultant at BuroHappold Engineering. “The definition of smart skyscraper that we introduce to our clients is about liveability, energy efficiency, safety and security.”
Beyond sustainability and wellbeing, smart luxury skyscrapers also have an important economic and financial feasibility aspect to them. They are typically situated in prime locations and thus by definition have impressive views and command a higher price. Therefore, smart skyscrapers demand a greater focus on view maximisation, building shape as well as unit sizes and numbers, according to Farah Al Nasri and Nenad Filipovic, senior architects at Edge Design, an award-winning architect and lead consultant. “An analysis of the surrounding views can and should have a great influence on the building’s shape and planning,” say Nasri and Filipovic. “This creates higher value for each unit both in the first-hand and secondary market.”
When talking about the luxury component, prime locations perform better when developed to the highest possible level of luxury. “When it comes to residential development in prime sites, providing less than the maximum units possible with cheaper materials will ensure the project does not meet the highest and best use criteria, and will not be performing financially to its maximum potential,” according to the Edge Design architects.

It’s about people
Experts warn that smart technologies, especially when applied in the context of living spaces, should not be overly focussed on being techy to the detriment of the environment or the residents’ wellbeing. Rather, the objective of smart skyscrapers should be to drive convenience and create a holistic, sustainable and inspiring environment.
“In such a technology-driven society, smart can easily be associated with technology and gadgets,” says Naz. “However, skyscrapers are not all about flashy technology and gadgets. They are ultimately about people. Buildings don’t use energy, people do. Identifying smart not as a product, but as an approach to a people-centric design can lead to energy-efficient design and an eco-friendly life. It is about the quality of life that people will have in that space.”
Smart equals luxury
The biggest obstacle to achieving smart property is the lack of budget for smart technology, according to Nasri and Filipovic. However, luxury projects as exceptions. “Most average buildings have no budget for smart technology and, for this reason, most don’t even try to implement it,” the Edge Design architects say. “In the luxury market, the budgets for smart technology are robust, since every dirham spent on the technology pays back multiple times through increased square meter value. This means that all sorts of strategies, from digitally controlled lighting to CO2 detectors and mechanised shades can be used.”
As an example, a smart skyscraper can ensure that a luxury prerequisite — privacy — is dealt with effectively. “Luxury building occupants are generally more concerned about privacy than the average person,” says Nasri and Filipovic. “In most apartment buildings, this privacy breaks down immediately outside the door of each unit. The shared corridor outside the apartment leads to a shared lift lobby used by dozens of residents.
“This is taken as a standard solution and is considered the most efficient approach. Our studies prove conclusively that private lift lobbies for each tenant are achievable without compromising floor plate and overall building efficiency. This also creates added value per square metre.”
The 1JBR tower in Dubai Marina, which won the 2016 Arabian Property Award for high-rise residential development, has been cited as an example of smart luxury living. Slated for completion in 2019, the high-rise development offers unique vertical transportation that ensures all lifts have more privacy than any other building in Dubai. Units on the first 30 floors have semi-private lift lobbies, which means a lobby is shared with only one neighbour per floor. Units from the 31st to the 46th floor all have private lift lobbies belonging to each apartment. The penthouses have private express lifts, so the entire vertical transportation experience is private from start to finish.
“A single loaded building with private lifts would usually be assumed inefficient, however, that assumption is wrong in this case,” the Edge Design architects argue. “Floor-plate efficiency on lower floors is 83 per cent and on the upper floors it is in excess of 85 per cent. This means that a very rigorous, seemingly impossible set of client desires was implemented, while still maintaining a building which is feasible and logical.”
Can smart skyscrapers balance luxury with green living? Most people feel sustainability and luxury cannot coexist. However, smart luxury skyscrapers can be an exception. But to achieve this, a radical shift in thinking, intertwining the luxury and sustainability labels, is needed.
“Many times people think that sustainability and luxury don’t go together,” according to the Edge Design architects. “Lack of awareness and knowledge feeds this ideology. Therefore, commercialisation of products enslaves the market that promotes luxury with minimal concern for sustainability. In Germany and Norway, we see the complete opposite, where being sustainable is cool and part of the designer luxury brand.”
According to a recent IDC Energy Insights report, global smart buildings spending is forecast to grow from $7 billion (Dh25.71 billion) in 2015 to $17.4 billion in 2019. Dubai continues to be at the forefront of such initiatives, from The Sustainable City, which is the first operational net-zero energy community in Dubai that utilises smart grid and other smart technologies, or the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s new headquarters, Al Sheraa, which is planned to be the tallest, largest and smartest net-zero energy building in the world when ready by 2019.
What the city demands, the city gets. At this point, Dubai is seeking properties that bridge luxury and sustainability in a high-rise living context. And this is where smart luxury skyscrapers can offer a possible solution.

Being smart about sustainability

The key to sustainability in smart luxury skyscrapers hinges largely on design, which can harness smart technologies to deliver on sustainability principles. Smart skyscrapers should essentially have basic sustainable design principles incorporated within the architectural design and should aim to significantly reduce environmental impact — decreasing the use of natural resources, while increasing health and wellbeing by reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emission, and enhancing connection with nature through natural light among others. Additionally, reducing waste and minimising water and electricity consumption should also tie-in with the overall smart objectives of the skyscraper.

Key features of a smart luxury skyscraper:

* Motion and daylight sensors

* Energy-efficient lighting

* All internal finishes, paints, carpets and materials are green with low volatile organic compounds

* Water-efficient design

* Smart BMS strategy to control the ventilation

* Proper metering

* Extensive use of daylight

* Flexibility and adaptability in design

* Reduced utility bills

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