Al Zahia is a 90.4 hectare development, a milestone community in the Emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
It is located between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and University City Road, with convenient road network links connecting it to the rest of Sharjah and just minutes away from Healthcare City, University City, the school district and the adjacent Al Qarayen residential neighbourhood. The development was previously a military base and was considered a brownfield site. Geo-environmental testing was undertaken for the site prior to development.
The integrated mixed use community will feature a range of villas, town houses and affordable garden apartments, in addition to areas for recreation, worship and childcare, communal areas and retail facilities. It will create the ideal environment for a contemporary community lifestyle, steeped in both Sharjah's and traditional Arab values.
The region has relatively little in terms of a formal planning process so BREEAM Communities has been crucial to the creation of a sustainable masterplan. It is also setting a precedence for future developments in UAE and the region as a whole. This includes:
The Al Zahia development capitalised on the opportunity to utilise a brownfield site. This meant that in terms of natural and existing habitats, development minimises any potential risks or impacts of encroaching on sensitive land.
It has been recognised that even disturbed and occupied spaces can support a range of species and therefore thorough investigation of the site was undertaken to determine if this might be the case within the proposed development area. Indeed, the outcomes of the terrestrial ecology survey revealed the presence of foxes, birds, and a large lizard species. In order to further identify the residential lizard population, a targeted survey was organised so as to facilitate a translocation of the lizards in case they were a protected or vulnerable species.
While ultimately the translocation service was not required, the Al Zahia development, being the first regional BREEAM project, can say that they did not cause undue ecological damage. Further, by pursuing BREEAM Communities certification, Al Zahia has the opportunity to provide an overall net positive biodiversity contribution to the general area.
Al Zahia is one of the very first mixed use development to be developed in the emirate of Sharjah, which provided a new opportunity for the team to develop and coordinate the traffic studies. This was a good opportunity to propose strategic input for the existing infrastructure to provide the required access to the development. In addition, involving the authorities in incorporating BREEAM requirements, such as rerouting the existing public bus routes to cater for the needs for the development, provided an educational experience for the wider team that will hopefully be implemented in other projects across the Emirate.
This project has provided a valuable opportunity and experience as a first BREEAM project in the Middle East for the team. The challenge was to make sure that pragmatic and cost-effective solutions are provided to meet the mandatory and elective credits and that the presentation of this information was clear and concise. Effective communication with the client proved to be essential in achieving this goal.
Working on Al Zahia BREEAM project was a great opportunity to study the impact of different sustainability and energy measures, such as shading analysis and photovoltaic power generation. The project requirements have motivated us to ensure that all potential sustainable initiatives are assessed and incorporated in the design when possible. The results for energy savings indicate that there could be significant reductions in energy consumption from the grid.
Being the first BREEAM Project in the region was an exciting challenge. Whilst assessment of contaminated land is frequently undertaken, the application of results to achieve credit points was an interesting aspect of the work. An optional credit was considered achievable, if contaminated land outside of the ground investigation was encountered, and the masterplan was amended so as to reduce risks to receptors by planning, rather than costly remediation or major civil engineering works. Client agreement of this is key in achieving the credit.
“WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff worked closely with BRE to establish alternative standards relevant to the local area which were comparable and as challenging as those specified within other BREEAM criteria. Exploring bespoke options to meet the intentions of the BREEAM criteria in the context of Sharjah clearly highlighted the different contexts of the UK and the UAE in terms of planning requirements, climate, society and culture. The developed alternatives standards will be used as starting point for any other UAE BREEAM projects moving forwards. The project presented a strong opportunity for the first BREEAM community project in the UAE where it was implemented on one of the first mixed use developments in Sharjah with a large multidisciplinary team from various renowned organisations.” Gail Williams, Assessor, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff