For some time now, the UAE has enjoyed a certain reputation for being a haven for luxury lifestyle experiences and affluent living opportunities. From upstate villas to gravity-defying skyscrapers and record-breaking architectural masterpieces, Dubai has been rightly compared to some of the world’s most expensive cities.
But, as more and more people continue to flock to the region and seize the opportunity to call cities such as Dubai their home, the emirates and their neighbouring countries are seeing their populations grow and expand to include more diversity and a broader spectrum of lifestyles than ever before.
To accommodate the masses and provide every one of their residents with equitable living opportunities and fair housing, the region is finally embracing the shift to affordable accommodation.
In fact, the Affordable Housing Institute noted a clear rise in budget conscious housing between 2017 and 2018, with more expected to be ready by 2022. The “Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme”, for instance, aims to provide housing for underprivileged citizens, while KSA plans to build one million additional housing units in line with its Vision 2030. With countries such as Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain taking similar initiatives, this gain in momentum is truly ushering in a new era of property development and city housing, further contributing to the success and growth of the region and its cities.
We, as architects, have witnessed an emergence in the belief that the region’s initiatives to shift their focus to affordable housing has shed a positive light on this type of property development. Moreover, it serves to improve the living conditions in the areas in which they’re developed in.
Affordable housing is a notion that calls for the development of residences and housing projects that cater to middle and lower-income classes and families, in order to afford them with equal living opportunities and ensure they lead a life of integrity and stability that is not affected by their modest income. The introduction of affordable housing is by no means a new concept. In fact, countries such as the USA, England and India have adopted the system and in return seen their communities and economies grow in diversity and essence.
There’s a simple reason for that. Decent and affordable housing fulfils a basic human need: to find shelter. On a social level, it has been noted that stability enables parents to thrive in their work and children to do better in schools. It also improves mental and physical health and reduces stress. On an economic level, it supports the local workforce and employment retention, increases disposable incomes and reduces costs for companies therefore increasing profitability due to reduced costs of living and positively impacting the FDI’s attractiveness.
On a more local scale, regional and local governments have been paying attention to these needs for the past few years and are finally starting to introduce affordable housing programs that can truly change the landscape and help in the area’s economic growth. Additionally, such initiatives drive residents back to bigger cities. This is an important point because for the longest time, such cities have seen middle- and low-income families flock towards neighbouring areas with cheaper real estate opportunities.
While it is true that the developer, master developer, government and financial institutions play a big part in developing affordable housing, Architects also play an important role in the implementation of such developments. The first thing we must remember is that labelling a project as “affordable”, doesn’t take away from its integrity or the need to incorporate quality throughout.
Through the use of specific low-cost alternative resources, materials and construction techniques such as off-site prefabricated houses, precast construction, as well as thoughtful detailing, an attention to functionality, ample lighting to brighten-up the compact spaces and adequate ventilation, we can create designs that enhance the community by providing residents with a house they can call a home. Seeing as the costs incurred during the development of the project are reflected on the end user (and impact its “affordability”), it is empirical that value engineering takes place during all design stages, prior to constructing and a tight cost control system is
implemented throughout the design and construction life cycle of the project. The Architect should also pay particular attention to creating designs with lower operational/running costs and look into alternative ways of harnessing solar energy and other sustainable initiatives.
Some of the more popular types of affordable housing are apartment buildings comprised of individual small size flats, which are usually quite compact but intelligently designed to maximize space and ensure residents have their privacy while also having communal public spaces at their disposal.
In Dubai, developments such as Majan, Arjan, Liwan, Dubailand, Dubai South, Jumeirah Village Circle, International City, Dubai Industrial Park, Dubai Studio City and other projects located on the outskirts of Dubai offer such housing units for lower prices. Affordable housing complexes usually feature several shared facilities, low in operational costs, to be used collectively by all residents and tenants.
Given the space within the flats is significantly smaller, these shared facilities can be used for recreational purposes as well. Such amenities typically include outdoor areas (e.g. a BBQ area, playground, garden), laundry rooms, storage rooms and sometimes multi-purpose spaces that can be used as guest lounges or meeting spaces.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter the type, style or size of the space, the Architect can rely on several elements to bring out the appeal in any house. Contrary to popular belief and as illustrated in our projects shown here, there is no need to sacrifice the project’s aesthetic dimension, quality, comfort or practicality to make it more affordable.
Details such as the lighting, transparency, the abundance of nature and greenery, the space distribution and the ventilation can influence the overall design. By choosing the right materials and specific designs, Architects can turn an average space into a great one and be the catalyst in affordable housing developments.