Here's how a traditional boat helped inspire the sustainable features of a 2,000-seat opera house

Key Points
  • Multinational firm Atkins is responsible for the design of Dubai Opera, which opened in 2016.
  • The building's appearance is based on the traditional dhow boats used in the region.
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How a traditional boat helped inspire the features of an opera house

The skyline of Dubai is dotted with imposing structures. These include the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which stretches more than 2,700 feet into the heavens.

While these skyscrapers are undoubtedly impressive in terms of their scale and ambition, in the years ahead they will need to become increasingly sustainable. Under Dubai's Clean Energy Strategy, authorities want to generate 75% of power from clean sources of energy by the year 2050, while authorities have also introduced regulations to ensure that new buildings reduce energy and water consumption, among other things.

Multinational firm Atkins is responsible for the design of Dubai Opera, a 2,000-seat theater that opened in 2016. Its appearance is based on the traditional dhow boats used in the region.

While visually striking, the boat-inspired design also offers benefits in terms of how the building functions. Roupen Yacoubian, Atkins' head of architecture for the Middle East, told CNBC's "Sustainable Energy" that dhow boats had a "restricted base and a broad crown." This form, he explained, "allows the building to cast a shadow on itself at peak periods in the day in order to manage and mitigate solar radiation."

"I think the other feature that really stands out for me is the active one, which is … a flexible design, a flexible building that can accommodate … several different types of venues and modes," Yacoubian added. This meant that the building was being intensely used and avoided the need to construct separate venues for different kinds of concerts, he said.

The façade of the structure is made up of more than 1,200 glass panels. "These glass panels have anti-reflective coating internally and externally in order to mitigate the solar radiation," Yacoubian said.

In terms of making the building sector more sustainable in general, Derek Clements-Croome, an emeritus professor at the University of Reading, listed four principle areas for improvement: energy, waste, water and pollution.

Clements-Croome's areas of interest include intelligent buildings and cities. "Intelligent buildings that are well-designed will have substantial savings in water consumption, energy and smart waste systems, for example, to reuse waste and also will be less polluting," he explained.

"All of those things are very important but it's difficult to give precise figures about savings — they will vary a lot depending on the context."