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New thinking

Innovation in engineering design is bursting out of Kuwait, as consultants SSH International and Gulf Consult explain. Report by Bernadette Ballantyne.

Multi-disciplinary Kuwaiti consultant SSH International is celebrating its 50th anniversary. “This coincides with the independence of Kuwait. We happen to have the same age as the country,” remarks chief executive officer George Abi-Hanna.

The firm survived the invasion of Kuwait in 1990: “We built ourselves back up again,” says Abi-Hanna. It has restructured following the retirement of the three founding partners in 2003. The company today is expanding through the region, working with clients to save energy and reduce fresh water demand.

Growing environmental awareness

The firm has noticed that environmental awareness is growing among its clients, particularly government bodies, who are beginning to include sustainability performance criteria such as LEED ratings in their contracts.

“One of our strategic objectives is that this will be SSH’s green year,” says Abi-Hanna. “We are currently training 30 of our top professionals to be better positioned to add to this new market trend,” he says.

A recent example is a 60 storey high rise tower in Kuwait that uses chilled water storage to supplement the water supply required for the chillers used in air conditioning system.

“At night you cool the water that is in storage as you have spare capacity as you don’t have the same solar gains.

Chilled water

And in the daytime that chilled water can be pumped back into the cooling system to supplement the smaller chiller.

“This enabled us to cut down the size of the chiller and reduce the global energy requirements of the project,” explains Abi-Hanna.

“In this project the client also saw the advantages in that we could size the mechanical and electrical installations equipment more effectively.”

“We are making a concerted effort to contribute to the worldwide trend for sustainability”

George Abi-Hanna, SSH International


Despite the energy savings potential, Kuwait’s subsidised electricity prices have prevented this type of system from gaining popularity. But this is changing as clients seek to develop more sustainable buildings.

Another example of sustainable engineering design is on the new Kuwait University City Campus. This enormous project is consolidating all of the existing Kuwait University faculties into a single location and SSH is carrying out the infrastructure design. “One of the challenges was dealing with sewage effluent and so we have designed a sophisticated plant that provides water that can be used for irrigation and for cooling the chillers,” says Abi-Hanna.

“Gulf Consult has been exploring new structural approaches to its projects. It is particularly proud of its work on the Jumeira Messilah Beach Hotel”

The new sewage treatment works will take 4.3M.m3 per year of sewage and treat it to a tertiary standard. This is then processed to drinking water standard using reverse osmosis at the local district cooling plant.

By reusing the university’s wastewater SSH says that the need for 3.5M.m3 of potable water per year is eliminated representing an annual saving of around 2M Kuwaiti Dinar ($7.14M).

SSH plans to match this growing awareness by developing its own professional expertise, to meet the demand in the market. “We are making a concerted effort to contribute to the worldwide trend [for sustainability] and support the Middle East and Kuwait market in achieving these goals,” says Abi-Hanna.

New structural approaches

Another Kuwait consultant, Gulf Consult (GC), has been exploring new structural approaches for its projects. It is especially proud of its achievements at the 400 bed Jumiera Messilah Beach Hotel in Kuwait where it used Vierendeel trusses to achieve a clear 40m span. United States-based architects Skidmore, Owings & Merill (SOM) with Gulf Consult were commissioned for the design and construction supervision of the hotel, located on the east coast of the country. SOM took the lead on architectural design and GC headed up engineering and structural design.

A key design features of the hotel is its main entrance. The architects wanted all arriving vehicles to enter the grand courtyard through an archway beneath one of the hotel wings. It was essential this span be column-free and consequently there was a need to provide a clear span of 40m. GC’s structural staff achieved this through the use of external walls designed as Vierendeel trusses.A Vierendeel truss is a rigid frame with rectangular openings and fixed joints to withstand bending moments.


Vierendeel trusses

For this hotel, three concrete Vierendeel trusses have been constructed at the main entrance of hotel. The trusses start from the second floor with the top at the roof slab level.

These walls support the slabs from second to fifth floors and the roof slab over a total height of 12.50m.

The ends of the trusses rest on two rigid walls at each end.

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