By Christopher Xavier Mendieta, Graduate Program in Building Science
The plan went like this: stay awake on the flight to Dubai, power through and come out smiling, having beaten jetlag and remaining energized for my first international conference. Twelve hours later I walked off the plane feeling not the least bit tired, taxied to the hotel, got into the room and decided to test the bed. I woke up in the dark. My cellphone read 5:30. Perfect, I’d head out to watch the 6:30 sunrise. The receptionist at the front desk hesitated when I asked about a good place to go, “at this hour?” She replied. I hit the street and notice the cafes and restaurants are full of people in good clothes. They start early here, I’d thought. I was craving an ocean sunrise. I walked on, the streets were empty, the Metro was still locked up. I stopped a slow moving couple and they told me, gently, that the beach was too far to walk. I checked my phone, 6:30. I looked from the screen to the sky, absent the sunrise, and then caught sight of a clock through a storefront window. It was 3:30AM, local time. I went back to the hotel and got some much needed rest.
Dubai plays host to a number of excesses, which match the extravagance of its scale. For $7,000 you can have a drink layered in gold flakes, for a cool $200,000 you can have the world’s most expensive pizza, topped assumedly with “the best ingredients in the world”, not to mention plenty of gold flakes. This richness is present all over the United Arab Emirates. It makes possible the extravagant activities and building designs.
I would be presenting my research at the 19th International Conference on Building Simulation and Environmental Engineering in front of industry professionals, scholars, and professors. For me it was a massive step into my field, a surreal experience for an engineer with limited conference exposure. In the beginning I was nervous, but I felt confident enough to deliver the message that had been crafted with the support of my advisor. The development of energy benchmarks through the collection of public data allows us to granularly compare the energy efficiency of buildings without the need for extensive building audits. I was gratified to see the level of engagement in the post-presentation discussion, and felt I’d done my part. Later I learned that I’d won Best Paper in my category, and I knew that in the future I’d begin a lot of stories about my career with that moment.
I wanted to see as much as I could of the built environment, so I took a trip to Masdar City and saw what it means to build a city with passive cooling strategies and human scale in mind. It lays the sprawl and illogic of modern historical cities bare in its compactness and attention to harmony. It wants to become the city of the future, with self-driving cars and streets between buildings for pedestrians only. While there, I was able to tour a net zero energy houses engineered for the desert climate. Everything in Masdar is designed using passive strategies to keep its inhabitants comfortable without resorting to unnecessary consumption.
Dubai was a dream, but it was the validation and momentum I drew from my experience speaking that continues to inspire me to go farther. It’s something I never could have done without the support of the Architectural Science department and the International Conference and Research Support Fund, which were there with funding available and a desire for its students to engage with professionals in the field.
And no, in all my excitement and flash-blindness, I never made it to the beach.