DSA believe that contributing positively to a sustainable built environment is a significant and vital part of our role as professional and responsible designers. On an interview with Energy Focus, DSA Group Managing Director, Mike Scott, explains how we adhere to responsible innovation for two of our projects, the Cap Vermell Grand Hotel in Mallorca, Spain and Hyatt Regency Erbil Residences.
“We are a leading architectural practice with a passion for creative, sustainable and innovative design,” opens Mike Scott, Group Managing Director of DSA Architects International, of a company which has spent more than 35 years accruing an enviable track record of award-winning projects across the globe. Sustainable, responsible developments that address the negative environmental and social impacts of projects are the order of the day in an ever-growing portfolio of peerless prestige.
Founded in 1985 with the establishment of Ridler Shepherd Low Architects (RSL Architects) in Johannesburg, South Africa, DSA as it stands today is a company evincing massive developments in scale, scope, and diversity. “We have delivered projects in over 30 countries around the world, whilst providing the highest levels of creativity, innovation and technical excellence as standard, and consistently pushing the boundaries of new technology and innovation,” relates Scott.
“This is always with a recognition and appreciation of the local history, culture, and a sense of place from one location to the next. Our core principle is to provide design solutions that offer a clear sense of place relating to their location and cultural traditions.” This ethos has been of central importance to the successful delivery of landmark, sustainable buildings, and environments across the globe from strategic locations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.
“With a unique passion and ‘can do’ approach, we combine international expertise with local knowledge to realise signature projects, from creative inception through to completed handover.”
At the beating heart of DSA is non-negotiable adherence to responsible innovation, and the firm belief that contributing positively to a sustainable built environment is a vital part of its role in addressing the potential negative environmental and social impacts of projects. “Designs that fully consider the use of eco-friendly materials, energy conservation and waste reduction are always our goal.”
According to Scott, this commitment is integral to DSA’s core business, and becomes an even more acute focus as time goes on with a number of key developments having recently emerged. “Obviously, with many of our major projects being hospitality-driven we are mandated to generate a portion of our own energy, from our own lot through some form of renewable energy. In Portugal and Spain, for example, we are no longer allowed to heat external swimming pools without using a renewable source - the last work we undertook in Cap Vermell Grand Hotel in Mallorca, Spain saw us tasked with producing 10% of our energy consumption onsite in order to comply.
Lately we have been increasingly using geothermal as an option on a domestic scale, in upmarket housing,” he describes as one element of DSA’s response, “in order to support air conditioning systems for heating and cooling. It is not yet sufficient to provide for the hot water as well - although we do achieve some heat recovery on the AC return pipework - instead we use photovoltaic panels to heat the water, which means that for this too we have a renewable source of energy, a combination that represents a typical approach and framework for us going forward.
It is inarguable that geothermal is an expensive solution as an investment,” Scott recognises, “but in the long-run with regards returns there are no general, additional costs. This is dependent on the location around the globe of course, as we are entirely reliant on what we are gaining naturally from the earth itself, but we are able to go down between 90-120 metres with our boreholes which then provides the requisite energy for the heat or cooling systems to function from that.”
There has been a veritable litany of similar initiatives which Scott relays, all of varying degrees of complexity in their implementation and integration. “We have also used wind turbines in the past although these are, it goes without saying, somewhat more difficult to conceal than most things which we aim to do where possible. When it comes to PV panels, for example, we avoid where possible sticking them onto the outside of buildings. It is a constantly evolving science, though, and already there is the option with very modern buildings to use vertical wall panels, akin to those promoted previously by Tesla, which we are anxious to explore.
“Pellet power is another area that holds promise for us, in using wood pellets to heat water, and this is in fact how we accomplished the 10% target at the Cap Vermell Grand Hotel project." Such a staunch and all-encompassing dedication to this duty has attracted the attention of a wealth of likeminded companies.
MORE WITH LESS
“We have several U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professionals among our team, and we use their experience and know-how to challenge ourselves to search for creative solutions focusing on optimum technical performance through the life cycle of the building,” Scott summarises. LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings, a globally recognised symbol of sustainability achievement backed by an entire industry of committed organisations and individuals paving the way for market transformation.
"Good building practice is about doing more with less and DSA believes that low-energy design should be the product of appropriate building analysis and design solutions, with the incorporation of common sense sustainable principles,” says Scott, and this ethos of good sense and prudence really need not entail a full-scale operational overhaul or a complete shift in thinking.
It is really as simple as designing only with materials that are readily available, to begin. If you start importing from all over the world this means great difficulty in achieving those key LEED requirements. It is about going back to designing sensibly, with the materials at your disposal.
It is where LEED, and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) - the environmental assessment method for buildings and communities - come into their own to engender long-term benefits to running costs, helping the client to make key decisions and present ways in which to reduce the overall cost and footprint of the building.
In the hospitality industry, a lot of the time we are trying to create an environment that has a certain image and style,” Scott adds, “so to then add a tower behind that vista with a wind turbine sitting atop it is likely to jar somewhat. Especially in five-star hotels clients simply do not wish to see that, nor photovoltaic panels, but they do want to know that we are doing everything we can to save energy. There is a real disjunction there.”
One of these landmark five-star developments for DSA has been the Hyatt Regency Erbil Residences and the launch of its 93 stylishly furnished serviced apartments. DSA Architects International was appointed in 2017 to complete and transform the previous residences, to meet all the expectations of its Hyatt branding embodied by vibrant, luxury hotels where lifestyle meets select service.
With the residences' adjoining 204-guestroom hotel Hyatt Regency Erbil set to open in 2026, DSA’s involvement ranged from consultation on the apartments to the redesign and fitting out of the public areas and back of house to create modern, long-stay business-orientated accommodation. “On this project we coordinated with interior designers, taking on their proposals and seeing them through to construction that included high-quality bespoke furniture,” Scott concludes.
“The development is ideally placed to fulfil the Hyatt Regency mission of bringing people together and fostering connections, a vital role in an uncertain world. Working on this project gave us all an insight into another culture, a lively world well worth seeing which we got to know through this project.”