These few weeks have been quite a busy week of “green” expos, I flooded my schedule last week with Singapore’s International Green Building Conference and Malaysia’s very own Green Tech Exhibition IGEM. I did learn a lot throughout the week, particularly thinking about where are we in this whole big green agenda, in reality. It’s quite a disturbing fact to notice how much more is needed to be done even though I will say there’s an applaudable effort to the current efforts of greening the building and construction industry.
The Inconvenient Truth
Green Building Index has been around for more than 3 years and certifying dozens of buildings with various certification of standards. But with this effort in mind, there are indeed, many questions to be pondered upon if these certifications mean directly to a better-built environment that will benefit mother nature or so? Anyone in the Green Building industry should take a step back and see if what we are doing is really heading to the change we seek for if we are keen on it. Change to see how our built environments can be an environmentally friendly, in a very critical analytical manner
“The major criticism of any green building rating system is that they generally tend to be perspective, often resulting in the project team seeking the easiest points available to achieve a high certification level, which in the worst case, can lead to a building that despite achieving a high rating, ultimately fails as a Green building as it only focuses on isolated aspects of sustainable practices.” SA Magazine
There are many painful realities actually to take note of, the primary indication is the market itself. These questions can be referred to the marketing professionals themselves, referring to TheStarProperty, Reapfield Properties Sdn Bhd founder, and president David Ong and Malaysian Institute of Estate Agent (MIEA) president Julie Won spoke about their opinion on the Green Buildings Market.
Are there many people who ask for green buildings or homes? Wong: I think that the public is not really aware about this yet. Only those people in the industry will know, because they attend seminars and forums. But the public doesn’t really know what green is all about or what it means to go green. Ong: People are more concerned about bread and butter, than green. Wong: Incentives given by the Government are not as attractive, compared to Singapore. The Singapore Government is giving lots of incentive for developers who go green.
Acknowledging the Message and The Big Picture
That is only one of the many concerns I have for the future of Green Buildings if market perceptions will be good towards it and if there is really a demand for it in present and future. But what worries me the most ultimately, comes to the message of Green Building itself. It’s a pleasure to meet Dr. Nirmal Kishnani, who has been in the forefront in the green building industry as a thinker that delivered his presentation last week in SGBC, ( I am still reading his Ph.D. thesis on Thermal Comfort HERE)
His presentation consisted of some best management practices on how Green Building can bind the community together, thus giving this sense of belonging to the community by being a local landmark, and also, of course, environmental friendly. And I think indirectly he also means that many other buildings worldwide will rather entertain a visible green technology than have an effective passive design that reduces the overall consumption of the building over its lifetime.
Understanding the language of Green Buildings
What gave me a twist of thought is, how many of the green buildings we design are really heading in this direction. How have Green Buildings in Malaysia been performing in the aspect of advocating the “green” message behind? Are we just merely producing buildings with great performance but neglecting post occupancy maintenance? Are we, anyone, in this industry being so driven daily by our task that we have forgotten that the greater awareness should be done to the public to sustain this message through? Is there a need for a better awareness of the bigger picture rather just marketing campaigns and investments profits particulars in this green building market? Are we potential to put this entire green building industry into an oxymoron situation or has it already happened?
The Greatest Asset of the Green Building – Green Occupants
You can have a super efficient building services system but without putting the considerations of the occupants into the decision making puts your entire design into a high risk of achieving a truly sustaining, green building. I believe the emphasize should be placed on the awareness and understanding and execution of the occupants towards the building. Despite being guided by various scoring points or index to achieve green buildings, in my opinion, there are few fundamentals any successful green buildings must achieve.
A Green Building satisfies and improves Occupants Living Conditions –
To improve occupants’ indoor comfort is best described as having the best design that provides natural daylights and also with surrounding landscapes. It is scientifically proven that having more common spaces with vegetation landscapes surrounded could improve the quality of work and also reducing sick building syndromes of the occupants.
Thermal comfort is also another matter, not too cold not too hot, just right. It’s a very simple approach but still widely done wrong in most Malaysia’s building for having centralized chiller plants where air cond supply is always as cold as 16 degrees!
A Green Building educates Occupants ongoing Green –
To understand a building is similar as to understand a machine. Energy Management System is crucial to aware the building occupants on how their building is performing and how much this ‘machine” is consuming, and how the occupants can troubleshoot and improve their building performance. Having an EMS system installed improves the communication and understanding on how energy works in the building.
However EMS is just one of the many methods to promote green living, what matters most often is the activities within a building that generates the culture of green living. A more critical way of ensuring the occupants to cultivate the green living habit is to promote permaculture activities in the building, where food waste is decomposed, recycled of almost everything is practiced, and reducing comes first of course.
A Green Building brings Occupants closer to Nature –
And this is merely just about putting a lot of landscapes vegetation and assume that by having 15% or more of the total site areas landscaped you could score points for GBI. Generally, there is a lack of crucial understanding of the significance of landscape design in Malaysia. Designing landscape in a high rise residential tower truly has much more to explore about rather than assigning different plots of species. The combination with Waterscape could even make it more interesting, the sound of waterfall or fountains, all these are part of the Biophilic Design.
It is known that Ken Yeang has been promoting green architecture relatively different compared to today’s as he emphasizes a lot on the landscape details. Solaris does give an extensive amount of studies.
These 3 simple rules are merely just being said by my point of view for being an environmentalist and also being in the built environment career. But as simple as it sounds, that should be the way, but the contradicting part is that you do not find most buildings which are being certified as green buildings playing in this context. And not to the surprise of many, going through the 3 principles again could simply tie you back to our traditional Rumah Melayu, but needless to say, there are much more complicated design needed to be done in the context of city design, however with the breakthrough in technology at an appropriate scale can make us achieve such green buildings.
A poor design in Green building that does not establish communication between the building and its occupants will fail the performance of the building ultimately. The three simple principles revolve around the occupant because that is the core of designing a green building, like how any other architects should be doing, studying on how the design of a building could affect their occupants.
Every Architecture speaks a language, but as the 21st century emerges, we need a new range of buildings, green buildings, that truly promote critical thinking on going green rather than some multi-million investment game or green PR propaganda. The Green buildings need to advocate how green living is like, thanks to the rapid developments over the past centuries that produced many poor performing building all just for the sake of fast cash.
“Neither economic productivity nor aesthetic and intergenerational moral values can be protected without protecting the complex, organized system that provides the ecological context on which all values depend. To assume that all values are economic values is to ignore this implicit background value of the ecological processes that support economic, and all other, activity.” – Bryan Norton