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High Time for a Green Building Living Lab – Learning from Hong Kong Zero Carbon Building

It is a hard truth. The transition of building science knowledge to tertiary students is far more complex than what many may apprehend. I elaborate this because as a green building consultant who has been sharing green building knowledge to the public and universities, it is very evident that there’s an understanding gap between the industry and the university. With the recent years of development in green building matters, it is apparent that various stakeholders have joined in the bandwagon. Particularly, academicians with many scientific papers that seem to deviate from the actual industry practice but merely scoring publishing points I suppose. In this article, I would prefer using the term ‘building science’ as oppose to ‘green building’ as the latter is deemed to be widely misconceived by anyone (same goes to ‘green technology’). Besides, the building science subject is one major empirical scientific field that is also the least understood in comparison with other fields like low carbon construction and materials, landscape design, water efficiency and others.

Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong.
Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong.

Building Sciences must be Experienced, Not Read

The understanding towards building science should be one’s personal exploratory journey, not through textbooks but a physical experience with it. An experience to understand the impact of our built environment designs to the indoor environmental parameters such as visual comfort (glare, luminance distribution etc), thermal comfort (temperature, humidity, air velocity), and user’s perception of comfort and many more. And I know, it is impossible to get the students or even public in general to understand about these parameters from paper. That is why I find it useful to place some temperature and lighting logging devices in the speaking venue for the benefit of the audience to understand the subject better.

This is among the reasons why I say, it is high time for a green building living lab. A physical landmark that will manifest the cross calibration of various stakeholders such as academicians, consultants, suppliers, and policy makers in regards to building science matter. We do have several successful operational green buildings as well as prototypes in Malaysia. However due to commercial and privacy reasons, they are not fully leveraged to focus on public engagement across the different spectrum of education and research. This living lab, which is a hybrid of modular structure and a permanent visitor centre, will enable new products in the market to be tested for their environmental performance. It shall also be the venue for all building science related information to be constructively discussed transparently.

Various unconventional technology being tested in Zero Carbon Building Hong Kong. From Left to Right, active chilled beam system, light pipe and wind catcher, active daylight control, big ass fan)
Various unconventional technology being tested in Zero Carbon Building Hong Kong. From Left to Right, active chilled beam system, light pipe and wind catcher, active daylight control, big ass fan)

Learning from ZCB- Hong Kong for Public Engagement and Education

This prompted me to reflect back the visits to several best practice energy efficient buildings around the region, including our very own Energy Commission Diamond building and Singapore’s BCA Zero Energy Building. However, the zero carbon building in Hong Kong proves to be impressive when it comes to public engagement and education in matters to building science. Zero Carbon Building is a signature project of CIC (Construction Industry Council) to showcase state-of-the-art eco building design and technologies to the construction industry globally to raise community awareness of sustainable living in Hong Kong. Completed in June 2012, the Beam Plus Platinum rated building has a site area of 14,700 square meters with the building footprint standing at 1,400 square meters. The 3 storeys education purposed building houses 20 staffs and also boasts Hong Kong’s first urban native woodland. With more than 40,000 visitors per year, the constantly evolving and evaluating building has a Building Management System with smart control with over 2,800 sensing points. While there are ample to elaborate on the green design strategies (find it via HERE), I will be elaborating what made ZCB a precedent in public engagement and awareness.

Landmark of Innovative Collaboration

Let us acknowledge that there is a problem with technology trust. None or few wants to be the ‘white mice’ trying out new technologies in this part of the world. Imagine a living lab which catalyses collaboration between green product suppliers and academicians to showcase the best design solutions to the public at large. This is essential as you have a transparent and physical avenue to clear the doubts. Therefore, ZCB adopts various unconventional technologies such as High Volume Low Speed ceiling fan (big ass fan), active chilled beam system, underfloor displacement cooling, active skylight, wind catcher, earth cooling tube, bio-diesel tri-generation and many more. What is even more impressive are the various energy efficient appliances in the Eco-Home section, ranging from vacuum water closet, thermoelectric cooling bed headboard, air blade hand dryer, in house food waste digester, water heating faucet, bamboo flooring and many more. Functioning as a living lab, ZCB allows an alternative avenue of trust between suppliers and end users.

The interactive presentation zones that have localized fans and curtains
The interactive presentation zones that have localized fans and curtains

 

State of the Art Presentation Experience

One can be certain that it takes more than conventional static presentation methods to justify the understanding of building science. ZCB uses interactive motion feedback presentation across several counters, where different counters elaborates on the different green strategy of the building. Just imagine a huge I-pad that is projected on a table or the screen. There are also live feed display of the indoor environment quality of different rooms. That alone is not enough. ZCB guided tour is facilitated by English or mandarin spoken guide tour, however individuals can self-navigate easily with the ZCB IOS app, or with the extensive self-explanatory information boards all around the site. QR codes also assist users to understand BEAM, the green building rating tool by Hong Kong Green Building Council better. As a living or experiencing lab, visitors can also experience interactive games such as the eco dance floor or energy generating bicycle games.

ZCB also boasts various fun and latest energy efficient appliances. From top right clock wise, Dyson bladeless ceiling fan, Eco-cycle generating energy, thermoelectric cooling headboard, and eco dance platform.
ZCB also boasts various fun and latest energy efficient appliances. From top right clock wise, Dyson bladeless ceiling fan, Eco-cycle generating energy, thermoelectric cooling headboard, and eco dance platform.

 

Test lab of User’s Perception and Lifestyle

One of the major hindrance when it comes to buildings post occupancy research is its limitation on actual building samples itself. Living lab enables the flexibility in changing office layout and its services system due to its modular spatial space concept that allows various features to be ‘plug and play’. Unlike the idea house in Denai Alam which does not allow public viewing, houses no one, and merely a prototype, ZCB houses 20-30 actual staffs working on the logistics and administration of the centre. Having a true living lab, you allow academicians to utilize such space for designated experiments and studies on user’s experience and perception, which boost the quality of research significantly.

Interactive motion sensed presentation and smart phone app
Interactive motion sensed presentation and smart phone app

Minimal Low Carbon Wedding

Then, this goes beyond. I found it hard to believe too! but until I was observing the low carbon wedding taking place at ZCB multifunction hall, it is evident that ZCB also looks into exploring low carbon footprint events. They claim that CO2e emission can be reduced by 200kg when the wedding is held at ZCB multipurpose hall instead of conventional venues, equivalent to the CO2e removed by 8.4 trees in one year. Horse drawn carriage is used to transport the wedding couple instead of cars, decorations are made from upcycled art pieces, only fresh and healthy organic refreshment is served. This has appropriately redefined the boundaries of a living lab, which also studies the lifestyle of society along the aspiration of reducing carbon footprint.

Self-explanatory description on ZCB green strategy throughout the compound.
Self-explanatory description on ZCB green strategy throughout the compound.

The Way to our very own Living Lab

ZCB gave me much aspiration of what it can be to have our own local living lab in Malaysia. That is similarly to my favourite Singapore’s URA Gallery where there is always exhibition and talks in related to urban planning for the state island. It is high time for our authority to have such physical avenues to allow transparency and public awareness regardless of any industry or field. What are our options? What about having a crowd funding among agencies and private entities to build one in a local research university like Universiti Malaya?

What about having a dedicated administration team there in arranging all the outreach awareness programs? What about housing our Malaysia Green Building Confederation office there who walks the talk? Let us also not forget that our universities have the role to produce thinkers and not factory workers, let us promote greater transparency and understanding towards the field of building science, let us have a green building living lab. Shall we?