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Green and grateful

Economic and environmental sustainability can go hand-in-hand.

By

Glan Blake Thomas

If office buildings were designed so that the air-conditioning systems shared the floor voids with cabling as conduits for chilled air, ceiling voids could be dispensed with, buildings could be shorter and, crucially, less material would be required for construction.

This is the contention of Glan Blake Thomas, managing director of Hong Kong-based AET Flexible Space, who spoke at the MIPIM Asia conference, Keeping It Green And Sustainable At The Bottom Line.  And it is not merely a theoretical proposition. AET was involved in Cheung Kong Holdings and Land Development Corporation’s 87-storey The Center, built in Central, Hong Kong. Reducing the slab-to-slab height reduced the overall height of the building by the equivalent of 10 storeys.

If the technique had been used on the 9,800 buildings over 10 storeys developed in Shanghai, “they could have had 980 buildings free of charge”, Blake Thomas said. “Build 10, get one free—not a bad idea.”

But Blake Thomas said that it is not just a question of cost and materials. “The issue is the trucks that have to deliver the material, the ships that have to bring the material, the mining processes needed to make the material and the energy needed in each of those phases.”

He added that the world is consuming this embodied energy quicker than it can be produced. “As a human race, we have got to start thinking about the future. We have to use less stuff. We can’t continue the way we have been continuing for the last 50 years.”

Michael Wiener, principal and director of Gensler, said the mixture of measures employed in the Shanghai Centre in the Pudong district would reduce operating costs by 30% on an equivalent building, saving 15.6 million renminbi per year. He added that 24% less steel is being used in the Shanghai Centre’s construction, saving a further $15m. The building will also use 45 million kg less of carbon each year and 45% less water.

Yu-Ning Hwang, group director of physical planning at Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, explained how a more sustainable district could be achieved by massing a development around an MRT interchange station. She pointed to Singapore’s Jurong Gateway development in the Jurong Lake district, which will harness the ability of people to commute by creating a high-density development around the station. Orientation and massing of buildings has also been used to reduce heat gain, Hwang said.

Meanwhile, Taipei County is aiming for wide-area sustainability—not just for its own sake, but to try to build an environment where people want to invest because they can make a profit and attract employees”, according  to Chou His-Wei, magistrate at Taipei County Government.

“Taipei County was seriously polluted five years ago, Chou said, explaining that its air, rivers and environment were all tainted. “Our mission is to clean the city,” he added.

In this context, he cited a former garbage dump, which has been transformed into a man-made wetland whose reed beds help to filter the sewage of a population of 750,000 at a fraction of the cost of regular sewage treatment.

Much has already been achieved in cleaning up the rivers and the next stage is to reduce carbon emissions. But Chou said a fundamental part of the strategy is to educate people to use less energy and water.

This article appeared in the MIPIM Asia Review 2010. Read more here.

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