Over the past few years, design and construction of buildings have experienced substantial progress to satisfy the increasing demand for sustainability in different key sectors. In a recent online poll conducted by AsiaGreenBuildings, 39,2% of voters believe Residential Buildings is the most promising segment for the future of sustainable development in Asia, followed by Office Buildings (29,4%) and Commercial Buildings (17,6%). Public Space, on the other hand, received the lowest votes with 13,7%.
Sustainable design in residential housing spurs growth in Asia
Asia’s urban growth rate is one of the highest in the world. From 1980 to 2010, Asia added more than a billion people to its cities; mostly occurring in cities such as People’s Republic of China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh. With more people to be housed, additional urban housing is needed to cater to the increasing population growth. Sustainable design then comes into context. The growing demand for sustainable design in the region has placed interest for green homes to be built – which can be of benefit to both residence and environment.
However, creating a sustainable urban living comes with required components and challenges. Green building materials, passive solar design, energy efficient technologies, water conservation and waste management, among others, are essential to meet sustainable housing development. On a government level, the lack of enforcement of creating enabling policies to promote sustainable housing has also hindered a city’s growth in the sector.
Singapore is a prime example in Asia that has done an exemplary job in its policy to promote sustainable homes. In a conference, Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive officer of Singapore’s public housing agency Housing Development Board (HDB), praised the city-states’ governmental leadership in helping Singapore achieve environmental sustainability and affordable housing despite its high population density and limited land area.
Singapore’s success of its housing programmes to promote green homes is thanks to the cooperation between government agencies, which have worked together to the investment in infrastructure and allocate funds to sustainable and affordable housing.
Going back to the main focus, opting for a green home can be skeptical for some – as the thought of affordability and exorbitant technologies used in place of standard applications comes into mind. In spite of this issue, there have been numerous companies devoting their efforts in developing affordable green technology using cost-effective methods aimed to reduce utility usage and energy costs for consumers. These green technologies, surprisingly, are affordable and do not require major changes, construction, installation, or upfront expenses to a home.
While others require more time, money and expertise, a few methods can help save energy, such as utilizing fiberglass or cellulose into the ceiling and floors; utilizing available cost-effective energy star appliances and LED or CFC lighting; heating and cooling with a highly energy efficient heat pump mini-split heating and cooling system, as well as using triple glaze energy efficient windows and using air tight triple latch doors – all of which can save utility costs and save energy.
Increasing demand for green office buildings
The overall demand for office space in Asia has remained robust in recent years, with demand from expanding local businesses and foreign companies increasingly keen to rent green office spaces in many Asia markets. Asia accounted for around 35 per cent of the 110 million square foot of office space in 2001, according to a research by CB Richard Ellis. Ten years later, Asia’s percentage share had grown to 75 per cent – a figure that shows substantial growth in the region.
Multinational corporations particularly seek out green office space because they’re more aware of corporate social responsibility and image. Green features have also helped them significantly reduces operational expenses.
Also, recent studies have shown that sustainability can be linked to health and well-being of the building occupants, referring to a report published by the World Green Building Council (2014) on “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices”. Office buildings have the potential to provide comfortable and healthy work spaces for their users. A healthy, happy workforce becomes a vital component for a productive, successful business in the long term.
The office environment is made of up several factors that can be measured, including indoor air quality and ventilation, thermal comfort, lighting and daylighting, noise and acoustics, interior layout and active design, biophilia (connection with nature), as well as location and access to amenities.
Increasing the indoor air quality is one of the sustainable design strategies to achieve green office goals. By calculating the height of the building ceiling, the occupants’ breathing zone will be affected, whereby giving impacts to cooling strategies. To improve the building’s thermal comfort, most office buildings should provide active control of radiant temperatures such as that of heating radiators.
In terms of daylight and lighting design implementation, windows are the primary interface between the office worker and the external environment. Aside from the façade design, LEDs are now becoming an option to reduce the energy use for lighting and help to facilitate higher lighting levels without increasing energy demand.
Importance of sustainable commercial buildings
The demand for high performance sustainable buildings is becoming increasingly important in the commercial sector, particularly in the retail industry. Studies have shown that sustainable technologies have reduced a building’s operational costs, help them meet standards, and attract tenants, thereby gaining a competitive edge. Such green features help to reap savings in energy and water usage as well, but most importantly, create a comfortable shopping experience for consumers which in turn drive greater profit.
High-performing green buildings provide the best value for building owners, retailers, and also give positive effects on human health and performance. Given that 90% of people spend their time indoors, it is vital to consider these factors. Researchers have found that LEED-certified buildings are designed to have healthier, cleaner indoor environmental quality, which means better health benefits for occupants.
According to a report by the World Green Building Council on “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Retail: The Impact of Green Buildings on People & Profit”, a couple of environmental factors that can affect the health, productivity, and wellbeing of the occupants include air quality and thermal comfort. Improvement on these parts can result in cost reduction for the retailers and enhanced customer experience.
In Singapore, the City Square Mall is the first private commercial development in the country to receive the Green Mark Platinum Award by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA). The building implements a green roof with solar panels and water harvesting capabilities, a high-efficiency air conditioning plant system and recycling bins, and electronic screens aiming to raise the customer and tenants’ awareness about the building’s efficiency of energy and water use.
Green public spaces yield significant benefits
Public space might be described as an “Open Space” such as streets, parks and recreation areas, plazas and other publicly-owned and managed outdoor spaces.
Parks and other areas of public open space provide local destinations for people to walk, cycle, and be active in. Accompanying greenery also provides restorative and positive mental health benefits, but also, becomes the place for social interaction to flourish. The provision of public open spaces is thus a key factor in promoting active living and providing important physical, psychological and social health benefits for individuals and the community.
A few sustainable strategies can be adopted in order to improve the liveability of a city’s urban development, including designing of Swales (vegetated open channels) to accept runoff and increase infiltration, permeable paving (permeable concrete, permeable asphalt, permeable interlocking concrete pavers, and grid pavers) which provide structural support, storm runoff, and assist in the removal of pollutants, as well as increase pavement albedo (reflectivity) and developing sidewalk trees to further reduce the heat island effect.
Green spaces benefit existing communities through their amenity and aesthetic, which increases property value. Green public spaces, such as public parks and gardens, provide resources for relaxation and recreation as well. A city with plenty of openly green public spaces are aesthetically pleasing and engaging to both residents and investors.
As an example, Hangzhou in China sets an innovative effort to address the environmental issue by restoring the green public space. The city now has 166,5 km2 of green space or about 40% of the city area. It aims to reduce the urban heat island effect, storm water, and flooding,
Despite the need and importance, many of the public spaces came with a poor spatial planning. The lack of arrangement for public spaces hampers economic activities, pollutes the environment, and compromises public stability and security. Uncontrolled rapid urbanization also creates disorderly settlement pattern which makes dangerously low shares of public spaces.
Due to the aforementioned reasons, the need for public spaces has not been given the attention that it deserves. Public spaces should be considered as a basic service, with the same priority as transport, water and any other issue which communities often primarily focus their resources on. People in developing cities must recognize the role that quality public spaces can have in facing the challenges of our rapidly urbanizing world and sustainable development.