SB13 Singapore: Realising Sustainable Buildings the Tropics

SB13 Singapore: Realising Sustainable Buildings the Tropics

Postby greenbuild » Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:45 pm

SB13 September 2013
“Realising Sustainable Building in the Tropics”

Words by Belinda Allwood (Architect and co-director of People Oriented Design)
Representing JCU and FNQ business and industry at the SB13 Singapore conference was made possible by both the Tropical Green Building Network and the James Cook University Action for Sustainability Fund.

Image: Singapore city view

When most of us consider building sustainably here in Australia, what is it we really think about achieving and why do we choose to follow this path? Perhaps more of us are developing a sense that we have an ethical obligation to reduce our carbon footprints. Perhaps some of us are purely driven by the rising cost of energy and other resources.

Building sustainably in Australia is currently mandated by legislation to a relatively basic and easily achievable minimum standard. Voluntary certification programs such as Green Star have demonstrated that with slightly more holistic thinking it is easily possible to reduce emissions, energy and water consumption by around a further 50%. In our relative isolation, we don’t necessarily feel the driving pressures of population density, availability of food, transport, infrastructure capacity, energy and resources to the extent many other countries do.

At SB13 Singapore, I gained stark new perspectives on the driving need to build sustainably. I had the privilege of meeting and hearing leading thinkers, policy makers and practitioners in the field of sustainable building speak from around the world. The SB world series of conferences, which has been running since 2002, has the reputation of being the preeminent global conference in the field.

A sense of urgency prevailed as a common thread through many of the presentations. Freeze-frame statistics ricocheted throughout the conference, providing a snapshot of the intensity and magnitude of current human activity across the globe:
• One billion people are currently being added to the world’s population every twelve years.
• More than 50% of people live in cities.
• For the first time ever, in 2011 China’s urban population became greater than its rural population.
• Less than 30% of children in Germany play outdoors.
• There are 11,000 people per square kilometre living in Singapore.
• In 1970 Singapore was largely self-sufficient in food production.
• Now Singapore imports 100% of its food.
• 66% of new building in Singapore is sustainable.
• 5% of new building in developing Asian countries is sustainable.
• 40% of all waste in landfills, 40% of energy and 25% of all water consumption globally is attributed to the construction sector.
• $100 trillion dollars will be spent in construction globally in the next ten years.

Image: Singapore: Gardens by the Bay

Curt Garrigan from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Paris reminded us that climate change is a result of population growth, and that it’s time to move beyond just building for sustainability. Building sustainably is about limiting resource depletion. We should even be thinking beyond building net carbon zero buildings. We should now consider building for productivity, where buildings start to contribute positively to the world.

Buildings can already do the following with some thought, careful design and existing technologies:
• Harvest more water and energy from renewable sources than they require.
• Minimise energy, water and space requirements with good design.
• Use cogeneration, such as harnessing excess heat from mechanical plant to heat water.
• Recycling waste streams, such as collecting cooking oil for converting to fuel.
• Recycle and upcycle existing built components and materials from elsewhere.
• Contribute to food security with food gardens.
• Transform degraded land into sites that positively contribute to community, environment and improved biodiversity.

Dr Wolfgang Kessling from Transolar Engineering in Germany reminded us to look to examples of the past. Previous generations generally knew how to build sustainably because energy, resources and choices were limited. We knew how to design buildings to maximise natural daylight while controlling solar heat gain with appropriate shading and building orientation. We knew how to maximise fresh air and natural ventilation. If you look at large cities now they are filled with big glass boxes without operable windows. They rely on immense energy consumption to rectify their performance problems. Dr Kessling encouraged us to pick up the “old knowledge” and combine it with new technologies.

Policy makers discussed topics such as mandatory sustainable building legislation currently being rolled out across developing Asian countries. Legislation in these countries is typically commencing in a small and manageable manner with readily achievable targets such as 20% emission reduction and 20% energy and water reduction. In contrast, Dr John Keung, chairman of the Singapore BCA Centre for Sustainable Building, advised the BCA have set a target to green 80% of all existing buildings in Singapore by 2030.

Many spoke of the driving need to implement growth in sustainable building through:
• Policy development
• Awareness raising
• Capacity building
• Knowledge transfer

Academics spoke of their research on a range of topics from engineering, health and wellbeing to efficacy and disaster recovery. The performance and benefits of technologies such as cooled slabs (set above dew point temperature), e-glass and green roof and wall systems were discussed in detail. Studies on phenomena such as “urban heat islands”, caused by built up areas in cities, were presented.

In a touching presentation on achieving “wellness” in design from Indian architect, Ashok Lall, I learned that all building in India commences with a prayer for forgiveness for the violence that may be committed to the environment by the act of building, and to ask for “wellness” in the building.

Professional practitioners presented their work in the fields of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. Richard Hassell from WOHA, Singapore, showcased their portfolio of sustainable architecture in Asian countries, featuring such innovative details as installing lightweight and readily available volcanic pumice stone as a substrate media material on green roofs in a tourist development in Indonesia.

Tobias Bauer from Atelier Dreisetl landscape architecture in Germany spoke of their intriguing work with “ecological waterscapes” in Asian cities, designed to transform unattractive and dysfunctional open concrete stormwater infrastructure into functional waterways and attractive public spaces. These beautiful ecological waterscapes have increased function and flexibility to manage stormwater peak flows, but also contribute valuable green public space back to the cities, linking urban areas and wildlife corridors, benefitting society and biodiversity.

Owen Wee from the multi-disciplinary firm Surbana, in Singapore, talked about urban intensification. He touched on topics such as “replicability” (sic) of building modules, inclusion of green space at all levels of high rise construction and understanding waste loops at a local scale to find opportunity for renewable energy and resources. He also spoke of the need to create food security with productive gardens placed throughout urban developments.

After two full days of intense and stimulating conference I concluded the following:
• We need to have regular representation and involvement from tropical regions of Australia at the SB series of conferences.
• With 40% of the world’s population living in the tropics, and most of that being in developing countries, there is clearly an opportunity for tropical sustainable building experts from FNQ to engage internationally.

We have some impressive talent right here in Far North Queensland. Let’s connect the dots and look at the bigger picture:

• From an industry perspective, we have a large pool of immensely capable and vastly experienced construction industry professionals who can plan for and deliver resilient and sustainable tropical buildings and infrastructure to the highest of standards. There is opportunity presenting right now for us to connect to some of our closest Asian neighbours and share our expertise and experience.

• We also have some of the finest academics from around the world, with specialist expertise in areas of tropical sustainability, working here. Opportunity presents for industry and academia to both connect and grow locally and to reach out together to engage with tropical regions in Asia and around the world.

It is clear that the growth and uptake of sustainable building in many developed countries such as Singapore is currently far greater than in Australia. It is also apparent that developing countries in tropical regions are just beginning to embrace sustainable building with the implementation of mandatory legislation supported, guided and encouraged by international bodies as UNEP and IFC World Bank.

With population continuing to rise at a rapid rate and with rapid urbanisation placing ever increasing pressures on land, energy, resources, infrastructure, society and the environment, sustainable building is a rapidly growing sector across the globe. With sustainable building uptake in our neighbouring developing Asian countries currently only at 5%, there is a long way to go. These countries are just beginning to take their first steps on the long path towards realising a sustainable built environment. With our knowledge, experience and close proximity, we could reach out and be involved in their journey if we so choose.

Image: Singapore Supertree's
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