Living Green # 1: Not Green Enough?

 

           Dated back decades ago, building green did mean providing our built environment with lots of trees and greenery. Major constructions in town were enforced by law to have enough open space with more reserved vegetated area. Housing projects have placed their selling points on having extra green space. Many even put themselves on pieces of land far away from the city so as to acquire cheaper lands for green area; as far away as no other construction projects or developments can reach. Clean air and quiet environment in the outskirt of Bangkok was something people who could not tolerate downtown congestion were looking for. The word ‘commuter’ was used to describe middle-class people who can afford cars and gasoline. Of course, as far as expressways can go, real estate developments would go after, and their customers would be happy to commute if cost of transportation can be traded off by clean air and more trees.

 

            This phenomenon has happened everywhere else in the world. It is called ‘Urban Sprawl’. It is what people are trying to grasp what they think it is green for themselves, not knowing that they are destroying the ‘green-ness’ of everyone else. How many trees have been cut down to pave the way to the suburbs? How many ‘natural’ green has been destroyed and replaced with ‘artificial’ nice-looking green? Who care?, as long as the government can spend our tax money on construction of expressways; local construction workers get paid; building material suppliers sell more; farmers are happy to exchange their farmlands with cell phones and motorcycles for riding to work in factories, etc. This kind of development seems to make everyone happy, so it has been the way for the country for decades.

 

            Today, with erratically soaring price of gasoline along with the effects of urban heat island, it is clear that only the ‘real’ green will save all of us from any consequences of global warming. So now, what is the ‘real’ green? The real green does not mean ‘Greening for Here & Now’, but actually ‘Greening for All & Forever’. This notion seems related to the term ‘sustainability’, the word that is easy to say but difficult to do. We can grow new trees within 10-20 years, but we cannot build a new ecosystem at all. The fact that new suburban residential projects are growing rapidly still does not urge authorities to put more stringent regulations on land development, such as keeping a portion of existing trees or setting the maximum distance from the nearby community services (i.e., to save fuel). In contrary, they set a rule for housing projects to have more green space–usually grass lawn for playground that is difficult to maintain. Some projects try to have trees by moving old trees from somewhere else to put on their empty lands. Trees are viewed as something to help creating green image of housing projects, which is not bad but it is just not good enough. What is really bad is that no new tree is being grown on earth, while existing ecosystems are being destroyed.  

 

            Thanks to the soaring oil price happening recently, the rise of urban sprawl is halted, even not stopped. The cost of commuting 100 kilometers a day to work and back home could cut more than half of the commuter’s household income. Suburban housings are being abandoned because the owners want to buy new homes closed to their workplaces to save gasoline. This situation gave a way to downtown development, especially in the area closed to subway stations. High-rise condominiums are growing at full speed. Many are sold out within a day of opening. For downtown residential projects with more than 79 living units, a new rule has once set that every one ton of air-conditioners used in the project, one tree must be provided. This rule is set by the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) committee based on a research showing that one fully grown tree has a cooling capacity equal to one ton of refrigeration (i.e., 12,000 Btu/h). This had caused a lot of headache among condominium developers since a 40-storey condominium would consume thousand tons of cooling, and how could they find such open space to grow thousand trees? How many trees will be moved from its birthplace to downtown in order to pass the ridiculous law based on suspicious research findings? Fortunately, this rule has been lifted off already; otherwise, we would see another law that cannot be enforced effectively. This leads to a lot more questions, for example, why don’t we limit the need for cooling in those condominiums by putting more serious building energy codes?

 

              So, do you see how ‘green’ is misconceived by authority, developers and customers? Of course, trees are green, but it is not ‘green’ enough if we think of them only as an image of doing business, rather than looking at their fundamental existence as a life form in the ecosystem. Actually, there are a lot of things we can discuss about green or sustainable development, without mentioning about trees. Just leaving them grow as they want is ‘green’ enough.  

 

 

 

ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Prof. Atch Sreshthaputra, Ph.D.

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Board, the Association of Siamese Architects

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Green # 9 Feeding GREEN with GREY

 

We all know that 75% of the Earth’s surface is water. But do you know that of the 500,000 cubic kilometres of rainfall each year, only 20% falls over the land, and only 1% of that is stored and useable for us?

If you think water is renewable – yes, you are right. But do not think there is a never-ending supply.

Have you ever thought about how much water goes down the drain each time we take a shower, do the laundry, water our garden, wash our car, or just wash our hands quickly? In a typical household, more than 1,000 litres of water is used in a day, and at least 60% of that can be reclaimed for use elsewhere because it is not totally “black”, it is just “grey”. Let me explain.

In construction terminology, the water coming into our houses is thought of in terms of clean, “white” water, and that going out from our toilet is known as “black” water. So, “grey” water is somewhere between. By most definitions, grey water is tap water soiled by our use in washing machines, bath tubs, showers and hand-basins. It’s not sanitary, but it’s also not toxic and generally disease free. Black water is produced after flushing the toilet as it contains harmful bacteria and disease-causing pathogens which cannot be used for domestic irrigation like on a lawn.

What separates white from grey are the types and concentration of additives caused by our washing, bathing, cooking and cleaning. Therefore, grey water may contain soap particles, fat and oil from cooking, hair and even flakes of human skin.

A typical house has at least three water systems. The first one is used for white water distribution, the second for grey, the last for black. Only the first comes into the house and the last two go to the sewer, but with special treatments.

Grey water normally passes filtration for solid waste then goes directly to the city sewer. Black water must go through the water treatment system (i.e. septic tank) to ensure it contains no pathogens before being discharged to the city sewer.

However, if the grey water coming from your kitchen contains too much fat and oil, it is advisable to send it to the oil filtration and treatment system also.

From all this, you can find an opportunity to reduce the consumption of white water, not only to reduce your water bill, but also to help conserve the environment. One good example is to not use drinking water to flush toilets or on your garden. Grey water can be used to feed plants in your garden as it contains nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, the basic ingredients in fertiliser, which can sustain plant life and recharge topsoil. However, some substances found in soap such as sodium, chlorine and boron will cause problems for plant life. If you are going to use grey water for your garden, start looking at what you send down the drain.

You can keep chemical contamination to a minimum by using environmentally friendly, biodegradable soaps and detergents whenever possible.

Also, for soap, using high-phosphate brands will harm your plants as they can only live within a limited level of phosphorous concentration.

Some may wonder how to collect grey water? And how can you feed your plants? First of all, your house must have separated waste water pipes; one for grey and the other for black. The grey water pipe is commonly known as the waste pipe, whereas the black water pipe is called the soil pipe. Second, if grey water is in good condition for plants, you need a water tank equipped with a filter. Try to estimate the quantity of grey water use daily so that you do not have it left in the tank.

If you have more grey water than you need for your garden, simply let it go to the city sewer. To prevent contamination, do not store it for too long as it will turn into black water within 24 hours after bacteria in the tank start to grow.

You might face some problems with clogging in the filters and pumps due to bits of hair, skin and food. Remember that chemical clog removers are harsh and can seriously harm not only your plants but also anybody in contact with the garden such as pets and kids. Natural solutions, such as boiling water or vinegar and baking soda treatments might be less damaging to plant life.

Lastly, what kind of plants can be fed with grey water?

Fruit and vegetable plots are best irrigated with white water or rain water, so it is recommended that you prevent grey water from coming into contact with such plants due to the contamination risk, especially if the produce will be consumed raw. Consider using grey water for plants with some distance between them and the food.

All these “Feeding Green with Grey” suggestions might be difficult at first. But if we realise that we have the potential to reduce a large amount of our household water consumption by recycling all this grey water, it is quite a sound measure to reduce the impact on the environment. There are still plenty of ways to live “green” without having to grow more trees.

ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร.อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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LIVING GREEN # 8 Greening Your Water

           Human can survive a week without food. However, only two or three days without water can lead to fatality. So, water is the most precious resource on earth, but why is it the most misused, abused, and misallocated natural resource? By the numbers, one person drinks 1-2 liters of water per day, but spends 100 liters for outdoor activities like gardening, cleaning, and entertaining. In 70 percent of worldwide water use that is allocated to farming; most of these farming irrigation systems operate at only 40 percent efficiency.

            There are a lot more about statistics that makes us feel a bit guilty with living our daily life; not to mention about the number of people who have to live in parts of the world where it rains only once every 10 years. Luckily, Thai people have chosen the right location on earth to live without having to fight for water; until recently that we have experienced water shortage in the Eastern Seaboard. There was a fight between local people and factories over water in Rayong two years ago. Most people are not aware that this travel destination would have water shortage. Building design and construction in this region then need to incorporate features that can contain the situation. But what is it?

            Last year, one of my architecture students proposed the use of very large water tanks on the rooftop of his high-rise residential project in Rayong. He thought it could reserve enough water throughout the dry season if the water shortage occurs. However, he insisted on having a private swimming pool at the balcony of each living unit just because this is a travel destination; people go there for spa!!! Sadly enough, he refused to provide a water retention pond and more green area on site as he needed some space for outdoor parking!!! He said it is difficult to find enough water to maintain the green area; and an empty water retention pond will look really nasty!!! He also said that he has to trade a higher cost of construction due to the weight of water for his building to not having to face the water shortage. He went on talking about another benefit of the rooftop water tank in terms of solar heat protection, which is not the point here. I must say that teaching this young generation makes me learn many things about how people today perceive environmental crisis differently. I can not say that his reasoning is totally incorrect, but it is not quite right to me.

            So what goes wrong with his idea? And why we should have green area or water pond in our houses. Imagine the land without our houses built on; when it rains, storm water will find its way down underneath through pervious surfaces, filling up the groundwater, and the rest will flow to natural water channels. That is the way nature works since the beginning of time. As soon as we move in to occupy the land, we replace the existing green area with the houses built with concrete. We replace natural vegetated surfaces with impervious concrete slab used for parking our cars.

            There is no doubt why storm water cannot be recharged into ground water, thus causing water shortage in the long run. To make the matter worse, excess storm water which cannot seep through concrete slab will lead to a higher water runoff rate. It will fill up public sewers very quickly causing flooding right after severe thunderstorms. Here, you can imagine all the dirtiness we throw into the sewers will then overflow back on our streets, our backyards, or even our living room!! . I used to see all kinds of living creatures trying to evacuate from water-filled sewers. They are thousands of cockroaches, rats, snakes, or even DRAGONS. Of course, ecosystems also exist in the sewer!!!

            Now you get an idea why impervious concrete pavement can lead to serious effect on not only flooding, but also water shortage thereafter. I once said that green buildings are not only about planting more trees in the buildings. However, covering all your open space with hardscape and not providing enough water reservoirs will be worse than you could imagine; especially if everyone else is doing the same as you do. This is why housing developers are forced by government to build retention ponds so that the complex will not discharge water to the public sewage system too quickly. Some are forced to retain its storm water for at least three hours after a thunderstorm. All this regulation is built upon a concept that new housing development should not discharge more storm water than is the empty site used to before development.

            To ‘Green’ your water means much more than to ‘Clean’ your (waste) water to a maximum BOD allowance (i.e., Biochemical Oxygen Demand) as it is all about landscape design, planting, retention pond, and pervious green area where storm water can penetrate through easily. New innovative product known as ‘turf pave’ or pavement which allows water penetration will help ‘green’ our water as it could sustain load from vehicles while allowing storm water penetration. This product seems to answer all the questions related to my student’s project in Rayong. We will see this kind or products coming to the market more and more in the near future. Let’s cross our fingers if it will become widely available soon before people start to fight for a drop of water.

ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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Living Green # 7 WATER: THE MISSING PART WHEN ‘GREENING’ YOUR HOME

Do you water your lawn with tap water? Do you brush your teeth while in the shower? Do you wash your car every weekend? Do you leave a bottle of water at the restaurant knowing that it is not yet empty? If your answers to these questions are ‘yes’, maybe you don’t realize that half of the world population will soon fight for clean water as the climate change and global warming will lead to water shortage. It is inevitable to talk about it now.

For centuries, Bangkok has been known as the ‘City of Water’ or ‘Venice of the East’. The altitude of Bangkok is just about 2-3 meters high above sea level, and September flooding seems to be more troublesome than do the summer draught. Thai people once used small boats as an effective mode of transportation. Of course, stories about civilization of the nation cannot be told without mentioning about Chaophraya River. This is expressed in the way Thai people built their homes in the past. Traditional Thai houses have elevated terraces and living spaces to avoid flooding. ‘Loi Kratong’ and ‘Songkran’ are very well-known festivals for foreigners. So, without plentiful water, how could we have such terrific and fanciful cultural activities that are related to water?

Still, you may not fully understand why Thailand; the country located in the tropical region where the rainy season lasts many months; needs to be concerned with water conservation. We have plenty of water and many times more than enough. The idea that water is fully renewable might be true until recently that good-quality water is scarce in almost everywhere on the planet. Having enough water doesn’t mean we can pollute it freely. Treating natural water into the level that is drinkable for human is, in some ways, not suitable for the environment, if we consider ‘chlorine’ as an alien to the natural water body. To make the matter worse, the more we use treated water, the more we discharge wastewater to the natural environment. And do you know how much foreign chemicals from bathrooms, garages, kitchens, and laundry machines we put in our wastewater? So here you understand that physically, water is renewable, but ‘natural’ water which is a vital part of the ecosystem is not!!. Once you pollute the water, you pollute the ecosystem too. There is no way to bring back natural water; no matter how hard the authority is trying to enforce the quality of discharged water in terms of the maximum BOD (i.e., Biochemical Oxygen Demand) level.  As I used to say, the mother earth has reached her full capacity of cleaning our dirtiness, and wastewater treatment is one of her hard duties.

You may wonder what you can do to ‘green’ your home in terms of water conservation. There are a number of approaches. Firstly, use less water in any kinds of activities in your home. Secondly, recycle it! Thirdly, use alternative sources of water. Lastly, treat it well before discharging it to the city sewers. To use less water in your bathroom, there are plentiful models of water-conserving toilets and low-flow faucets and showerheads. The Thai Environment Institute (TEI) even has an eco-labeling system for water-conserving products known as “Thai Green Label” (http://www.tei.or.th/greenlabel). The faucet which meets the Green Label standards must have the water flow rate not exceeding 6.0 liters per minute. For a water-closet, a single flush toilet must use 6.0 liters or less of water per flushing cycle.

It is not difficult to find those Green Label products in the market. However, you may find that some of them do not look appealing at the first place. Many luxurious toilets and faucets do not have water-conserving features and that is why you do not find such products being used in grade-A residences and hotels. This needs some motivations for the public to be more responsible to the environment and for the product developers to be more concerned with their design criteria.

For your gardens, to save water is to understand how your plants need water. If you choose local plants for the landscape, you will find that the plants will survive easily in this climate without having to spend too much water to feed them. Again, some people prefer foreign plants since it looks more extraordinary than the plants you see locally everyday. Apart from proper selection of plants, you might consider using ‘drip-irrigation’ for your landscape. The system works very efficiently by slow feeding water to your plants throughout the day. This way, you can avoid losing water to evaporation and runoff.

There are hundreds of ideas on how to save water in your home either in your bathroom or in your garden, which I can not cover them all in this article. We will discuss later about them, but here at least we should be aware that water conservation plays a big part in green buildings. And that important part should not be missed.

ผศ.ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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Living Green # 6 Green Glass That is Really ‘GREEN’

My previous article mentioned about green glass that is not necessarily ‘green’. It might make you unhappy with your own apartments; especially if you have full-height windows and just figure out that it is too hot in summer and you are paying too much on energy bills. So, energy conservation is one of your concerns. Of course, we prefer glass windows to opaque walls. Daylight and view are the reason that some of us want to live in high-rise condominiums. However, you might want to know how much is too much for glass area in your apartments. What is the optimum area of glass for a house to be energy-efficient? The answer may be plain simple – just enough to make use of daylight and take a good view.

Having enough daylight means that the living room is so well- illuminated that you do not need to turn on the light during the daytimes. My own research suggests that a window area of about 50% of the total wall area is more than enough for daylight without too much solar heat. Unfortunately, it is the ‘good view’ that is difficult to justify whether it is good enough. Of course, if your 200-sq.m. condo unit is on the 30th floor of a building located on the bank of Chaopraya River, you would want as much transparent area as possible; and if you can afford that condo, you don’t need to worry much about energy bills, do you? Maybe or maybe not.

For the rest of us who cannot afford that premium condo, energy bill is definitely of concern. Furthermore, the view outside of our windows might not be good enough to spend extra money to look at. However, condominium developers still feel that full-height window is a must for marketing a city condo, and the most simple and inexpensive way for them to call it ‘green’ is to install green glass on our windows. I once said that green glass saves energy only when it is compared with clear glass, but having full-height green glass windows like what in cold-climate countries will not help you save on energy bills at all. Unfortunately, city condos installed with full-height green glass windows are mushrooming as the architects and developers are not those who pay for the energy bills. So, it seems that customers themselves need to be more educated and aware of what they will buy. For the government, they should be more stringent on the building energy codes simply because Thailand is not one of the OPEC countries!!.

In terms of energy conservation, actually, new buildings are required by laws to limit the amount of heat gain through the envelopes. The measure is know as OTTV—The Overall Thermal Transfer Value, which describes the amount of heat gain through building envelopes; the maximum value is 45 Watt per one unit area of exterior walls. A rule of thumb says that; in order to pass the law, if a building is designed with a window area of more than 30% of the total wall area, it needs a special kind of treatments; using either higher-efficient glasses or better insulations in the exterior walls, otherwise, the building needs to install external shading devices. If this energy code is enforced fully, we will see more energy-efficient buildings that not only help the condominium owners save on their energy bills, but also help Thailand import less energy from OPEC.

So, if all condos are using green glass, how do you justify if they are really energy-efficient or ‘green’ enough? There are a few things you need to look at. First, are the full-height glass windows oriented toward the south or the west? If so, your room will get too much solar heat. It is the first thing to avoid. Second, do the windows have sunshades? Proper shadings could cut down the solar heat gain by 30%. Sunshade is the fundamental design for buildings in hot-humid climates, even though many architects and developers feel it is quite obsolete to build a condo that has a ‘regional’ or ‘eastern’ look. It is sometimes even worse that it is the customers themselves who ask for ‘western’ looking buildings, and they are willing to pay for extra energy cost!! There is nothing much I can say about them.

The last thing is the color of ceilings. Light-colored ceiling allows more daylight to penetrate into the room by means of reflection. Regarding daylight, it is worthwhile to look at some special treatments on building facades that serve more than one function. Almost every green building design handbook has a section called ‘Lightshelf’. Lightshelf is a device that not only provides solar shading, but also improves quality of daylight. This way, direct sunlight is blocked from entering the space, while the room is better illuminated by the daylight reflected from the top of the lightshelf.

Here you see that shading devices can be designed to do more. Another good example that I found while searching for some nice façade pictures is a unique element put on the façade of an apartment building in Mexico City. It is designed by a Mexican design firm named Hierve-Diseñería. On the façade, there are 7,900 blown green glass spheres hanging outside in order to provide shading and, of course, create a really nice decoration. Although, there is no exact energy saving calculation available for this creative use of ‘green’ exterior shading; and headstrong environmentalists might question if the glasses were recycled ones, I believe it is worth looking at and thinking about being both ‘green’ and pretty. Let’s discuss furthermore about being ‘green’ that is not necessarily looking outdated.

ผศ.ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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Living green # 5 GREEN GLASS IS NOT NECESSARILY ‘GREEN’

Since the economic boom in Thailand in the mid 1990s, we have witnessed a major change in contemporary Thai architecture; particularly for high-rise buildings in Bangkok. One of the changes is apparently found in glass-facade corporate buildings. Glass is now used for cladding all exterior walls of high-rise; not only for windows in our homes any more. If we look into the history of glass-facade buildings, we will understand that the idea of using glass facades is originated from the need for daylight and environmental control in cold-climate regions like America and Europe; not for year-round hot-humid climate in countries like Thailand. Something must be really wrong that cold-climate countries like Germany and U.S.A. are exporting more and more glasses to hot-humid countries to build their buildings, whilst the vernacular architecture in these regions are properly designed to protect solar heat as much as possible. Just looking at the traditional Thai houses, both windows and exterior walls are well protected from sunlight in order that the interiors are kept cool. It is considered as an innovative, local intelligence that our ancestors have developed for hundreds of years.

The same intelligence is found in the glass facades used in cold climates. The designers of vernacular architecture in those regions have developed an innovative material that has a superb performance in terms of trapping solar heat to warm the interiors.  Sunlight transmitted through the glass turns into heat and is trapped inside. This is the same effect we are familiar with when we park our cars in the sun. Apparently, it is what we must avoid for hot climates. So, what has given the way for glass façades to come into this country, and who is to be blamed for that? It is the ‘modernization’ that imports architecture from developed countries in cold climates to everywhere on the planet. The term ‘Regionalism’ was almost replaced with ‘Internationalism’ for the country to compete in the globalization arena.

Now, things have already gone too far for us to say ‘no’ to glass façades. So, what we can do is to control the use of glass façades to the optimum by means of building codes. By law, when architects design buildings, they must calculate the amount of heat transfer through envelopes and try not to exceed 45 Watt/sq.m. This has seemed to be a sound measure to save energy in buildings before they are built. Unfortunately, many architects are not well trained to do such a scientific calculation; not to mention about government officials who do not have enough knowledge to check and approve the calculation sheets. This law is now ineffective; leaving us no way to control energy consumptions in new buildings. Then, the modernization goes on and new buildings are consuming more and more ‘make-it-cheap’ energy. There is no doubt why a new glass-façade, high-rise building just appeared in New York is later appeared in Bangkok skyline within a couple of years!!!

Even though, the law has gone, at least it has led us to understand that glass façades are bad for warm climates if we take into considerations of energy and environment. Clear glass is the first thing to avoid for use as glass façades in this climate. Not only does it let in too much solar heat, it also generates glare that the occupants cannot tolerate. This gives a way for tinted glasses, which allow less heat and sunlight. If you look at Bangkok skyline, you will see colorful glass facades; some are blue, some are grey, and some are green.  Possibly, this might be about fashion, but scientifically, it has been tested that green-tinted glass performs better than do the other colored glasses in terms of energy efficiency. That is why many people in construction industry say that green glass is ‘green’ because it saves energy. New housing developments use green glasses instead of clear glasses for windows and claim that the projects are energy saving and then ‘green’. Of course, glass manufacturers produce more green glasses as the public thinks that green glass saves energy.  Sale representatives of housing projects keep telling their customers that their projects are greener than other because of green glasses. Is it that simple?!

Before the public is misled by all advertisements, I must say that green glass is not necessarily ‘green’. Green glass saves energy only when it is compared with clear glass, but having full-height green glass windows (from floor to ceiling) like what in New York will not help you save on energy bills at all. In stead, having a large area of glass is not visually comfortable as too much glare will force you to put on curtains at most of the time. Interior curtains help screen strong sunlight, but the heat already gets inside through the glass. Eventually, no matter what color your glass is, if the windows are not properly designed at the first place to take account on hot-humid climate of Bangkok, you will never really save energy. There are a lot to discuss about using green glass that really save energy, and how a full-height glass façade can be ‘green’.

ผศ.ดร.อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร

Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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Living Green # 4: Yet Another Vertical Green

green_house1

 

            My previous article “Going Green…Vertically” might have raised some arguments about greening your high-rise buildings. Trees are supposed to be more than nice-looking objects to rest our eyes on. But, what is wrong if you still want to grow some vegetables on your condo balcony? The answer is no. For a ‘Going Green’ campaign to be successful, it needs to sustain three basic requirements, which are environment, social, and economics. In terms of environment, having more and more trees is definitely a plus as it helps to filter the outside air, reduce urban heat island effects, provide sound insulation, shade your balcony from strong afternoon direct sunlight, and so on; not yet to mention about enhancing visual quality of the skyline. For social and economics, putting more green space vertically, will surely lead to series of discussions.

 

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            Early this year, I invited a green architect from Sydney, Australia to give a lecture at the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA). His name is Tone Wheeler from Environa Studio. Of course, Sydney is located in a warm and arid area, which is totally different from Bangkok in terms of climate. Green buildings in Australia then need to focus on stormwater collections. Tone showed us a picture of his design of an apartment where he installed large concrete gutters to collect stormwater and store it in the tanks right beneath each balcony. The stormwater is then used to feed the vegetables that the apartment’s owners grow for food on their balconies. There is no electric water pump needed for the irrigation since the water is downfed by gravity. This sounds like ‘self-sufficiency economy’ to me. However, instead of talking about economy or money saving from self-cultivation, Tone chose to mention about it in terms of environment. He said that 25% of CO2 emission from the transportation sector is due to the delivery of food from its origin to store in our refrigerators. Therefore, if we can provide cultivation area that is closed to our living complex, we could cut down energy used for the transportation of foods and refrigeration. Reduced land use can prevent further deforestation, desertification, and other consequences of agricultural encroachment on the nature. Of course, most importantly, we will have really fresh foods ready on our dining tables every day. The buildings we live in will be fully self-contained, self-sustained, and self-sufficient.

 

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            Actually, Tone’s idea of the so-called ‘Urban Farming’ is not really new. Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, U.S.A. used to mention about ‘Vertical Farm’ or ‘Sky Farm’. He suggested that the world will need more farming area in order to produce enough food for its population by the year 2050. To achieve this, vertical space in urban area could be used for growing vegetables. Natural energy such as wind and solar can be used to supply enough power to run this skyfarm. In addition, water collecting units and a black-water treatment system as well as an optional biofuel generating power plant can be integrated into this building.

 

            The idea of ‘Urban Farming’ has led me to look at ‘vertical green’ in a different point of views. I later came across an experimental design competitions held by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) in Arizona, U.S.A., in an attempt to gather innovative ideas on revitalization of strip malls. The winner is MOS Architects from Connecticut. The concept called “Urban Battery” as shown in the pictures. It is actually ‘vertical algae farm’ integrated with wind turbines and solar cell panels. For those who don’t know much about renewable energy, algae can be grown in order to produce biodiesel. A 300’ by 300’ lightweight structure supports a series of thin plastic bags housing algae; of course, the green one, to make it look really green. The reason that they put it vertically instead of horizontally in a swamp is because; when algae grow, light only penetrates by one inch through water. By going vertical, they can increase the surface area and the volume that gets exposed to sunlight.

 

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            It seems all these people who created such innovative ideas about vertical green are trying to achieve all requirements of sustainability. Sometimes we need to talk louder about environmental crises and the ways to solve them right before business people start to calculate the return on investment. Today, the society listens to bad news about environmental problems and climate change more carefully than it did decades ago. The examples of vertical green shown here might not be really profitable at the first place; however, the ‘Wow factor’ incorporated into the ideas and applications will spur major development of vertical green in the near future. 

 

 

ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร 

Asst. Professor Atch Sreshthaputra, Ph.D.

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

 

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Living Green # 3: Going Green…Vertically?

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          Do you remember your childhood dreams? Like many other kids, I wished I could live and play on a very big tree, and then eat and sleep tight in a wooden treehouse high above the ground. The outside of my windows would be only other big trees and the blue sky. I believe that this is still the dream of many people. Unfortunately, not all of us would have enough time to even think about chasing the dream we had in the past. Some might now end up living alone in a substandard, 30-square-meter, studio-type high-rise condo in the city.  It is even worse that the room might have only a small window with nothing to see outside, except other surrounding tall concrete structures, or even worse—fully-glazed office towers that either reflect strong sunlight into our eyes, or display ugly advertisement stickers that violates not only our privacy right, but also the right to see beautiful night sky without blockage.

 

            Like many world-class, fast-growing cities, Bangkok has no plan on how to create or at least maintain nice visuals of its skyline. Of course, high-rise buildings are unavoidable for downtown development; however, would it be nice if the developers and architects place more concerns on how their buildings look? Actually, a tall building in the city is not a private property of those who pay to build it, but it belongs to our environment—visual environment. The way it looks creates great visual impacts on everyone in the city. Even though, it is quite subjective to assess visual environmental quality of a tall building in terms of its aesthetic value, some architects think they can help us differentiate one nice-looking building from other ugly ones by just growing trees on the towers!!. It is quite shocking for me to see all these pictures of so called ‘green skyscrapers’ designed by a world renowned Malaysian architect named Ken Yeang. I am not really sure whether he is playing around with our sense of perception about aesthetics or just wants to communicate his idea of green skyscrapers literally and boldly.

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I am sure that his design is worth looking at and arguing with; but please don’t let it remind you of the treehouse you dreamt of in your childhood. It is totally different as a treehouse is actually a house on a tree, but the vertical green is vice versa.

 

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            I believe that, under the global warming situation we are facing these days, people are trying to be ‘green’ as much as they could. Growing more and more trees is the first chapter of any ‘Living Green’ bibles; however, creating the ‘Vertical Green’ like this might be the last chapter, only in case other endeavors for ‘going green’ campaigns are all failed. Actually, this ‘vertical green’ has nothing seriously wrong, and it sometimes look nice to see natural green in the blue sky among ugly concrete or reflective glass towers. However, could any botanists please tell us if the trees are really happy to stay there on the balcony of the 30th floor on high-rise condominiums? I don’t think we can grow them up there easily. Not only will the trees not grow well at high elevation due to the lack of natural soil, high-speed wind will also tear down the leaves. It is also sad to know that the condominium owners would try very hard to save their lives, but not hoping for them to grow larger. Trees that are not allowed to grow are ‘bonsais’, of which the purpose is for decorations…or in the other words, they are just something to look at. If we are happy to look at them, then they serve their purpose by help improving visual quality of the environment, don’t they?

 

            If we are all agree that having ‘green in the sky’ or ‘vertical green’ will help to improve visual quality of the skyline and create positive impacts on cultural and social environment, then all these trees on the balcony should be honored, as they had sacrificed their lives for our pleasure– like birds in our cages, and fishes in our bowls; not to mention all kinds of creatures in Dusit Zoo that have to tolerate the political turmoils at the House of Parliament as well. So, who is responsible for this sacrifice? Global warming, again? Or is it just yet another innovative marketing idea of condominium developers who try to save the world and improve visual quality of the skyline; right after they have created enough visual pollutions by having reflecting-glass towers or ugly advertisement stickers everywhere in the city. Here you might wonder what the point is. I will leave you to think carefully, if you have to choose between reflective-glass office towers, advertisement stickers, heat-absorbing concrete structures, or this ‘vertical green’, what should it be for Bangkok skyline? For me, it is still difficult to decide unless I can look closer into every pros and cons of each option. Let me discuss about this later on.     

 

             

 

 

ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร.อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร 

Asst. Professor Atch Sreshthaputra, Ph.D.

Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University

Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.

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