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Green Buildings do More Than Keep Tropical Tenants Cool

Green Buildings do More Than Keep Tropical Tenants Cool


Architects are no longer trying to insulate workers, instead trying to adapt structures to their natural surroundings, which can present unique challenges, from intense downpours to constant heat and humidity.

On a typically hot and humid afternoon in Singapore, a fresh breeze blows beneath the canopy of the South Beach development, keeping temperatures several degrees cooler than on the surrounding streets.

The rippling 280m wave of steel-and-aluminum runs the length of the Norman Foster-designed complex, funneling prevailing winds over outdoor patrons of restaurants and bars and saving on air conditioning for the mixed-use complex. The canopy is covered with solar panels and catches rainwater to irrigate the gardens.

Offices and apartment blocks designed to be green are springing up all over the world as architects reverse almost a century of trying to insulate workers from nature and instead try to adapt structures to their natural surroundings.

The change is being driven by stricter building codes, a desire to cut energy costs and, in particular, demands from corporations and start-ups that need to show shareholders and customers they are meeting environmental standards.

The canopy of the South Beach complex, a rippling 280m wave of steel and aluminum that funnels winds over outdoor patrons of restaurants, is pictured in Singapore on April 27.

“There’s a growing shift toward including the green credentials of a building within what constitutes competitive advantage for a developer,” said Gabriel Wilson-Otto, global head of sustainability research at BNP Paribas Asset Management in Hong Kong.

Regulators are also driving change because energy-efficient buildings are “very effective” at decarbonizing cities, he said.

Commercial and residential buildings account for about 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, the European Environment Agency has said.

People on April 27 walk through the pedestrian avenue at the South Beach complex developed by City Developments Ltd in Singapore.

A review of 70 studies by researchers at Finland’s Aalto University showed that green building cuts operating expenses, raises rental income and increases the capital value of properties.

However, the tropics present a unique set of challenges and opportunities for architects, from heat and humidity to intense downpours, and in some areas, violent storms. Solving those issues is critical to reining in global warming.

By 2050, the Paris Agreement deadline for the world to become carbon neutral, half the world’s population would live in the tropical belt, up from 40 percent now.

“Buildings in Asia often account for a higher percentage of greenhouse gas emissions than the worldwide average,” said Philippe Delorme, executive vice president for energy management at Schneider Electric SE.

Singapore, just one degree north of the equator, has seen a plethora of green buildings since the government launched its voluntary Green Mark Certification Scheme in 2005.

South Beach, built by City Developments Ltd, is rated platinum under the system, meaning it can achieve more than 30 percent energy savings compared with a traditional building.

“Energy efficiency is a no-brainer in a tropical city like Singapore. Green building helps bring back return on investment,” said Esther An, chief sustainability officer at City Developments, ranked as Asia’s most sustainable property developer this year by Corporate Knights Inc.

However, cost saving are not the only driver. Developers are facing increasing demand from companies and start-ups that want to burnish their green credentials.

Those looking for the highest certifications include multi-nationals that need to report environmental, social and corporate governance standards to shareholders and data centers keen to cut operating costs, said Tim Lo, head of system development at BEAM Society, a certification system in Hong Kong.

“Shopping centers, large or small, are also jumping on the bandwagon for green buildings, because the shoppers want a healthier space,” Lo said.

In Hong Kong, office buildings with the highest credentials get a 37 percent premium in rent compared with non-green rated buildings, said Roddy Allan, chief research officer for Asia Pacific at Jones Lang LaSalle.

Meeting the highest standards involves a lot more than adding solar panels. Using cement and materials that generate less carbon dioxide during production, vegetation and geometry that deflects the sun’s rays are among dozens of technologies employed to reduce the carbon footprint and running costs of a structure.

To attract top-end tenants, companies often employ world-renowned architects to ensure buildings also offer status as well as sustainability.

For tropical cities, a key metric is to build structures that not only look cool, but are cool. As the global temperature rises, keeping the heat down in the tropics has inspired a number of innovative technologies, from Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Tomorrow.

Which utilizes cold water from the bottom of neighboring Guanabara Bay, to the hanging gardens of Singapore’s ParkRoyal hotel and the angled shading of the Suruhanjaya Tenaga Diamond Building in Malaysia.

The need to integrate those new systems into buildings is prompting tie-ups and mergers between technology firms, construction companies and city governments.

One trend especially popular in big Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, is to integrate solar panels into the fabric of new buildings.

Sustainable developments offer property companies another increasingly important resource — a bigger financing pool. Real estate has been a driving force in the fast-expanding debt market, with Fannie Mae in the US one of the biggest issuers. City Developments issued Singapore’s first green note in 2017, while CapitaLand Ltd followed last year.

For many tenants and builders, the main obstacle is the initial construction cost.

In the 2018 World Green Building Trends survey, almost half the respondents cited cost as the top obstacle, followed by lack of political support or incentives, a lack of public awareness and a perception that green construction is only for high-end projects.

In Southeast Asia, the number of green-certified buildings rose rapidly in the early 2000s, but then dropped off sharply after the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, Delorme said.

“While we are seeing more Asian developers building energy-efficient buildings, progress remains slow,” he said.

Instead, many firms have resorted to upgrading older buildings. Retrofitting systems could cut energy costs by 15 percent to 35 percent depending on the level of investment, a study by the Urban Land Institute and others showed.

Yet as regulations become tougher and more tenants demand the highest levels of environmental construction, greenfield developments would increasingly need to become green developments.

“There’s a clear environmental benefit to building green but investing in green building also means significant operating cost savings, shorter payback periods and an overall increase in the value of these assets,” said Melissa Baker, senior vice president of LEED technical development at the US Green Building Council. “Developers that are not building green may find themselves at a disadvantage.”

Source: taipeitimes
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network