So, How do you design a green building?

On 18 January 2010, The World Green Building Council and the International Union of Architects signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Sydney, Australia, to confirm the importance of the architect in the drive to design and build Green buildings.

Despite the current lack of legislation requiring properties to be built in an environmentally sustainable way, some businesses have initiated the transformation for the long-term energy cost savings, waste and consumption reduction benefits and probable future tax breaks.

Piffling and piecemeal
The current norm is that Quantity Surveyors add five to 10 percent of the building cost for the application of Green building practices. According to Leon Krüger of Leon Krüger Architects, this allocation has still not been sufficiently proven in RSA. “It seems to be the figure that is acceptable to prospective building owners and tenants, and seems to be allocated mostly for easy initiatives, like solar electricity panels, LED lighting, fancy electrical control systems for lights, landscaping and some form of recycling or waste management.”

Many owners of buildings that have a few of these measures in place, claim that their buildings are “Green “, while they have not undergone evaluation by the GBCSA. And then there is “Greenwashing”, where people claim their buildings or products are Green, but in fact they are not at all. The fact is that unless the fundamental and non-glamorous aspects of design and planning are addressed, no building can be truly Green. Piecemeal Green initiatives mean nothing if the building is not sensibly designed to age old, proven principles of orientation, insulation etc.
Krüger comments: “My experience of this is that often, in planning meetings, only certain issues are addressed to make the building appear Green, and I frequently hear comments such as ‘let’s put in some solar geysers to keep them happy’ and ‘to show them that we at least tried’. Most of the real, less glamorous issues, like sunscreens to reduce AC loads, water saving toilets, waterless urinals, etc. are not implemented, and many planning and product-specifying issues are not addressed either.” In Krüger’s experience, often a generic building design is retrofitted to make the building appear Greener and make the owner or tenant appear socially responsible and politically correct.
No-negotiable initiatives – water and electricity saving

Krüger believes that there is really no alternative but to look at lighting, insulation, water usage etc. to at least try and reduce the power consumption, of which we have a shortage, and conserve water in our arid country. “I grew up in the Karoo, and each house had a rainwater tank, where the water was stored for the winter, and used very sparingly. Today we can still catch rainwater off our buildings, to augment water used for gardening, as well as reusing grey water to flush toilets and water gardens. “

Get back to basics with Green
The bottom line, however, is that responsible architects must address some of the issues that form integral parts of building, that would not cost much money to achieve, being natural, traditional means, and would make a building significantly more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. These include:

– sunscreens
– insulation
– proper orientation
– design to withstand local climatic conditions

“In the eighties we never built buildings without proper sunscreens, and proper orientation to alleviate solar heat loads on buildings. We insulated concrete roofs, nobody does it now? We were obliged to consider the quality of human life inside buildings and address local environmental conditions. We seem to have reverted to a situation where we say, ‘put in some good glass, and beef up the AC system a bit’, in the process spending money to amend a building with an inappropriate design, as opposed to applying traditional solutions which will work here.”
Now, we seem to need a GBCSA to encourage/force? architects to do our job properly.

African best practice
Ironically, our troubled neighbour, Zimbabwe, boasts an award-winning example of the modern use of traditional climate-control solutions, namely the 31,600.00m² Eastgate Centre in Harare, built in 1996 by architect Mick Pearce.

The rules for the design included that:
– No direct sunlight must fall on the external walls at all
– The north façade [direction of summer sun] window-to-wall area must not exceed 25%
– There had to be a balance between artificial and external light to minimise energy consumption and heat gain
– All windows had to be sealed and have adjustable blinds
– Duct ventilation (passive cooling) had to be used (Passively cooled, Eastgate uses only 10% of the energy needed by a similar conventionally cooled building)
– Deep overhangs and eaves had to be used to keep direct sun off windows and walls

Krüger says that.” All buildings do not have to have Green Certification, or can afford such. But we architects must responsibly go back to our basic training, and use good basic design principles in every one of our buildings. Build functional buildings every time, use the right materials, and the planet will benefit from it, as will the tenant and owner, and an automatic benefit will be that the buildings would look good and be nice to work and live in.”

The Eastgate Centre in Harare, with its distinctive chimneys serving as a duct ventilation system. It looks more like a factory than a shopping mall  – but it works.

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