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Green architecture is smart architecture

Ken Yeang, the keynote speaker at Material Xperience, is a world-renowned master of eco-architecture. He was invited to explain his vision on the Smart Environment theme. He gave an intriguing talk on how to integrate green design into architecture.

To start off with, however, Dr Yeang, principal of TR Hamzah & Yeang requested no introduction to be given. Instead, he reminded us all: “your mother loves you”.

He then set off on a whirlwind tour of eco-architecture, starting with an early project by his firm, a house in Malaysia. The house included a simple idea for a rain-check wall: a simple break in the wall allows air to flow straight through the building. Folding some of the façade material towards the inside and bending it up means that water will roll down the outside of the building. The inside space is kept dry and well-ventilated. Clearly, this is not often suitable for buildings in northern Europe.

Expanding the principle (an ‘open diagonal’) to the size of a building, and the architectural result was a diagonal light shaft running over many stories. That, Yeang mentions, meant over half a million dollars in annual savings on energy bills for this office block in the US. It is clear that such design adds huge green value to buildings over the years.

In general, the idea is to include green design in architecture. Ken Yeang makes his case using multiple examples from his own work. In between the projects and explanation, Yeang summarises the talk of ‘green’ and ‘eco’ design, redefining ‘green design’ as ‘bio-integration’.

Several factors are important here:

– Humans;

– The Built Environment;

– Nature and

– Water.

Starting with the human body, the speaker compares buildings to human prosthetics: both are add-ons, one to the body, the other to our planet. They should be treated in similar fashion, in order to fully integrate the two.

In ascending order of importance:

Juxtaposition, which is a result of centralised planning, means placing objects next to each other. An example is a park on a city block next to a building.

Intermixing, which stems from more dispersed planning. Here, buildings include some green areas, such as garden patios. At the same time, a park may include a cycle path and function as part of the infrastructure.

Integration, which is the goal, and comes with continuous planning. Green areas with a building are connected through and through, leading to a sloping garden running right up a tower, for example.

Integration counts because there are both biological (living, biotic) and physical (non-living, abiotic) elements to our ecosystem.

As the office grew, so did the projects. The ultimate challenge is integrating green into skyscrapers. Recent examples – mostly in Asia – show that this is an increasing possibility. It helps that a skyscraper with well-integrated green can be a beautiful project.

Still, to ‘add green to a plan’ is to over-simplify Dr Yeang’s story. Green design always extends beyond site boundaries, with total integration of biotic and abiotic elements as the designer’s dream.

By the end of the talk, Ken Yeang’s introduction makes subtle sense. Consider his sentiment in the context of sustainability: perhaps he means not just your mother but our mother. The point appears to be that our world loves us. Really, all we have to do is love it back.


Images via TR Hamzah & Yeang.