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Green Design Is Not About Putting Veggies On Buildings

Eco-architect Ken Yeang believes that the key to designing and constructing a green building is to aim to create a living system. 

Designing and constructing a green building is more than just planting a lot of greenery, said architect and ecologist Ken Yeang. He explained “I do not just put veggies on buildings. It is much more than that, I see designing green buildings as trying to design a building as a living system.”

Ken Yeang, a noted architect who is also a passionate ecologist, calls himself an eco-architect. In an interview for the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), Yeang explained that a living building is one that is ‘alive’ rather than purely synthetic or artificial. 

This means looking into the biodiversity of the location of the building and working to incorporate that into the design. For example, this might be done by bringing back the native species of flora and fauna of the area. By integrating these things with the synthetic aspects of the building, a living system is created. 

However, Yeang admitted that creating a living building must go beyond just the design of it. He said that architects have to accept that people have certain standards of living and this goes down to the engineering of the building. 

The key consideration, therefore, is to ensure that the engineering of the building is ‘clean’, by emphasising on green technology or green engineering, said Yeang. This means achieving three main things; firstly, designing buildings that have net positive energy. Secondly, a building that has zero carbon footprint and finally, one that produces zero waste. 

Yeang said that so far, Malaysian architects have done well in their efforts to introduce a high level of standard into architecture and building. He noted that the “Green Building Index is a significant step forward in promoting green design, with a great number of people now aware of it. And therefore, many new townships now use the Index to gain approvals.”

The question now is: where do we go from here? Yeang believes that currently, “we practice a prescriptive system so we just have certain standards that we have to achieve, and that’s it. To move forward from this, the next phase should be performance based.” 

So rather than just meeting standards, we should now set targets or goals, said Yeang. For example there could be a goal to reduce water consumption by 40%; how can you achieve this? This would require you to practice the harvesting of rainwater, the recycling of greywater and sustainable drainage, highlighted Yeang.

Yeang said he believed that in three to five years, every architect and designer will be practicing green designing and building. The challenge, however, is convincing the client to go green beyond that one building, said Yeang.

“I might be asked to design a house that is green for a client, and I can do that. But at the end of the day, that same client may continue to run a business that is polluting. So architects can do some things, but not everything,” he conceded. 

Political will is still needed to bring about lasting and effective results, said Yeang. He believes that this can come in two forms, the first of which is incentives. The government should offer incentives and rewards to people who take measures to practice good environmental behaviour. But there should also be consequences for bad behaviour, said Yeang. The government should enforce penalties on those found to be behaving irresponsibly.

Gregers Reimann, a green building consultant who also participated in the Pemandu discussion, concurred with Yeang’s view. He said that there is no excuse to ignore the need to embrace green design and engineering any longer. 

“Business as usual is not ethical. Are we going to tell our children and grandchildren that, ‘oh, we were flying off a cliff but we just kept going’? We are the first generation to have this knowledge (about global warming and other environmental concerns), so we cannot say we did not know,” he emphasised. 

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