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Wisdom Of Investing In Passive Environmental Design

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Our KL Petronas Towers do not even feature in the top 10 tallest buildings in the world today (Well, maybe Merdeka 118 is on the list now). The Burj Khalifa, at 828m, which sits in the 2 sq km Downtown Dubai Development holds the current highest record.

Most of these ultra modern glistening towers comes with a massive urban township development. The Jeddah Tower, which is on hold currently, is threatening to be the next tallest surpassing 1km in height. 

These large developments hundreds of acres in size involves high finances, entrepreneurship and high technology. All of it carries a heavy physical demand on the land it sits on to cater to the desired lifestyle. High technology is then sold as the solution to meet these modern lifestyles boasting of innovation where there is a control for everything from climate to commode.

This is a sign of the times we live in – where there is a headlong rush into this technological frenzy which is then touted as being green and environmentally friendly. There are even brownie points given for technology promoted in green buildings.

However, there has not been enough consideration of the impact of producing these man-made products. Some of these materials are potentially hazardous and unwittingly, we are increasing the consumption of these resources. So the costs of making green buildings may not be so green after all. 

We are unfamiliar with substances like tetrachloride, cadmium telluride, or flourinated hydrocarbon. Some of these toxic materials used in building technology products are yet to be fully ascertained on its long term environmental impact.

Also, all technology products have a lifespan and it is getting shorter as the technology itself changes. In many instances, the reliance on technology demands active energy to maintain a comfortable living environment.

These are the running costs involved, not to mention replacement costs which is all great for the tech business but not so for a sustainable lifestyle. We need to revisit our senses and sensibility on the possible over reliance on technology. 

Harnesting The Earth’s Energy

Investing passive enviromental design

Alternatively, consider this, we can draw from nature by responding to reproduce the natural passive environment by harnessing the earth’s energy for an urban solution. For instance, mimic nature and create a green canopy cover to provide shade.

Shading under a tree provides protection to shield against the harsh tropical sun and how remarkably comfortable and safe it feels like a sensation.  These shading over the exposed hard road and structural surface areas will minimize and reduce heat gain, which reduces further warming in the tropical heat.      

The ancient Chinese practice of practical Feng Shui, not the mystical one, has a lot of environmental wisdom in carefully positioning the built form on the land as a response to nature. Orientate the built form to be sensitive to the microclimate to draw the prevailing wind into the created spaces. The system relies on the wind to force exterior air already cool under the green canopies into the building.

It uses the differential air pressures to be directed as cross ventilation. This wind cooled form harnesses the dynamics of natural air flow to mimic a condition similar to resting below a tree canopy. The practical significance is to replace air conditioned spaces with natural ventilation and less energy is required to cool the ones that has less heat gain.

Natural lighting is another fundamental consideration in passive environmental design. The shading must not be misunderstood as the omission of sunlight but the direct light and glare redirection.  Natural light has an emotional and therapeutic feel-good effect on human beings. Designs that allow natural light to permeate the spaces create a desirable habitable environment.  It will eliminate the need for artificial lighting.

The default mode of reliance on technology has allowed too many deep sterile and practical spaces to exist—many of these spaces house working people who psychologically do not know if it’s night or day.  

Do Not Idolise Technology

investing technology

The natural environment is a greater ally if you harness its natural potential.  Do not idolize technology to dominate your mindset. There is a place where technology does matter when it does more good than bad.  Technology is there to supplement and facilitate. No greenhouse gas emissions are released into the atmosphere when solar power is used to create electricity. 

Converting waste into power generation is another worthy technological advancement which will reduce the by product of the urban lifestyles. Electric transport systems supplanting fuel cars within urban developments also reduce fuel consumption and carbon emission.

The passive environmental design prioritizes the optimization of nature’s forces over our human determination to compel the physical environment to bend to our will.  When we learn to work with nature, we run faster because the background can look after itself better.

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – be like water.

The legendary Bruce Lee had quoted with the wisdom of the oriental martial arts.

It is a philosophy to borrow someone else’s energy to work in your favor. It would help if you took your mind to understand how to yield to the forces of the natural environment to work for you. If you invest wisely, you create a living environment that draws from nature to cost you less.

About the author

Ng Wai Keong is the principal director of NWKA Architects Sdn Bhd, a boutique architectural design house which focuses on his passion to conceptualise the idea that success is a process of design excellence.

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