eco cities, districts, and buildings

There has been increasing traction for the concept of a sustainable city, I for one have a dozen conference invites on hand which is one measure. And from the engineering perspective alone is long overdue. In the Hong Kong context, I advocate for expanding the focus from a single building to the wider and scalable community thus leveraging the advantage through integrated design (see my blog post green communities).

Eco City Ideas

Artist’s Impression of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City by Keppel

Having just read the LSEcities survey [link] interestingly enough it included the category eco-districts and buildings {section B2}.  I take that as further recognition, solutions for  climate change not only require efforts in our buildings, but also through the local infrastructure development.  Hong Kong is blessed, approx. 43% of the population live 500 metres from the rail network, and more than 50% of the jobs are located less than 500 metres from those stations.

However, it’s not immediately obvious from those glowing stats that there is a glaring omission, the jobs are not always located near the sites of the new towns.  The new town of Tin Shui Wai is probably the most graphic example, this planned new town was built alone out, in the northern part of the New Territory. It became infamous and labelled “City of Sadness” because this new district was poorly planned, and lack any significant commercial activity, with very few local businesses, high local employment and despair reigned.

Although Hong Kong has efficient transport system, for Tin Shui Wai residents the long commute also cut deep into their pay packets.  The publicity surrounding the “City of Sadness” caused the Hong Kong government to act and actively encouraged business to create jobs in that region, too little too late in my view.

I argue again and again that employment and housing should co-exist, then the whole community can thrive.  From the engineering and infrastructure perspective too it makes sense, employment and homes are opposites of the same coin. Yet the benefits for integrated planning and design for the next green community or eco-district are overlooked in the rush to rapidly develop new housing.

 

 

Regulatory Support for BEAM Plus Green Building

wholesale conversion of industrial buildings going green, john herbert

As manufacturing moved North into China, Hong Kong has been left with a legacy of under utilized factory space and industrial buildings. There is only so much demand for low yield warehouse and storage space, so opportunities to move up the value chain, converting to higher yielding properties such as lofts, commercial, and hotel accommodation is an attractive proposition. Another important factor to remeber, is that the necessary public transportation infrastructure is already in place.

The market has already dictated the direction, re-populating industrial space into more lucrative higher yielding office accommodation, yet, approximately 1.1 million square metres or 6.5% remained vacant (2008 data).

Last year (2009) the Government acknowledged that sustainability outweighed demolition, and removed the first major obstacle for the wholesale renovation and revitalization of industrial building stock, namely the land premium (a charge levied by government to change the land use) could be waived [link].

And now that initiative has been extended, the next hurdle technical issues and this time the concession is tied with BEAM PLUS [www.beamsociety.org.hk] green building certification.

First some background, the regulations for buildings set out the minimum technical requirements including issues such as planning, fire safety, lighting, ventilation and other stipulations. However, the industrial building stock is constrained by decisions from the past .

Therefore the Government has eased certain technical requirements to encourage wholesale conversion of  industrial buildings, on the express condition that the building obtains BEAM Plus Green Building label. PNAP APP 150 Items (ii) and (iv) directly refer to compliance with BEAM Plus as the condition for obtaining the waiver. PNAP APP150 (published September 2010) states:

…. To encourage green building designs and practices, provision of green and/or energy efficient features to revitalised industrial buildings will be a relevant factor in support of the granting of modification of or exemption from certain specific regulations. Examples relating to applications for such modification / exemption are as follows:

(i) If a refuge floor is required to be provided in accordance with the Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Escape in Case of Fire (MOE Code) for the proposed conversion but there is difficulty or site constraint to comply with the technical requirements of the MOE Code, proposal for the provision of a refuge floor with greenery design and enhanced fire service installations will be favourably considered subject to no adverse comments from the Director of Fire Services. PNAP APP-122 is relevant.

(ii) In the case of conversion to office use, if there are difficulties in providing the required natural lighting and ventilation due to constraints posed by the original design as industrial building, application for modification of Regulations 30 [link] and 31 [link] of the Building (Planning) Regulations will be favourably considered if adequate artificial lighting and mechanical ventilation and energy efficient design that could achieve 40% in the categories of Energy Use (EU) and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) under the BEAM Plus certification with provisional assessment reports conferred by the Hong Kong Green Building Council are incorporated in the proposal. PNAP APP-130 is relevant.

(iii) For individual air-conditioning boxes/platforms attached to the external walls with projection larger than the usually accepted size and/or projection over street, application for modification / exemption will be favourably considered if the proposal is incorporated with the use of energy efficient/environmentally friendly air-conditioning units. PNAP APP-19 is relevant.

(iv) For the provision of curtain walls to existing building facades,exemption from section 31(1) of the Buildings Ordinance to allow the curtain walls to project over streets will be favourably considered if low-energy absorbent type glazing/energy efficient materials with energy efficient design of the curtain walls that could achieve 40% in the categories of EU and IEQ under the BEAM Plus certification with provisional assessment reports conferred by the Hong Kong Green Building Council are incorporated in the proposal. PNAP APP-2 is relevant.

Click here to download Wholesale Conversion of Industrial Buildings PNAP APP150 (PDF FORMAT ENGLISH)

or PNAP APP150 CHINESE

The environmental benefits cannot be under estimated, avoided building demolition, handling construction waste, and ultimately waste disposal are powerful arguments to support re-using the existing building stock if possible.

Will this new incentive help sway the market to encourage investment to upgrade the industrial building stock? I think it’s too earlier to judge, however it must be acknowledged that the Government’s Development Bureau has embraced sustainable building to encourage the reuse and redevelopment of existing buildings structures.

— John Herbert, Consultant, Kelcroft E&M Limited

International Green Code is a misnomer

I read with interest from GreenBuildingAdviser a report that the ICC (International Code Council) is also playing catch-up and going green! ICC intends to create the definitive International Green Building code, read more on their website. Of course, ICC is not alone, it has partnered with august organisations such as AIA (American Institute of Architects) and ASTM (American Standards) so it will be anything but international.

Personally, I have more faith in the promised co-operation between USGBC, BREEAM, and UKGBC to tackle common global carbon emissions than ICC setting a global green construction code, which like LEED will be difficult for countries outside north America to incorporate. It is heartening and reassuring that sustainable building is finally escaping from the dark back alley, becoming a main street activity.

– John Herbert, Consultant, Kelcroft E&M Limited
helping lower the cost and impact of doing business in Asia

Mandatory green roof

green roof John Herbert Hong Kong Kelcroft

Mandatory green roof?

Alas not in Asia. The green building is still driving built environment innovation, and whilst politicians ponder carbon limits, and building owners ignore operating costs then obviously the next step is regulation. In Canada, the Mayor of the Toronto is poised to implement legislation becoming the first city in North America to impose mandatory green roofing for an area of 5000 square metre and up. In my view It is yet another step in the right direction.

Its not Morse code
Essentially it all boils down to one issue, communication. From within the industry it is clear to see, look at any project brief, it includes those immortal words familiar to every developer, architect, and engineer on the planet “comply with code” or some equally ignominious phrase. This mini brief communicates to all parties the expected standard, covering all aspects of the building including occupancy, building safety, means of escape, fire prevention and protection, mechanical ventilation, etc. Its often used by those who don’t understand the individual legislative requirements, but know a building must comply with the local code to earn the necessary occupancy certificate.

Regulation
The implications are clear, green building is becoming main stream period. Once considered a fringe activity, at the edge of society, the development of green building has slowly entered the lexicon of typical both builders, developers, and regulators.

I don’t see this as a trend as many claim, flares were a trend, green building is not. However, just like consumers goods, some people will want to buy the latest camera/TV/computer/etc. and these early adopters are the real beneficiaries, because over time achieving a new green standard will only become increasingly difficult as the entry level bar is continuously raised.

John Herbert
Consultant
Kelcroft E&M Limited
helping lower the cost and impact of doing business in Asia

Sustainability more than just talk?

As HAESCO (http://www.haesco.org) was a supporting organisation for the SustainaBuild conference in Hong Kong last Wednesday, I decided to attend, a decision I would regret later. The pitch for the event was sustainable design of buildings, but shouldn’t such events that tout sustainability do more than just talk?

There were some great speakers, and bad powerpoints – it was bullet point city (they should have read Garr Reynolds book Presentation Zen).

Most of the speakers started laying out the current dire situation, some even used stats from USA. Yet as the day dragged on,  nobody had mentioned the elephant in the room, she had been strangely silent.  So in the final open forum, I had to ask the obvious question:

Considering all the disastrous predictions that we had heard during the day,  shouldn’t green building assessments, whether using Hong Kong BEAM, or another system be compulsory?

Honestly, I was expecting the long winded non-committal answers comprised of the usual arguments for delaying regulation, I am sure you have heard them before, you know the ones, they extol additional stakeholder engagement while engaging possible future policy initiatives etc and so forth.  It was a great surprise, one speaker after another respond with an fairly unequivocal affirmative answer.

It was an interesting event, in my view marred by refreshments provided with disposal paper cups, paper plates littering the breakout area.  You would think that the organisers The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) to do better, wouldn’t you?

Time is running out, we all agree, yet sustainability proponents and organisers of these events are not leading by example, and should not be serving up even more material for our the overburdened landfill sites.

John Herbert
Consultant
Kelcroft E&M Limited