As the world approached the turn of the millennium, more and more architects began to realize that the old way of designing large buildings was straining the environment and, ultimately, directly and negatively affecting the way we live and work. Although many of the signature 'green" buildings have gone up in the last decade, architects like Ken Yeang have been developing the concepts that underpin environmental design in large scale projects many decades earlier. Yeang, for example, begin to develop his theories for his doctorate topic while at Cambridge University in 1971.
What are green buildings?
Dr. Yeang explains, essentially, 'green buildings are low energy buildings and so will save operational costs, besides other benefits.' There are several ways in which these operational costs are realized, primarily though efficient use of energy, cheaper or renewable building materials. In addition to the more black and white advantages, here are other, less tangible benefits of environment friendly design. Yeang's projects abound with buildings that stress the use of natural air and light, not only to reduce energy use, but also to benefit the inhabitants, improving the 'human' environment as well as protecting the natural. Anyone familiar with the heavy, oppressive, and sterile construction of the 1950's through 1970's can certainly appreciate this advancement.
In the past, as artificial lighting, heating and cooling systems fell in cost and complexity, and increasingly came into wide-spread use, architects began to favor these methods over the natural alternatives. This has driven up energy costs and lowered the quality of life inside these structures.
A Revolution in Design
Yeang's designs often seem the direct antithesis to this method of design. Although some of his work is fairly traditional in appearance, his towers in Kuala Lumpur, much of his work is an exotic blend of curved facades, angular and exposed structural elements, and elegant glass walls. Often Yeang takes the idea of 'green' buildings literally, incorporating plants, particularly trees, directly into his buildings. The prescience of foliage intermingling with pristine white structural elements, lends a certain harmony with the environment and a calm elegance to his designs. Having applied these concepts to everything from skyscrapers, libraries, cultural centers to corporate headquarters, Yeang has proven the viability and versatility of environmentally friendly design in large scale buildings.
Although environmentally friendly architecture is making impressive headway, there are still disadvantages, primarily regarding cost. 'A green building should cost at around [or] slightly above average standard building costs. For instance the average standard building cost for an office building in the USA is probably around USD 150 per sq.ft. A green building should cost around this figure or perhaps 10% more, depending with the level of greenness that you intend to have. However if your budget is below average standard (i.e. below USD 150 per sq.ft.) then it become increasing difficult to do value engineering to put in the green concepts and systems.'
Efficient designs can cut down on energy use, reducing the need for extra heating or cooling, while the construction cost is comparable to the traditional ones.
'The costs of green buildings are in the added features, in the constructional methods and the precautions taken to reduce the impact on the locality's environment, etc.' This is an important point, since there are other, less tangible benefits of more environment friendly design - namely, they are more human friendly too. While the benefits to the environment may be less obvious in the near term, anyone working long shifts in a cavernous office building can appreciate a little fresh air and sunlight.