• Environmentally Sustainable Design

Environmentally Sustainable Design and Solutions

What is key to giving cities a more livable climate in the future?

Date Published: June 2019
Written by: Sean Nino Lotze

Landscape of buildings in black and white, in the centre there is a circle of the same image but in thermal colours

I was just on a visa trip to Singapore and I went to visit the ETH Future Cities Laboratory while I passed by NSU National Science University and visited, The Hive, by Thomas Heatherwick. I was absolutely amazed by the presentations and level of knowledge I found at ETH. Among others I listened to Peter Edwards and Li Xianxiang, that are doing research on the urban heat island effect. I am dedicating this newsletter to Environmentally Sustainable Design and showcasing ideas and projects that have been a catalyst for our team at Mantra.

Cities are usually warmer than the rural areas that surround them. This phenomenon, which is known as the urban heat island effect (UHI), occurs because cities consume huge amounts of energy in electricity and fuel, have less vegetation to provide shade and cooling. Cities are built from materials that absorb and store energy from the sun. This needs to drastically change.

Heat is increasingly posing health and energy challenges in big cities throughout the tropical belt, from Denpasar, Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok to Singapore. The Urban Heat Island UHI effect discourages people from walking or cycling, and increases the energy used for air conditioning. Temperatures in central, heavily built up areas exceed those in surrounding rural areas by up to 7 degrees Celsius. The cities are heated not just by their tropical climate, but also by the continuous injection of man made heat from car and truck exhausts, industry and power stations, as well as waste heat from hundreds of thousands of air conditioning units, densely packed building complexes and dark surfaces like tarmac roads and building facades that store the heat without reflecting it. All of the above combined leads to massive heat gains and has us running from one air conditioned space to the next. In Singapore I have found that Environmentally Sustainable Design specialists have started cataloging solutions and guidelines and that there is an array of software and tools available to help with decision making. In Indonesia we have realized that it is more than challenging to apply these methods. This is especially the case when decision makers and stakeholders don´t really understand the physical environment, that they are building in, while architects know what is good in theory, but don´t have the practice.

Our environmental engineers have been learning about mathematics, physics and the physical environment in their practice of daily work. We are learning that mainstream education, has decoupled knowledge and information from the practice of really understanding the physical environment that surrounds us. At Mantra we have been working on breaking through this flawed approach and started every project by understanding the environment before even thinking about designs. It can be as easy as walking into a tangled undergrowth and experiencing giant ferns and tall shrubs overgrown with vines. Spotting beautiful bright yellow butterflies and feeling a 7 degree Celsius temperature drop, realizing how it relieves the mind and spirit and understanding that the environment is filled with an abundance of natural flows and energy. We have learnt that planting green corridors and green walls channels the winds and cools our living spaces, green parking lots, green roofs and green pavements reduce heat gain and provide pleasant thermal comfort. Imagine if you reduced your buildings heat gain by over 60% and cut your energy costs in half. At Mantra, we are making these visions a local reality and that is one of the reasons we get to collaborate on so many exciting projects.

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