Building For Sustainability

Home grown architecture, interior and landscape design, master planning and research firm Aedas is Hong Kong’s — and one of the world’s — biggest and one at the forefront of sustainable design. Following an address at last fall’s Business of Design Week, Squarefoot chats with Aedas chair Keith Griffiths.

How does Aedas break down all these buzzwords that get thrown around these days: greening, sustainable development, sustainable design, high-density design?
We have a comprehensive design approach to environmental, socio-economic and cultural sustainability. We go beyond the tangible considerations of building performance and energy use to maximise sustainable value and benefit the communities we design for in real human terms.

All the buzzwords are indeed leading to what we call “human sustainability,” to create a holistic environment for people to work, play and live in.
How do you balance the need for public green space and the demand for offices and homes?

We believe that great design can only be delivered by people with a deep social and cultural understanding of the communities they are designing for. We get to look at the local culture and project site feature to incorporate green spaces to the project.

For example, the design for Mongkok Residence … drew inspiration from the culture and history of Mongkok. We reinterpreted the post-war illegal iron balconies and the home gardens that people created on those balconies to produce a zigzag form to maximise views as well as a green wall to provide a pleasant environment to the hyper-dense neighbourhood. There are also outdoor landscaped areas with water features on the ground and third floor to enhance the living quality of the residents. These features not only tie the building with the local history and context, but also positively contribute green spaces to the community.

Can you respond to the idea that the government is beholden to developers that won’t put the work into sustainable development and better urban design?
It is an unstoppable global trend to design, construct, maintain and operate buildings and communities in a sustainable way. There are indeed more and more LEED or other certified green buildings in Hong Kong and more clients are requesting design based on the certification criteria. Our recent certified green projects in Hong Kong include Hotel Indigo, The Gramercy, AIA Central and Chater House. Creating truly sustainable designs is now an integral part of all our projects.

Aedas is always at the forefront of green design. We developed a Green BIM platform for the Hong Kong market, which brings building performance simulations to the early design stage and identifies opportunities for sustainable design; our Research and Development team led CarbonBuzz, an online benchmarking platform, which targets the reductions in carbon emissions by providing a platform to benchmark and track project energy use from design to operation; we presented The Tall Building Simulation project at the 9th World Congress of Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The TBS provides an interactive platform for clients and design teams to evaluate the consequences of shape, form, and briefing decisions on energy use, embodied energy, and capital/life-cycle cost of a tall building early in the design process.

What are the biggest challenges Hong Kong faces in the future with regards to environmental quality and urbanisation?
Many post-war buildings in Hong Kong are reaching their “retirement age.” One of the biggest challenges in Hong Kong is to decide whether to redevelop or refurbish the developments and how to do it in sustainable ways.

Taking Central as an example, we have been involved in the revitalisation, renovation and redevelopment of properties including Prince’s Building and The Landmark. After careful consideration, it was decided not to demolish and rebuild, but to adapt and redesign the existing structure to address the new requirements of the buildings and the city. This not only preserves the environment, but also is socially and economically sustainable. The re-use of existing building foundations and structural frames, and the adoption of modern low energy environmental control systems have significantly reduced carbon emissions.

Putting aside the negative for a minute, what is Hong Kong doing right?
Hong Kong is on the right track to find ways to increase land for housing supply. The government is also reducing reliability on income from land sales. Infrastructure is being built to improve rail networks within the territory as well as connectivity to Mainland China, which are important to the development of the city. We are also regularising illegal structures to ensure safety, and we are working on tackling pollution to create a better living environment.