I'm always keen to jump on anything that rides on the sustainability bandwagon. So I found myself at the Accelerate Cape Town/KPMG Sustainability Forum last wednesday (June 19). The catch phrase that seemed to come up over and over was "future proofing" and that I believe is what sustainability is really about. It's about responding to problems we have now in such a way that we are not being reactive but forward thinking and proactive. Gone are the days when the world used to think climate change, and running out of critical energy supplies and water, would be far beyond our generational reach. We're hardly talking about decades here, in the next few years (in fact now) we are reaching critical shortages. It's just that people are denying it, or worse yet they are ignorant - and that there is no excuse for.
Design changes and innovations seem like the easy part when we are actually trying to budge people's stubborn "business as usual" mindsets.However, the commercial building industry is becoming increasingly and remarkably forward thinking with regards to reaching towards and going beyond energy efficiency goals. Sarah Rushmere of the Green Buildings Council SA revealed statistics that show clear exponential growth in the number of buildings that are going for Green Star accreditation - the number of accredited buildings in South Africa to climb to 100 by 2014. She also explained that energy efficient buildings out perform conventional buildings by about 4-7%. It's quite trendy nowadays to be able to don the Green Star badge, but it's a trend that is producing a set of successfully robust energy efficient buildings.
No. 1 Silo - Allan Gray Building at the V&A Waterfront (Case Study) (images from www.siloblog.co.za)
Michael Smith of Allan Gray (tennant) and Mark Noble of V&A Waterfront (landlord) presented the energy efficient aspects of their new building called No.1 Silo. They are going for a Six Star GBC rating. They spent a lot of time attending courses and forums to learn about best practices in the field. They also visited Australia to see 15 of the top buildings there, speaking to designers, developers and facilities managers to find out what worked and what didn't. An "eye opener", says Smith, was that there were a lot of complex and quite gimmicky strategies that didn't actually work. They playfully termed this "green bling". So they decided that it was essential that the strategies they used would be tried and tested. "Simple is better than complicated", added Smith. Sustainability is also quite specific to the site and requirements of each building therefore concepts should not just be copied. |Most importantly, the building should minimise the negative impact on the environment, whilst enhancing the positive. They also looked at the social side of sustainability. All of these goals would remain in sight whilst keeping in mind maximum return on investment.
Noble explains how this building has been a catalyst to kickstart the new "Silo District" at the V&A Waterfront (the area around the clock tower). They emphasised how the approach to the creation of the building was through partnership, in terms of developing a dynamic landlord/tenant relationship. This symbiotic approach extended through to the design team and professional consultants. Smith emphasises that its important to challenge conventional wisdom and push the boundaries. In all aspects they stuck to the vision of creating something simple, robust and reliable. "Don't be afraid to ask the stupid questions", concludes Noble. It is in asking these questions that one is able to come up with intelligent solutions. Instead of a "green" building, they call it a RED building which stands for Resource Efficient Design. We'll look forward to seeing the completed building this year.
Hotel Verde - Africa's "greenest" hotel?
(images from hotelverde.com)
Andre Harms of Ecolution Consulting, is heading up the sustainability initiatives at the currently under construction, Hotel Verde, situated in the precinct of the Cape Town International Airport. It's been dubbed "Africa's greenest hotel", which will be evidenced upon its completion this year.
The design makes use of basic passive principles such as giving most of the rooms north and east facing outlooks in order to maximise light and warmth. These facades face onto a luscious retention pond and green area beyond, where jogging trails have been incorporated for the guests. Solar panels on the north facing facade generate power as well as providing shading for windows. The entrance foyer and lobby have a green roof which not only increases thermal insulation but also encourages plant life and biodiversity. The greening also comes inside the building to the foyer and restaurant spaces where plants will be grown on vertical "green" walls.
Once the concrete slabs of the building have been laid, they will conceal plastic cobiax balls which are used as "void-forming spheres" to reduce the amount of concrete required in the slabs. They are strategically placed so as to not affect the structural integrity of the building. Over 51 000 cobiax balls have been used in the project, which saves about 600 cubic metres of concrete! Another innovative system implemented (a first in Africa) is a geothermal looping system below the basement that is coupled with heat pumps. This provides hot water for the building.
Other sustainable strategies that have been implemented are rainwater capture and use for irrigation purposes, a grey water plant that supplies water for flushing of toilets, high performance double glazed windows and a lift that makes use of gravity in order to reduce its power consumption by 30%. 3 large wind turbines in front of the porte cochere on the west side which will generate power although Harms is quite candid in explaining that the payback period is long, so they are more of a gesture to nature powered energy than a financial investment. Green bling? Perhaps. Guests are given incentives to turn off their air conditioners and reuse their towels. They can also spend an hour in the gym to generate enough power to make half a cup of tea!
Projected energy savings for the building are approximately 50% (according to a conservative industry benchmark) but they will likely be more as proper testing can take place when the building is complete. There are no GBC Green Star standards for hotels yet so they are applying for an international LEED gold rating. The date of completion will be in August. How long will it remain the greenest hotel? Hopefully it will be the catalyst for a greener future in the hospitality industry.
Continuing the conversation
The morning wound up with a short presentation from Sarah Ward from City of Cape Town who spoke about the city's work on a Resource Efficient Development policy for new commercial buildings. There is often a strong alliance between politics and development which makes policy change difficult. There is also a delicate balance between pushing energy efficiency whilst managing the revenue the city receives from electricity sales - this is money that goes into essential infrastructure and important city initiatives. It's something that can't change overnight. Many initiatives such as the Smart Building handbooks, which focus mainly on retrofitting and behaviour change, the Energy Efficiency Forum, and the Awards programme are positive advances.
Sally-Anne Kasner presented EcoStandard who are developing standards against which products that claim to be "green" can be tested. Ryan Alexander, from Aurecon, spoke about their 5 Star green building in Century City. He stressed that one of the most important factors in a building's success, is the management of the building post construction. He also emphasised that everything works within context. For example, the building uses rainwater for flushing of toilets which works well in the rainy season but is an issue in the dry summer when water is scarce. A building does cannot exist in isolation. There is a greater climatic, social and economic context that is unique and needs to be addressed as such. It's not just "copy and paste".
On that note, Tony Wright from KPMG, reinforced the theme of "future proofing" and the importance of long term investment, which is what sustainable thinking should always consider. We should be challenging convention whilst also applying pragmatism. Although business is competitive there is opportunity to learn from and emulate others, which creates a meaningful ripple effect.
It's exciting to be part of the sustainability movement as it gathers momentum and indeed accelerates us towards a better (and greener) Cape Town.
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My thoughts as I go about visiting interesting places, attending exhibitions and conferences, and the architectural world we live in.