Wednesday, 16 November 2011 05:46

Green Architecture & Greener Cities

Written by David Stout
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“I disagree when people say Vietnam is not green,” says Phillipe Perruchot, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design architect for Greenspace Property in Vietnam.

“To see the result of green you have to wait. It takes time. There is real progression happening here and if you want to grasp the reality of green in Vietnam then don’t base it on what has been done already because nothing is really visible. It’s inside discussing, convincing and educating,” adds Perruchot, who consults for development projects in Vietnam to ensure new buildings can earn the globally recognised “green” benchmark, LEED. 


He has a valid point. Very little green development is tangible and, to date, besides the Colgate-Palmolive factory in Binh Duong Province, which was awarded silver certification, there are currently no LEED accredited commercial buildings in Vietnam. There are environmentally conscious buildings, and companies such as GreennoCom who help to make office operations more environmentally friendly, but in terms of construction certified to a globally recognised standard, there is nothing.


“It’s difficult to do a green project here,” says Perruchot. “It’s always easier to do non-green… mainly because of the money and training… Also for materials.”


He adds: “Usually, green really takes off after the [authorities] have offered some incentive. Materials incentives, tax incentives, square metre incentives or land incentives, which all absorb a little bit of the first costs and motivate more people.”


And while such incentives are not yet common place, the Vietnam Green Buildings Council (VGBC) — a leading NGO officially recognised by the Ministry of Construction — says that in-government education is in great shape and major steps have been taken to ensure that Vietnam’s skylines-to-be are as environmentally friendly as they are impressive.


“The [authorities] have been very supportive in terms of giving the VGBC an allowance to work cooperatively with them,” says Melissa Merryweather, the southern representative for the VGBC and the general director of Green Consult Asia. “Probably the biggest achievement to date is setting up a green buildings rating tool specifically for Vietnam.”


The Vietnam-specific green building rating tool, LOTUS, according to the VGCB, is not only built on existing international rating systems such as LEED (US), BREEAM (UK) and Green Star (AUS), but is also tailored more to the specific challenges of Vietnam. When aligned against a new building, or future plans, the system addresses 10 categories — energy, water, materials, ecology, waste and pollution, adaptation and mitigation, community, management and innovation. Points are given to a project according to how many credits are achieved in each category and projects are then awarded with the congruous level of certification. No buildings are currently certified as of yet, but are expected to be during the next nine months.


Ho Chi Minh City’s Phu Nhuan District is home to what is thought to be Vietnam’s greenest building — Centre Point, a 15-floor office space designed in accordance with Australian green regulations.


The building’s design reduces CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent and saves over 30 percent on energy by using “eco disc” elevators that consume up to 70 percent less energy than hydraulic drives and 50 percent less than traction drives, while converting the excess energy from the elevators into power that is funneled into the building’s grid. Centre Point’s water use is linked to a building management system — a tool currently used by 20 percent of government buildings and 10 percent of civil buildings — that monitors and controls a variety of systems at an optimum level of efficiency.


At a Promoting Energy Saving in Buildings conference earlier in 2011, Nguyen Cong Thinh, an energy specialist from the department of Science and Technology at the Ministry of Construction, claimed that the improvement of energy systems in Vietnam’s old buildings could save up to 20 percent on energy while installation of a complete building management system could save up to 40 percent. It would appear that a conscious effort is being made in Vietnam to raise awareness of energy consumption and the green ideals that are only just being fully picked up in countries like the UK and US.


Greener Cities

According to projections in the Vietnam Development Report 2011, by 2025 half of the country’s population will live in cities — compared to today’s 30 percent. If this much is true, thoughtful construction amid conscious urban planning will be key to making Vietnam’s municipal landscapes more green; both physically for healthier living and in terms of its carbon footprint.


Amid the cranes, dust and incomplete constructions of Hanoi’s fast-rising Tu Liem District, development plans for the capital up to 2030 with a vision to 2050 have been laid out.


“The plan now is for the new city to be 70 percent green space and 30 percent residential housing,” says Tran Hung, who is a member of the Association of Vietnamese Architects and professor of urban planning at the Hanoi Architectural University.


According to the architect, ambitious plans like this one were once made for the Hanoi of today. After liberation in 1954, a master plan inspired by Soviet design was created by the Vietnamese, which included vast amounts of green space. All of West Lake, for example, was set to be only trees, but in recent years, thanks to the adoption of market principles, more houses, hotels and commercial buildings have sprung up around Hanoi’s largest body of water.


“It’s too late for the original city and as Hanoi has expanded, it has already used too much of the existing green space,” adds Hung, who points to diagrams and miniature models of the future Hanoi, which extends to Tam Dao in the north, Gia Lam in the east and Ha Tay in the west.


“Green space out of the four goals — culture, civilisation, green space and modernity — is the biggest problem, not only in Hanoi but in many Asian cities. Because of rapid population booms, cities are often designed in the wrong way,” says Hung, who claims that at a recent regional conference, all countries in Southeast Asia agreed that making cities ecological and sustainable was a key factor in future development.


“The aim is to make this city harmonious with nature. But it’s not easy … when investors are more interested in things that make money. There is a constant debate between planners concerned with nature and business ventures. It’s a hard battle,” he adds, looking down at the miniature model of a neighbourhood set to have space reserved for lakes, parks and trees, and high rise apartment blocks with rooftop lawns. On the wall, along with images of when Hanoi was a city of lakes and canals in the 18th century, are diagrams of eco-buildings; high rises stuffed with trees and green-educated staff who are doing their all to ensure their carbon footprint is as low as possible.


But according to Merryweather, the development that will likely have the most immediate impact on the country’s urban efficiency will be the completion of functional mass transportation systems in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.


“There’s nothing that even comes close,” she says. “Vietnam needs subways, light-rails, wide roads, better train lines and buses, motorbikes off the sidewalks, and bigger parking lots so that cars aren’t parking on the street.”


There will be a total of 10 metro lines in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City by 2030. The first of Hanoi’s lines, which is now under construction, will run from Tu Liem District to Hoan Kiem District and includes 2km of skyline, 3.6km of underground railway and 12 stops. When fully functional, it will transport 900,000 passengers a day, whom otherwise may have used motorbikes. The first line in Ho Chi Minh City, which is also under construction, will run from Ben Thanh Market to Suoi Tien in District 9.


As Vietnam plunges into a greener future, it is inevitably the concrete jungles that will bear the most tangible effects. Hopefully the need for sustainable cities with a low carbon footprint will outweigh the commercial instincts of the developers.

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