Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
I'm off on a sabbatical for the next few months (or more!), starting in London, on the way to Shanghai. I'm shaping the trip around green and vernacular buildings and city planning efforts.
As you may know, I left Vancouver June 19th, starting a long sabbatical through Europe, Southeast Asia and China, beginning with the UK. With our 'Santa Monica Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines' now complete, and the (many!) loose ends in Vancouver wrapped up, I finally set off on my long-anticipated 'wanderjahr'. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye personally to many of you, to my regret - but here at least is a way to contact me as I travel.
My rough itinerary in Europe is Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany; after that I'm off to Bangkok, my intended base for explorations of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Then I hope to explore the China coast, by train from Viet Nam to Shenzen and Hong Kong, then on to Shanghai and Beijing. Time is less of an issue than budget; and if I find an interesting project or two along the way, I'll stay awhile and learn what I can, before returning to Vancouver. (And I *will* be back home - sometime....)
Greetings from Britain!
Ian Theaker here, writing from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
This is the first of several letters, summarizing my meetings and tours of green buildings on my sabbatical. I've included you because I thought you'd be interested in the energy-and resource-efficient buildings and initiatives I find overseas. I hope this information (and gossip) is of some use to you; if you'd like more details, or contact information, please send me an email request, and I'll do my best to help.
Greetings from Amsterdam!
Ian Theaker here, posting from Amsterdam, where I'll stay for a week or so. I actually wrote most of this letter on the ferry "Princess of Scandinavia", in transit from the Newcastle to the Norwegian port of Christiansand; and the hostel ship "Gustaf af Klimt" in Stockholm; and in Copenhagen.
Greetings from Bangkok!
Ian Theaker here, writing from Thailand. Here's my third post, covering the balance of my travels in northern Europe - Goteborg and Stockholm in Sweden, and Copenhagen and its environs in Denmark. I'm now working on the newsletter covering the Netherlands, which will come out as my 4th.
Greetings from Phuket!
Ian Theaker here, again writing from Thailand. This my fourth post, covering my time in the Netherlands; you should have recently received my last one, which related my experiences in Sweden and Denmark. Originally I was going to send one letter on Northern Europe, but I decided to split them up; it was getting ridiculously long. In fact, I had to split this post on the Netherlands into two - That's what you get when you don't have a good editor....
Newsletter #4b - Netherlands follows ----- - - -- --- continued from Newsletter #4a - Netherlands
Greetings from Vancouver!
Since you last heard from me, I've been in Hong Kong for a week, Shanghai for a month, and in Beijing briefly for two days. Then I returned home to Canada to celebrate the Solstice with family and friends. Now I'm home, with fresh energy and perspective, and looking forward to a new start.
I've finally been able to nail down time, place and tools to bang out a letter covering places I've seen and people I met in Thailand. I've been somewhat slow in getting this one off; I prefer to have a little bit of perspective on a place before I write about it - but this can be difficult, especially when the next locale is as fascinating (frenetic?) as my time in Hong Kong and China have been. Not to mention some other issues....
One of the reasons this letter is going out
ex-post-facto is the time needed for review of a draft, by the people I met
with. I've incorporated some further information provided by Dr.
Surapong Chirarattananon of the Asian Institute of Technology's Energy
Program, who kindly pointed out some subtleties I missed regarding the air
pollution problem in Bangkok.
Bill Gates hasn't helped, either. I'm now writing this letter on my laptop with Windows in "Safe" mode. (Hah! As if....) For those who haven't experienced this, my screen is now a throwback to the 1980s TRS-80 / Apple II days, with barely readable text. And, while I could probably get this fixed here in Shanghai, if I could find the right computer tech with good 'net access, I'd rather just wait till I return home, and have it fixed there. I've already wasted several days trying to fix it myself, and trying to get in touch with Dell tech support in Asia - which involved several calls back to Canada, believe it or not.
One other item potentially of interest to you: our Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines for the City of Santa Monica are now available online. If you'd like to browse them, or download a PDF version, point your web browser at http://greenbuildings.santa-monica.org/Main.htm
Sabbatical letter #5, Part 1: Thai Green Buildings & People
Sabbatical letter #5, Part 2: Thai Green Buildings & People
Sabbatical letter #5, Part 3: Thai Green Buildings & People
Ian Theaker past president of the AEE-BC Chapter recently completed "Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines" for the City of Santa Monica. They'll be modifying some 30-odd municipal ordinances over the summer, including (as far as I know) the first N.Am. muni energy conservation ordinance demanding higher performance of ICI buildings - typically 25% better than Title 24. The Guidelines doc will have a few small items added by the City folk (ordinance numbers, etc), and should be published this fall; they are planning to hang it on their Website for the world to see).
So, with Santa Monica complete, I'm off on a sabbatical for the next few months (or more!), starting in London, on the way to Shanghai. I'm shaping the trip around green and vernacular buildings and city planning efforts. If I find some interesting projects along the way, that can supplement my (tight) budget, then I'll take those on; I may have a gig in China this fall, doing the site investigation for two MURBs, one in Beijing and the other in Cheng Xio; and Santa Monica wants some hours helping them implement their Green Building Guidelines.
Greetings from Britain!
Ian Theaker here, writing from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
This is the first of several letters, summarising my meetings and tours of green buildings on my sabbatical. I've included you because I thought you'd be interested in the energy- and resource-efficient buildings and initiatives I find overseas. I hope this information (and gossip) is of some use to you; if you'd like more details, or contact information, please send me an email request, and I'll do my best to help.
If you'd prefer *not* to receive these posts, please let me know (again, by email), and I'll remove you from the distribution list.
I'm retaining my old email address (email@example.com), since you probably have that in your address book. However, while I'm travelling I'll be posting via firstname.lastname@example.org, which allows me to pick up email wherever I can access the World Wide Web. Email addressed to email@example.com is forwarded, and is my preferred receiving address. With luck, I'll be hitting an internet cafe every week or two, so replies won't be instantaneous, but I *will* respond if you email me something.
As you may know, I left Vancouver June 19th, starting a long sabbatical through Europe, Southeast Asia and China, beginning with the UK. With our 'Santa Monica Green Building Design and Construction Guidelines' now complete, and the (many!) loose ends in Vancouver wrapped up, I finally set off on my long-anticipated 'wanderjahr'. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye personally to many of you, to my regret - but here at least is a way to contact me as I travel.
My rough itinerary in Europe is Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany; after that I'm off to Bangkok, my intended base for explorations of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Then I hope to explore the China coast, by train from Viet Nam to Shenzen and Hong Kong, then on to Shanghai and Beijing. Time is less of an issue than budget; and if I find an interesting project or two along the way, I'll stay awhile and learn what I can, before returning to Vancouver. (And I *will* be back home - sometime....)
On arrival in England, I took the first couple of weeks for myself, to recharge the batteries, see something of southern England - and NOT think about buildings or planning (fat chance...). I've been in London several times before, but never had the opportunity to see the countryside; this trip is allowing me to see something besides city stone, asphalt and concrete.
I spent the summer solstice at Avebury, in the middle of the Salisbury Plain. Avebury is the largest stone circle in the UK, dating to the Iron Age, and enclosing most of a still-inhabited village. It was strange to see a (very active) pub, surrounded by stones set 5000 years ago right across the road and in the back yard. That night, I fell asleep under the stars, next to the 'Queen Stone' (no dreams that I recall), to drums and a pennywhistle chorus; late in the night I was amazed by several fire-swingers making fiery patterns in the dark with swinging torches.... The night was very clear, so I was able to witness both sunset and dawn, with several hundred others who'd come to recognise the turning of the season. The stones themselves are not as large as those at Stonehenge, and the Avebury circle doesn't have any stone lintels; but Stonehenge now has a fence and very limited access - which lead to *riots* the night of the 21st. Hence Avebury, which at least allowed overnight access and ceremony, without confrontations. Created as a meeting-place for travellers at the crossroads of two ancient paths, Avebury seemed appropriate for the start of my travels.
In the morning, I watched a crew rethatching an old (ca 1600s) stone barn. Apparently they've had a fair bit of trouble finding straw with long enough stems; new species introduced for machine harvesting have short stems and are unsuitable for thatching. There are enough thatched buildings in the UK to keep them very busy, but almost all of their work is on heritage buildings; smaller modern buildings generally use tile or slate roofs. Conspicuous by their absence are asphalt shingles or roll roofing - I've seen very little.
After spending some time in High Wycombe (just outside London), getting re-acquainted with my brothers and family, I set off to Cornwall, with a stop at the Glastonbury music festival. Here was housing of a different sort - over 100,000 people in tents, acres and acres of them, pitched with inches between, for three days of music and madness. The tents I saw were rather primitive compared to, say, the Outbound or Moss tents I'm used to in Canada. These were typically equipped with two hoops and depended on stakes to hold their shape; many were similar to the Coleman-type of canvas tent now only used for family car-camping, in North America.
The music was *excellent*, ranging from pop and world-beat to Celtic and even honky-tonk. Especially good were Sharon Shannon (4 fiddle-bearing women playing jigs and reels); Celtica, a local group playing a unique fusion of techno and Celtic; and Elephant Talk, African dance-beat. Sleep, however, was in short supply.... too much to see, too many friendly people to meet! I received several invitations to visit other places, from Aberdeen to Brighton, from other music-lovers.
Glastonbury was heavily funded by Greenpeace, who are campaigning strongly to reduce Britain's greenhouse gas emissions. They had several excellent infomercials, both on the large screens flanking the main stage and on the BBC broadcast each night of the festival. They are obviously taking public awareness of climate-change very seriously, with a hefty promotional budget. The festival site had two large areas devoted to green energy and living, with several pavilions powered by PV and wind generators. However, the proprietors told me that, as in N. Am., small-scale renewable energy installations are largely still limited to enthusiasts; though several utilities have serious wind-generation installations, and grid-connect is becoming more common. There were several companies devoted to renewable energy installation; and I picked up a resource list of companies, suppliers and organisations working in the green power field. Of interest was one company selling the best solar-electric bicycle rig I've seen - a small 12v electric motor /battery pack with a secondary chain drive, that could be charged either with a PV array, or by 'mains' power.
After Glastonbury, I headed off to Penzance and Land's End, using my BritRail pass. The countryside reminded me of Southern Ontario with hedgerows - gently rolling hills, mostly pasture and deciduous forests. On the way, the train passed a white horse cut into the hillside turf, revealing the white chalk subsoil. Typically over a hundred feet long, and visible for miles, there are several near Avebury and Stonehenge, one originally cut by the Druids, and others as recently as the 1700s. Their original purpose is lost in time, but they are delightful landscape art, and add an air of whimsy and mystery.
Penzance (of 'Pirates of Penzance' fame) is a village of perhaps 5000 population, whose main industry seems to be tourism, and some maintenance of fishing boats and pleasure craft. However, they've retained most of the charm; the houses are all stone or brick, with much excellent and intricate masonry. Narrow lanes wind between 2 to 4 storey buildings, and often terminate with a visual feature - a church, or a sea or country view. There seems to be less definite separation of residential, commercial and light industrial uses than I see in North America, with a great deal of mixing of the three. The typical street width is about 20 feet - and much narrower in places (I could touch the walls on both sides of several lanes I walked.) Cornish country lanes are especially narrow, 20-24 feet wide asphalt with a ditch but no shoulders, often closely flanked by tall hedges - a lesson that BC's Ministry of Highways could learn from, especially in the Gulf Islands. While these are no doubt scary for drivers in a foggy night, apparently the locals keep speeds down to the point that accidents are few, and those seldom fatal.
In Cornwall, I saw a presentation of Julius Caesar at the Minack Theatre, near Porthcurno. The Minack is a beautiful open-air theatre cut into the cliffside overlooking the Atlantic, with the Lizard (the southernmost point of Britain) on the horizon. It seats over two hundred on turf-topped terraces, overlooking a stone stage with its back to the ocean. The theatre looked as though it had weathered there from the native chalk and limestone, with Doric columns that seemed to grow from the cliff, they'd been integrated so well with the native stone. I pitied the actors - they had to compete with tremendous scenery, and the crash of surf from below - a real test of projection.
I was able to see several villages in Cornwall, distances being so compact, and well served by public buses. Some are no more than a pub with a couple of houses; others up to a few thousand inhabitants. Each is distinctly different, and has its own character - Penzance was bright and active; Sennen defined by a white-shell sand beach, with the cobbled High street just inland; and Porthleven still a working fishing village, with a tiny harbour filled with 40 foot seiners, surrounded by small stone houses and shops. The villages are seldom more than 2-4 miles apart, distinctly separated by farms and commons. The (numerous) military installations in Cornwall are mainly visible by their aerials, and many follow the British tradition of encouraging 'ramblers' to freely walk across their fields, and provide paths and stiles to climb the (typically stone or wood) fences.
So far in my travels, the British seem to have been very successful at limiting sprawl, and maintaining the character of their towns and villages, in the face of intense growth pressure. (Projections are for over dwellings for more than 10 million new inhabitants in the southeast, surrounding London, in the next decade!) Apparently town and village borders are fiercely protected by the local councils and the national government, so population growth is being handled by intensifying town/village centres, rather than by extending their margins. Infill is very much the trend, but there is widespread disdain for 'tower flats', or high-rise apartment buildings. The development locations preferred by local planners (tho not developers...) are brownfield sites - ex-industrial areas that have been abandoned over the years. There is sharp public controversy in newspapers about new housing 'estates' sited on greenfields or farmland. New buildings are typically 3-4 stories, and many older houses are being divided into several apartments, legally or otherwise (shades of Kitsilano...). In London, conversions of old industrial and warehouse buildings to residential loft use is a fashionable trend; though not as strong as it seems in Toronto and Santa Monica, as far as I can tell. There are quite a few cranes on the London horizon, but with a few notable exceptions, buildings seem to be limited to 10 or fewer stories.
The exceptions include the Millennium Dome, being built across the Thames from the Canary Wharf development; a huge ferris wheel being erected near the Tower Bridge, and the proposed London Authority building, among others.
The Millennium Dome is intended to show-off modern British industry, a la the Great Exhibition of the 1860s. A huge tensioned-fabric dome on the banks of the Thames, it will house technology exhibits of many large UK companies, in pavilions sited in the mechanically air-conditioned(!) shelter. There is a great deal of controversy as to whether it is worth the 1 billion pounds-plus cost, and what it will be used for after 2000. The plan is to keep it as a public attraction, but everyone I speak to about it doubts that anyone will pay the 20 pound entrance fee.
A ferris wheel the height of the Parliament Buildings is planned, with 20-person covered capsules. Apparently the view will be over 20 miles - most of London. It's to be competed in 2000.
A much more interesting building (to me anyway), is the proposed Greater London Authority building. Designed by Ken Shuttleworth of Foster & Partners, it's a 10-storey, 185,000 sq.ft. building for London's Council and administration sited across the river from the Tower of London. The proposed building resembles a streamlined glass egg floating on end; it is intended to be naturally ventilated, with large openings at its 'roof'. Walls are almost entirely glass, with the council chamber (close to ground level) at the bottom of a huge open volume, overlooked by a spiral public gallery around the glazed 'walls'. This walkway is shaped to shade the debating chamber and offices; and the building is obviously intended to be naturally day lit. The plan is to use groundwater for supplemental cooling, with heat exchangers and pumps powered by building-integrated photovoltaic panels. It's intended to use less than half the energy consumed by a typical London office building. Unfortunately, there are few numbers in the info I have; I hope to meet with the designers before I leave the London area.
From the renderings, it's one of the few large buildings I've seen whose form visually - and beautifully - reflects the local microclimate. It reminds me of Ken Yeang's work; the organic shape makes explicit the airflows and solar path that make it work. Being from Foster's office, the structural and mechanical systems float, exposed, within a very high-tech, transparent (and expensive?) skin. It echoes the new Berlin Reichstag in its integration of a glazed dome with public galleries designed for daylighting, emphasising openness of the political process. Nicely done!
After Cornwall, I headed East to Portsmouth, the home of the Royal Navy, and the Sovereign Housing Association development. This is one of two SUNH multi-family residential developments in the UK. "Solar Urban New Housing" project is creating demonstration passive solar buildings, funded by the European Commission's "Thermie" project, being built in Britain, France, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Portugal. The Sovereign site is being built in 2 phases; the first is a building with 24 flats for retirees. They're incorporating additional insulation, active solar water heaters, and Solarwall ventilation air preheat; and are intended to use half of the energy of a building designed just to code.
Next was Brighton, for the nightlife (excellent!) and a tour of the Royal Pavilion. A controversial building built for the Regent (later George the 4th), it's a renovation of a simple Georgian manor into a Moghul fantasy. Incredibly finished with a Chinese motif interior, the building is one of the first applications of central heating in Britain, and has excellent daylighting and natural ventilation design. The renovation process also trapped several gutters in the interior of the iron-reinforced timber frame envelope; and with the use of newfangled mastic finishes (which failed), repairs were later required to dry rot and water damage.
After Brighton, I went to visit Phillip Jones' Architectural Science Research Group, at the Welsh School of Architecture of the University of Cardiff. Phil and Don Alexander (a Canadian from Vancouver, though *not* from SFU) were kind enough to give me a tour of their research facilities, and discuss their current work. They recently commissioned the largest artificial sky I've seen, some 10 metres in diameter, and equipped with several hundred compact fluorescent lamps to simulate general sky illumination. Computer-controlled to allow simulation of passing clouds, it's equipped with a large turntable that allows a 3-minute long day cycle, at any latitude. Anticipated upgrades to their sensors and electronic cameras will allow instantaneous and time-averaged measurements and photos with up to 4096 different grayscale intensities - *within* the models. They've used it to aid daylighting design of a warehouse conversion, and are collaborating with Leicester University on Radiance software validations. They're also renting use of the facility to the private sector, for 1000 pounds a day, including technical help (negotiable, for the right projects).
Cardiff also has a large wind tunnel devoted to natural ventilation studies. It has a once-through, dual fan test chamber of ~1m high and 2.5m wide, with a 2.5 x 3m upwind section, allowing pressure coefficient measurements that include local terrain models. Currently they're investigating turbulence in pedestrian areas, and natural ventilation of common interior areas, of an archetypal ~30 storey residential tower in Hong Kong. The model itself is a meter tall, with several hundred pressure taps monitored with a PC data-gathering system. They're looking for fast-response pressure sensors that measure to fractions of a Pascal, to closely investigate turbulence effects in real-time.
Phillip is responsible for ongoing development of their "Energy & Environmental Prediction" model, similar to Sheltair's TIRA efforts. EEP is a MapInfo GIS-based computer program that allows scenario analysis of various town and regional planning alternatives. Both use building energy simulations of archetypal building models, and econometric models of industrial inputs and outputs, to understand energy and pollutant emissions from different planning options. EEP uses the SATURN transportation model, based on 'spatial analysis' work pioneered by Hillier and Penn, to predict pedestrian and vehicle flow, emissions and energy consumption from different road network designs. EEP is being used now to inform planning of the City of Cardiffand they are filling the databases for the Neath Port Talbot urban region. Future plans include addition of a pollutant dispersal model, a health model that indicates distribution of air-quality-related problems, and accessibility of public transportation; it is also funded for use in Belfast, Leicester and London.
Cities and towns in the UK here have been delegated major responsibility for implementation of the country's Kyoto commitments, and even more ambitious commitments by Parliament, and it sounds like they're currently wrestling with the implications of that. The Home Energy Conservation Act requires local authorities to improve housing energy efficiency by 30% by the year 2007, relative to the 1997 housing stock.
ECD Limited is one consulting firm that is helping urban planners meet sustainability challenges. The day after visiting Cardiff, I met with John Doggart, managing director of ECD, and one of his people, Loic Finlan. ECD advises cities on green planning policy, and design teams on green buildings; John was one of the authors of the first version of BREAM, the very successful building environmental assessment program that inspired our BEPAC work. Loic is their head energy simulator; the major tool he uses is TAS, an hour-by-hour program that incorporates a network-model natural ventilation and cooling algorithm similar to COMIS or CONTAM. Unfortunately, the current version does not include daylighting energy savings - but keep tuned for the next version. I'll be keeping my ears open on this one.
I next visited Nigel Howard, and his staff at the Building Research Establishment at Garston, Watford. They have been responsible for ongoing development of BREAM; they just released BREAM 98 for offices, which now includes both new and existing buildings. It has been extended to include life-cycle assessment of buildings, and credits and points awards have been updated to reflect changes in best practice that have now become mainstream. More importantly, it now incorporates a more rigorous assignment of weighting of environmental and resource issues. The BRE conducted several workshops to pull together priorities of green construction issues, to feed into their recently released "Green Guide to Specification" and their BREAM building enviro performance assessment packages. Typically they convened a group of 20-odd individuals involved in building design and construction, and presented them with a pre-prepared list of issues, covering the 3 legs of SD (they added a 4th, 'Resources', to the classical 'Enviro, Social, Economic').
The group is first asked to add or delete issues; most importantly, they *are not* given any guidance on semantics or definition of issues they find unclear, but must come to a common understanding of them - which is then documented. (Good approach - avoids imposed definitions & disputes with the hosts, but ensures near-consensus, so they're all working from the same page.)
Two rounds of questionnaires are then filled out by each individual (who can remain anonymous if they desire): first to indicate their own personal priorities for the 4 SD "legs"; and then on the SD issues. The questionnaires give the user some credits to 'spend' on the issues; all their credits can spent on one, or they can be distributed as desired. The kicker is: they have just a few fewer credits than issues, so they're forced to budget.
The first session included 60 "experts", including "... government policymakers, construction professionals, local authorities, materials producers, academics and researchers, activists and lobbyists, investors and developers ". The (enviro) issues of the Green Specification Guide, with their resulting weightings, were:
CO2 emissions 241.5 Primary energy used in extraction, production and transport 72 Oil feedstock consumption 72 VOC & NOX emissions 56.5 % of recycled materials in finished product 50.5 Toxic pollutants arising from manufacturing 42 Water consumption 33.5 Wastes generated 32.5 SO2 emissions 30 Mineral consumption 23 Reserves of raw materials 23 Toxic pollutants arising from combustion - Other recycling issues -
The BRE has now done this with ~10 groups (who were sceptical of the first's weightings) and apparently their issues ranking is very consistent from group to group, and exhibit only minor variations on their relative weightings. According to Nigel, "The last group were a mixed group working with hydraulics research, and they were within 2% of the average on all scores."
The BREs new "Green Guide to Specification" is one of the most useful materials and assemblies environmental guides I've seen; it rates several hundred wall, roof, interiors, and finishes on the list of environmental issues above. Designed to be simple for designers to use, it gives the assemblies an A, B or C rating on each of the issues, and an overall score based on the weightings listed.
I also had a tour of the BRE's Environmental Office building by Matt Grace, who's responsible for monitoring its performance. (The building was covered in more detail in the Green Building Challenge proceedings, so I won't cover the same ground again in detail. Briefly, it's - fully naturally ventilated and cooled office building, with *no* mechanical cooling, - shaped to take advantage of daylighting; with electronically-ballasted, continuous-dimming, daylight- and occupancy-sensor T5 lamps - better insulated than most UK buildings, and - equipped with efficient condensing boilers for heating
It's consuming more than anticipated for heating, largely due to air leakage; they used the new BREFAN to find the cracks, and found the roof/wall interface to be responsible for some 16% of the heating energy. They've since tried caulking and air-sealing, and hope that this winter it'll perform better. It is performing very well in cooling; the occupants are delighted, and my personal experience is on the hottest day of the summer to date the building was very comfortable at 5:30 in the evening. The main lesson Matt got from the building was "Keep It Simple, Stupid" - he feels that the complex EMCS controls may not be robust over years, and is difficult for the building operators to program easily. (Sound familiar?) That being said, it is one of the lowest CO2 emitting buildings in the UK, on a square foot of floor area, and on a per occupant basis.
Well, I must sign off now, to get this thing posted. Again, let me know if you'd like more details, or to be dropped from future posts. I intend to see the De Montford building, and several others in the next few weeks, so stay tuned if you're interested!
Warm regards, Ian Theaker, P.Eng.
Greetings from Amsterdam!
Ian Theaker here, posting from Amsterdam, where I'll stay for a week or so. I actually wrote most of this letter on the ferry "Princess of Scandinavia", in transit from the Newcastle to the Norwegian port of Christiansand; and the hostel ship "Gustaf af Klimt" in Stockholm; and in Copenhagen.
Having sorted out 'Net connections in Amsterdam, I've finally been able to get this off. So, here's my second long post, covering the balance of my travels in the UK. Coming soon - Goteborg and Stockholm, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
This one is in three parts - first, this intro; then the tech stuff on green building and planning efforts (safely skimmed by non-techies); and finally, non-building news. Pick your poison....
Thanks to those who replied to my last email - it was very good to hear from friends in Canada and the States. And for those of you who were concerned (several), not to worry, I *am* relaxing. Can I help it if I find good buildings fascinating, and walking & talking about them fun? And, contrary to appearances, I do make time for fun and sightseeing.
Special thanks to those who've been keeping me up to speed on Vancouver City Councils' July meetings on Southeast False Creek. The area is still very much on my mind, and I greatly appreciate hearing of your efforts. Keep up the good work, folks! I urge anyone else with an interest in creating a model sustainable neighborhood in Vancouver to write, or make a presentation to City with your suggestions and support. The current version of the policy paper is available on the City website, and makes for some fascinating reading - for what is and is not included. I've written a letter to Mayor and Council with my thoughts; if you're interested, let me know and I'll send you a copy. Council will be meeting again in September - and a green SEFC is *not* yet a done deal.
Those of you with a feeling for Euro geography, and a memory of my last email, will realize that my itinerary has evolved somewhat. I started Europe with Sweden, visiting my friend Asa in Goteborg, and I 'm now in Amsterdam, after some time in Stockholm. Then, a week in Copenhaven, and now a week or so in Amsterdam.
Just booked my ticket to Bangkok.
Since my last email, I've had a relaxed, then active few weeks, between family time in High Wycombe (with my brothers) and wandering about London and northern Britain; and then R&R time in Sweden than Denmark.
People and places covered since my last post: - conversation with Susan Roaf, researcher at Oxford Brookes University and owner of the Oxford solar house - tour of Edinburgh Gate, a naturally-cooled and ventilated, daylit office building in Harlow, Essex - meeting with Koen Steemers and Nick Baker of Cambridge - tour of Wycombe Caves - meeting with John Berry, project engineer at Ove Arup & Partners - visit to Heritage Open-air museum in Buckinghamshire - photos of Parliament House, by Michael Hopkins & Partners & Ove Arup - meeting with Ken Shuttleworth, architect for Greater London Authority building, with Norman Foster - meeting with Guy Battle, of Battle McCarthy consulting engineers, London - tour of Nottingham University campus, under construction in Nottingham - tour of Queens' Building, at De Montford University in Leicester - visit to Leicester Inland Revenue Centre complex - wander about Staithes, my father's birthplace, and origin of the Theakers worldwide. - meetings with Joe Clark & Jon Hand of Energy Systems Research Unit in Strathclyde University, Glasgow - tour of Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings in Glasgow - visit to Asa Jonsson, and a visit to a new ecovillage outside of Goteborg. - meetings with Erik Hansen (client) and Henrik Torkelsen, architect of Denmarks' entry to GBC, the "Hojstrup Norreplatz"
Whew! It really hasn't been as hectic as it may sound - but it certainly has been educational, and a good time.
Green Building and Planning Efforts
Oxford Solar House I had a chance to talk to Susan Roaf, architect and researcher at Oxford Brookes University, just before she took her own vacation. She is the owner of, and resides in an extraordinary house in Oxford.
The Oxford Solar house demonstrates building-integrated photovoltaics and energy-conserving construction for UK single-family dwellings. A 4 kW PV array replaced the masonry standard roof tiles on the south exposure, and is connected to the grid via dual meters. The house has high insulation levels (for the UK), with tight construction; is designed for passive solar heating; and has a solar DHW system for hot water preheat. The performance of the 233 sq.m house and its systems have been monitored for two years now; and requires only 10.7 kWh/sq.m/year on average for heating and DHW. The house is a net annual *exporter* of electricity to the grid - yet the loads include charging of an electric vehicle in addition to household electrical loads.
Cost of the PV system, as installed in 1995, cost 28,300 pounds; Susan estimates that it could currently be installed for 16,000.
Lessons learned: - overheating of the PV array reduced its efficiency, despite the array being mounted with a ventilated airspace below it. Susan would modify the mounting details to allow for more airflow and cooling. - Oversizing of the the PV system inverter resulted in unnecessary energy losses - The standard agreement for power sales to the utility had to be modified and simplified for small producers, particularly with regard to meter-reading visits. - Net metering (running the meter backwards) would result in greater capital and operating-cost savings than the current dual meter requirement
Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex John Fessey, the facility manager for Edinburgh Gate, was kind enough to give me a tour of Addison Wesley Longman's 16,000 sq.m, five-storey building in Harlow, east of London. The building is especially notable for the robustness and user-control of its energy conserving strategies. It achieved 20/21 credits under the current BREAM assessment, one of the highest assessments done to date. Architects were the CD Partnership of London, with Cundall Johnston & Partners doing the services engineering.
The natural ventilation and cooling strategy is very simple: openable windows to perimeter offices on lower floors surround three central atria, which have BMS-operated windows at the top. The atria provide the height for stratification and stack effect, and the downwind windows at the atria tops are opened to provide additional negative pressure to induce inflow through occupant-operable windows. The office casement windows are particularly well-designed, with simple, strong operators and a satisfying 'thunk' as they close. Louvred sections at the top of office windows opening to the atrium allow airflow to pass through.
The atria also provide daylight for adjacent offices, but unlike many, are provided with windows rather than skylights, for solar control. Daylighting controls are especially simple: the BMS sweeps the lights off in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening when light levels are adequate inside the occupied spaces. The occupants can override the BMS control with local switches, but seldom do. Light levels are enhanced by lightshelves located about a quarter of the way down the high windows, separating vision sections that include the operable portions, from daylight-entry sections at the top. Floor-to-ceiling distances are typically 3.1m; the lack of ductwork and a 300mm raised floor for wiring and displacement ventilation allows the high ceilings, unobstructed by services. Lamps are T8 fluorescents with electronic ballasts and mounted on movable floor pedestals, with a very low (~8 W/sq.m) installed power density, providing 350 lux on average.
The building is not entirely naturally cooled; there are two 300 kW chillers supplying fan-coils that provide cooling for the top-floor restaurant, ground-floor cafe, and meeting rooms throughout the building, with an ice storage system for off-peak operation. Three condensing natural gas boilers provide hot water to perimeter radiation and under-slab radiant heating for the atria.
Key to the comfort of the building is the large thermal mass, mostly 300mm concrete floor slabs with the underside exposed to the floor below. John emphasized this point; apparently the building maintains temperatures within comfort envelope for up to three days with no HVAC plant operation, even under outdoor conditions. As well, occupants have the operation of the building explained to them, and the need for cooperation in establishing comfort levels using windows and lighting is emphasized.
I had the chance to ask several occupants what they thought of the building, after John returned to his regular work. All of them were very pleased with the conditions provided. Two minor complaints were noise migration through openings to the atria, which has hard surfaces throughout; and 'stuffiness' at times in summer in the mail room, where airflow paths were blocked by walls and storage. On further probing, all compared it very favourably to the previous buildings they had worked in.
The building cost 1.07 million pounds, about 5% less than a typical speculative office of the same size. Higher costs for the envelope, roof garden and structure were more than offset by elimination of separate ceiling assemblies.
Lessons learned: - a simple natural ventilation strategy, with high mass and robust windows under user control, works very well in providing comfort in UK conditions. - large exposed mass of exposed mass provide a long time constant, and aid control with minimal energy consumption. - design of atria for this natural ventilation strategy should closely consider noise attenuation.
While wandering the London waterfront, I walked past the new Parliamentary building currently being built next to Big Ben at Westminster. Designed in 1994 by Michael Hopkins and Partners and Ove Arup as the building service engineers, I'd say it's representative of green design in the UK today.
The building is 7 storeys of offices, committee rooms and Members accommodations above the Westminster Tube station, which has two lines running through it. The station is being extensively renovated at the same time, and made for a challenging structure.
The general plan is one of narrow perimeter offices surrounding a courtyard with a glazed roof at the second floor. The ground level of the courtyard houses restaurants, shops and common facilities; the upper floors house offices for the Members of Parliament. These typically flank a central corridor, with an exposed frontage of 3.6m to the outside, and 5.4m deep to allow daylighting, which is aided by internal lightshelves and external shades on the bay windows. Windows facing the streets are not operable to reduce noise; but those facing the courtyard open for natural ventilation. Stairs and elevator shafts are located at the corners of the building. Construction is stone veneer over a structural concrete frame.
The HVAC system is designed to facilitate natural stack flows, with vertical bronze air shafts expressed on the exterior of the building, and separating each office, rising to 14 air exhaust chimneys, each serving 8 shafts (four facing the street and four facing the courtyard). Each office has inlets to the stacks; and the exhaust chimneys are reminiscent of Victorian industrial chimneys, projecting some 10-15m above the roof, and are a dominant feature in the roofline.
The roofs and floors of the member's offices are similar to those at the BRE Environmental Office and the Inland Revenue complex (discussed next): pre-cast concrete barrel arches span the rooms, with the underside exposed to the room below, and the voids above used for under floor air distribution and night cooling. Each void is fed by air drawn from a heat recovery unit fed from an annular inlet below each exhaust stack; the void air is exhausted by an airshaft leading to the roof outlet.
Inland Revenue Complex, Nottingham The Inland Revenue complex was a design-build project, completed in 1996. The budget was tight, and so was the schedule; but even so a design competition resulted in selection of the team of Michael Hopkins and Ove Arup. While in Nottingham, I took the chance to wander around the complex, and get a feel for the designs.
The concept extended the pre-cast barrel vault concept first used in the BRE Environmental Building. Precast vault components, matched with prefabricated brick/concrete piers, aided greatly in keeping to budget and time constraints. The comfort strategy had four legs (common to many green designs): - high-performance envelope (good insulation, low-e, thermally-broken triple-glazing) - structural thermal mass for heat storage - careful design for daylighting, thermal and glare control - natural ventilation, supplemented by mechanical systems.
Stairwells in these buildings were used as solar thermal chimneys, with movable fabric roofs intended to induce air exhaust at the top, and fed from lower-floor corridors acting as airflow channels from the offices. Computational fluid dynamic modelling, confirmed by saline-tank studies done at Cambridge University, helped determine opening sizes and geometries for airflow and temperature. The modelling revealed that this strategy was sensitive to open windows close to base of the stairwells, which would short-circuit the flow and limit that from more remote rooms. To overcome this effect, small fans were located under each window to provide outdoor air to the offices.
Testing done after occupancy, during one of the hottest summers the UK has recently experienced, revealed the design's success. Lower floors had temperatures ranging from 22.5 to 26.5 deg.C, with outdoor temperatures peaking at 30 for over a week. Top floors, which were separately ventilated by ridge vents and operable windows, but did not have the concrete ceilings, were warmer.
University of Nottingham, Nottingham Mike Brizel, landscape architect from Battle McCarthy, and Glen Irwin of Ove Arup kindly gave me a tour of the Nottingham University campus, currently under construction. Due to be open for September, the campus has 6 buildings with a green agenda on a 1.8 ha site: - 3 classroom / office buildings - a post-graduate residence - a learning resource centre (what we once knew as a library...) These were designed by Michael Hopkins & Partners, and I talked with Jan Mackie, who was involved in the design from concept through to construction.
Several features of the site are of note; Battle McCarthy was responsible for the landscape design, and worked hard on integrating it with the neighborhood, protecting the existing nature vegetation, and to ensure no export of fill or topsoil from the site - a tough task on a tight site.
A wildlife belt of existing mature beeches on the south & west borders of the site was retained as wildlife habitat, and two new lakes are designed to buffer the area from pedestrian traffic, as well as providing creating a cool microclimate with evaporative cooling of the prevailing southwest breezes. Protecting the mature trees during construction was, as always, difficult; while the contractors were particularly warned that the trees were to be maintained, portions of the root zones were not fenced off, and were covered with subsoil removed to create the lakes. The trees also suffered minor damage from excavators, but Mike feels that they should recover.
The lakes are an integral part of a surface storm water management strategy, acting as retention ponds to slow storm water release to the municipal system. They are fed by all site storm water including that from the roads that lie to the north and east of the buildings, which front onto the lakes.
Each of the classroom/office buildings have two blocks that flank an atrium, which has motor-driven glass louvres facing the lakes, and on the opposite sides, to allow cross-flow natural ventilation. Sealing of the louvres are some of the best I've seen; each blade has a double rubber seal on the three lower edges.
These 3 storey buildings show the tight integration of architecture and mechanical systems, and how Hopkins' and Arups' thinking have evolved over the years. Each has classrooms flanking double-loaded corridors, and are equipped with occupant-operable windows. Large, acoustically-insulated transfer ducts from the classrooms to the corridors allow cross-flow in the rooms, while reducing cross-talk. Windows are equipped with lightshelves and shades; like all others I've seen here so far, they are fixed metal louvres; but in this case four of them reduce the extension required for shading.
The concrete slabs are exposed to the classrooms below, to act as thermal mass; but rather than the barrel vaults used in other projects, a raised floor above is used for displacement ventilation. The envelopes have high insulation values: 0.29 & 0.22 W/sq.m K for walls & roofs respectively; double that required by code. Wall panels are prefabricated offsite, and sheathed with clear western red cedar; Hopkins sent an architect to North America especially to source sustainably harvested wood, in the absence of credible labelling schemes. I've seldom seen such nice cedar; the intent is to allow it to weather to the familiar silver-grey.
The HVAC systems, designed by Ove Arup, are especially notable. Intended to require no net annual energy for fan power, they have been carefully designed to minimize static pressure losses, and to take advantage of wind pressure to assist the fans. The most visible features on the rooflines are large rotating wind cowls mounted at the top of each stairwell, which act as return air passages from the corridors. These cowls are designed to induce air exhaust, supplementing the high-efficiency axial fans; and after CFD modelling, a full-size prototype was tested in Farnsworth's large wind-tunnel facility. Supply air shafts flanking the stairwells, and the under floor passages that feed the classroom plenums are very large, by conventional standards, and the entire airflow path was designed for extremely low static pressure losses. These extraordinary fan systems are designed to have their power supplied by photovoltaic atrium glazing, sized to provide all the fan power needed over the course of the year. The 54 kWp PV arrays (made by BP) also shade the atria, providing dappled light.
The buildings are expected to consume ~83.6 kWh/sq.m each year - about half of the typical "good practice" consumption (191). Further, it is intended to emit 27 kg CO2/sq.m, as compared to 96 kg for "good practice". Of note is that every building I've seen or read of to date publishes their CO2 production. Very nice....
Queens Engineering Building, De Montford University, Leicester What can I say about the Queens Building that hasn't already been said elsewhere? Not much, I suspect - it's been very well documented, and is the subject of ongoing performance evaluation and monitoring. Jim Bisgrove, the University's energy manager kindly donated an afternoon to touring me through it - and then was late getting home, answering my questions. (Thanks much, Jim!)
Briefly, for those unfamiliar with it, the building is a landmark in natural ventilation in an urban site, halving energy costs at no additional cost. It's a thermally massive brick building, with natural ventilation elements such as inlets and exhaust towers integrated with the architecture, and used as features that echo and complement the Gothic design characteristic of historic Leicester. Several different natural ventilation strategies were used for different areas, and the two lecture theatres are particularly interesting in this respect, with acoustically-baffled brick inlet louvres leading to an under floor plenum, introduced to the room behind the steeply raked seats, and exhausted by 13.3m high dedicated towers. In winter, hot water radiators in the plenum are used to preheat the air; and a "Bogart fan" is installed in the towers to supplement the wind- and buoyancy-induced flow as necessary. Salt baths to simulate buoyancy (done at Cambridge) and computer thermal simulation modelling were used in design for the natural ventilation strategy.
Daylighting is used extensively throughout the building, with spaces primarily side lit with many small punched windows with deep reveals for solar control. The central concourse acts as both a exit path for hot air, and for daylight entry to the lower floors of the 10,000 sq.m main building.
The separate mechanical laboratory and workshop is designed for cross-flow ventilation, with brick inlet louvres leading to occupant-operable doors opening to the space, and the air exhausted at high level on the opposite side and in the skylights, which also provide daylight. High gable glazing also allows light entry, controlled with interior lightshelves.
The HVAC plant has two high-efficiency boilers, and a condensing boiler used for modulating heat control. A combined heat and power unit was installed, primarily for teaching purposes; but is designed for peak shaving (and is seldom run). Perimeter hot water radiators and convectors with local thermostatic valves are predominantly used, except for some high radiant panels in the mechanical lab.
Lighting is primarily compact fluorescent lamps and T8 tubes, with HPS in the concourse. Passive infrared detectors tied to the building energy management computers were used for occupancy control; but the lamps are not switched or dimmed with higher daylight levels.
Lessons learned: - indoor air temperatures in the lecture theatres were found to be stable and comfortable between 20 & 23 deg.C, with outdoor temperatures up to 32 deg.C outdoors. - annual energy consumption is less than half of a comparable building, at 114 kWh/sq.m for heating (gas) and 43 kWh/sq.m for electricity, and CO2 emissions of 53 kg/sq.m. This was achieved at a cost of 855 UK pounds per sq.m (~214 CDN$/sq.ft.). Cost savings due to reduced mechanical equipment were ~9% of the contract value. - commissioning is (again!) critical; schedule pressures lead to a compressed commissioning, with the result that one of the roof ventilator openers was omitted in construction; and a broken heating water valve was omitted, preventing isolation of the heating circuit. - there were *no* complaints of overheating by occupants during the summer of 1995, one of the hottest on record; in fact, the Chief Engineer found it to be his favourite building on campus to escape the heat. - design of skylight operators should be simple and robust. Current operators for gang skylights have broken several times, and repair and routing maintenance is difficult. - skylight opening mechanisms should be installed so they are visible by the operators, a limit switch or a local position indicator installed to prevent over winding. - doors for natural ventilation must be placed so they do not interfere with occupants daily tasks. The doors in the mechanical laboratory are located so that they interfere with equipment on benches, so they are seldom opened - defeating their purpose. - access to air distribution plenums must be provided to ease regular cleaning. - industrial health and safety regulations prevented the use of electric lamp dimmers in the mechanical laboratory. - the occupancy sensors controlling the HPS lamps were often overridden by occupants, due to the delays in firing the lamps and in the BMS.
Meetings with UK Designers and Researchers I took the opportunity to meet with several designers and researchers in Britain, including - Koen Steemers and Nick Baker of Cambridge - John Berry, Ove Arup & Partners, London - Ken Shuttleworth, Norman Foster, London - Guy Battle, Battle McCarthy consulting engineers, London - Joe Clark & Jon Hand, Energy Systems Research Unit, Strathclyde University, Glasgow
General impressions I've carried away from talking with these people: - aspects of green design, while not completely dominant, are now part of the program for 30-40% of new buildings in the UK, and growing. The most common aspects are energy-efficiency (in most new buildings); and selection of materials for lower ecological impact. - daylighting is a central program element in most practices; with use of heliodons and artificial skies quite common - the designers I met with are often using Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's "Radiance" as a daylighting design tool, even with its input difficulties - natural ventilation is incorporated in most 'green-field" building designs; and in many designs in city-centres - the most common HVAC system designs for green buildings in the UK are mixed systems, that allow natural ventilation and cooling throughout most of the year, but have mechanical systems that assure ventilation and cooling under peak conditions, or when stack and wind are insufficient. - natural ventilation design is shifting emphasis to wind effects; with design for stack effect for those few times when there is no wind. - natural ventilation design in city-centres is seen as the next challenge, especially how to deal with noise attenuation and air pollution due to street traffic. - night ventilation of thermal mass incorporated in the structure is becoming a common cooling strategy, having been found to be effective in many buildings.
One of the reasons for my visit to the UK was to see the state-of-the-art in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) as applied to building natural ventilation and cooling; several of the people I met are leaders in the field, and I wanted to benefit from their experience.
I found that CFD is not yet commonly used by the general design industry, except by experienced consultants and researchers with particular problems to solve. There are two main reasons for this: - current CFD programs require a great deal of input to create useful models, and detailed understanding of underlying algrothims to ensure the results are meaningful and trustworthy - there is still a great deal of uncertainty on "boundary conditions" for CFD models, due to the lack of local, site-specific wind data, especially on the effects of surrounding buildings and topography. This requires educated guesswork on wind patterns and speeds at the building walls, or wind tunnel testing of models to establish pressure coefficients.
Further, current CFD models are typically static situations - "snapshots" - not dynamically changing with time as real winds do. Dynamic modelling is a great deal more complex, and thus time consuming and difficult.
While CFD is not currently widespread, rapid progress in the usability and power of computers makes most users I met feel these programs will be far more useful in a very few years. With easy programs will come the ability to create and model at a neighborhood scale, and to run many models to bound performance and airflows in a wide variety of wind conditions. Dynamic modelling, however, will require another order-of-magnitude advance in research and tool development.
The trick currently is to match the tool to the need. In most cases, network airflow models, such as COMIS, CONTAM and in ESP-R, can establish general cooling effects of natural ventilation for rooms within a building. For larger spaces where stratification is intended, such as atria, or wind & thermal chimneys, CFD may be a better tool.
However, lack of skilled and sophisticated designers and analysts is likely to limit their application - and may lead to their future misuse. Guy Battle noted that Battle McCarthy is continuously looking for skilled staff, both at entry and senior levels. (Note that "entry-level" for CFD use is typically a Masters in Engineering....)
Yes, I have indeed spent much of my time *not* thinking of buildings, but simply enjoying my travels.
Spending time in High Wycombe with my brothers and nieces was fun - I may have managed to hook two little girls on frisbee. As well, we went to see the UK debut of Star Wars (they *made* me do it, dragged me kicking and screaming all the way - honest....) Actually, if you view the Star Wars series as modern fairy tales, complete with ogres, giants, dragons and a moral kicker, they're pretty good (or am I just rationalizing?)
I did get a few chances to see the surrounding countryside. Especially memorable was a walk in the Chiltern hills overlooking the Thames valley, through meadows, fields, pine and beech forests. An excellent afternoon, punctuated with a ploughman's lunch and a pint at a pub built in the 1600s.
While in Wycombe (and Britain, for that matter) the weather has been excellent - sunny, hot, and sneezy. The pollen counts were such that I was often simultaneously weeping and blowing my nose - a very good way to make an impression on people you've never met before. After several weeks of enduring this, I broke down and resorted to antihistamines on the worst days.
We also explored the Wycombe caves, dug (by hand) into the flint and chalk of south England. These were created as an unemployment relief effort by the local lord in the Regency era, when a depression caused great unemployment in the area. He hired (at his own expense) several hundred unemployed furniture makers and peasants to excavate chalk to make roads. The caves run almost 100 meters deep below a hillside, cut out of the wet chalk with picks and shovels. The chalk is very soft - I could pick it with a fingernail - but was interspersed with flint, hard and glass-like. And if you think soft chalk is easier to dig, you should understand that it doesn't break off in chunks, but must be extracted spoonful by spoonful....
Lest you think that the local gentry was completely benign, the same lord was also founder of the "Hellfire" club, which held its meetings in the caves complete with costumes, paid female sexual entertainment, gambling, and much drinking. A wine cellar log displayed in the caves records some 17 bottles of wine of various sorts consumed by two(!) peers of the realm in one night.... The Earl of Sandwich is reputed to have invented his hand food at one of their gambling parties; which also entertained Benjamin Franklin while he was in England lobbying for tax relief.
My many trips to London from Wycombe were a treat - not enough megalopolis to stale, but sufficient to sense the energy of the place. London is booming, with a self-confidence that can be smelt (along with the diesel fumes). Of course, it's a tourist town - in the streets I walked on, the chance of any random stranger on the street being from somewhere else was about half. And it's a tourist town for good reason - it's an exciting place to be, but one that is sucking the economic life of the country toward the southeast.
All of the surrounding counties are experiencing very fast growth, and the housing prices show it. As does the transit - I was often late to meetings due to breakdowns or delays on the long-neglected subways. They're now paying the price; the Circle line and part of the Northern line are shut down for maintenance and renovations, adding to the chaos in the roads above. Apparently, average trip time in London is now the same as in the 1800s...
I often felt a bit strange in the UK, since all the faces were white. I've become used to Vancouver's and Toronto's visible ethnic mix, and I felt very comfortable in London's Camden Town (visiting the offices of Ove Arup) where there was a very dynamic mix of races and classes. That being said, it suffers from all of the problems of modern megalopolis - focus on money (it's *very* expensive), conspicuous consumerism = status, air pollution, and grey, stressed faces on the Tube - but for all that, it's a damn exciting place, with incredible diversity and much excellence.
After finishing in Wycombe, I headed north toward Staithes, on the Yorkshire coast; stopping at Leeds, Leicester and Nottingham along the way to see some buildings. Each of the cities had a common, very welcome, feature - a town centre created for human beings, not for cars. That being said, these areas were almost entirely devoted to retail, business and entertainment, with very few (or no) places for people to live. The result is very convenient for pub-crawling, since you can walk from pub to pub. Of course, this makes for a pretty rowdy downtown at closing time, as you might imagine.... Better than having them driving all over town, I suppose - but a mix of uses would keep some more civilisation in the streets, perhaps.
Nottingham's town centre in particular is excellent - the entire district is closed to cars. The streets are winding (not a grid in sight in the UK, as far as my travels went), and lined with 4 to 6 storey buildings of red sandstone and brick. Oddly, the entrance to the downtown district from the rail station is through a mall that would look quite at home in Surrey or Mississauga.
Leeds is shopper's heaven, the result of a conscious revival of the downtown streets, and their closure to car traffic. Leeds seems to be the retail centre of Yorkshire, with the usual high global culture: the Gap, McDonalds, Yves St. Laurent and Gucci, along with a massive Marks and Sparks that spans several blocks. It's not all modern consumer heaven (hell?) however: I was most impressed with several covered shopping streets, and the City Market, dating to the Victorian era with stained glass and cast iron roofs over old shops and cafes. Very reminiscent of Milan. (Damn - see, I do enjoy buildings and urban form - can't get away from it.)
Staithes was a trip to roots for me. This tiny fishing village on the north Yorkshire coast is where all the Theakers in the world hail from, as far as I can tell. It's divided into two parts: the upper village, created in the 1800s to house miners of coal and shale; and the lower village, encrusted on the rocks surrounding the Beck. This is a tiny harbour formed by a creek; the village was founded in the 1300s by fishermen, and seemingly unchanged since. Most of the houses date back several hundred years, and remind me of a Greek coastal village, tumbling down the hills, and dominated by two cliffs on either side.
Most of the 600+ inhabitants were Theakers, Featherstones, Verrils or Coles - and has been for several centuries; but now the population is rising with refugees from city life, with their summer cottages and bed & breakfasts. However, when I enquired at the Cod & Lobster (the third since the 1700s) for people who might remember my grandparents, I was referred to Margaret Theaker. She served me tea and reminiscences of her husband in the RAF, and then passed me along to her brother Eddie and his wife Dorothy; who then referred me to Eileen Huby, who's been researching genealogy; who then... well, you get the picture. Within three days, I met half the Theakers and Verrils in town, with somewhat overwhelming hospitality and much tea.
As a child, I was raised with a model of a wooden fishing boat with beautiful lines that lived on the mantelpiece, which I was strictly forbidden to play with (a great temptation...). It was a 'coble', an extremely seaworthy sailing/rowing boat, evolved over the centuries to be beached on the Staithes beach in high seas, and to bring in a living from the North Sea. While in Staithes, I had a chance to take the tiller of Steve Cook's coble, one of the few left still being used for fishing on the coast. They're no longer being made, another victim of offshore trawlers and depletion of the Atlantic cod - a tragedy, I think, since cobles are part of the best heritage Britain has produced.
I've now gained some insight as to my roots on the English side - and this trip should give me a chance to explore my Chinese side as well. That alone makes this sabbatical worthwhile....
After Staithes, I headed off to Glasgow, to meet with the Strathclyde folks, and to worship at the Glasgow School of Art. Charles Rennie Macintosh has always been a demi-god on my pantheon; and I had a chance to see not just his art school, but several of his other buildings as well. His touch with light and decoration is incredible - words cannot do his work justice. I hope my slides turn out....
Glasgow was about the end of this experience in the UK, and I then took the Newcastle ferry to Goteborg, and Scandinavia. More about that in my next letter....
Warm regards, Ian Theaker
Greetings from Bangkok!
Ian Theaker here, writing from Thailand. Here's my third post, covering the balance of my travels in northern Europe - Goteborg and Stockholm in Sweden and Copenhagen and its environs in Denmark. I'm now working on the newsletter covering the Netherlands, which will come out as my 4th.
Unlike my last post, I've mixed the tech stuff on green building and planning efforts with non-building news. Don't worry, I won't be offended it you skim and read what interests you, but many of my observations are really inseparable - as has been much of my life and travel.
A rough itinerary of my time in Northern Europe: - a week+ in Goteborg, mostly visiting with old and new friends - three days in Stockholm, essentially being a tourist - a week in Copenhagen and its surrounding towns, exploring the city and surveying Danish green design and planning initiatives - a week in Amsterdam and surroundings, exploring, meeting with designers and researchers, seeing green buildings and developments, and joining the tourist hordes.
After my time in the UK, I felt that I deserved some time off from the technical side of my life, so in Sweden I did very little of that. My scanty notes on green design efforts in Sweden should *not* be taken as an indication that they are not doing excellent work in the field - in fact, they are leaders in several areas, especially life-cycle analysis of construction products, "eco-village" initiatives, and with several *very* interesting building products. However, I didn't spend a lot of time pursuing these; instead I had concentrated on having an excellent time visiting with friends, getting to know Goteborg and Stockholm, and soaking up Swedish ambience.
After a couple of weeks away from it, I was looking forward to seeing green design projects in Denmark and the Netherlands - and I was not disappointed.
Goteborg Eco-village & Straw-bale House One initiative I did take the time to see in Sweden was a budding eco-village near Goteborg. Stefan Wallner, one of the founders, and a PhD candidate at Chalmers University's architecture school, kindly gave a tour of his home and development to Asa Jonsson, Anna (another friend), and I.
In many ways, the Goteborg effort is characteristic of a new direction for development in Northern Europe, continuing their long tradition of cooperative self-help. "Eco-villages" gather like-minded people who pool their resources to build new communities that allow a more environmentally-responsible lives. In 1991, Stefan, his wife and three other couples agreed to work together to create a home in keeping with their ideals and pocketbooks. They spread the word, and found ten others willing to commit their time and money, and formed a non-profit company.
They approached the farmer where Stefan was already renting, to purchase some land for their effort; and the farmer was interested enough to take a financial stake in the development as well. The joint non-profit company staked out several hectares of mixed farmland, wetland and boreal forest, with financing from a local credit union. In the process, several initial participants dropped out, and others bought in; so there are now 12 households as joint shareholders of the non-profit company.
From the beginning, the group decided on several common principles to guide design of the new village: - participants must have a financial stake in the company, owning the land in common - partners and occupants of the community should be diverse - in age, home tenure, occupation and financial position - existing vegetation and habitat should be protected - movement should be primarily pedestrian-orientated, with automobile roads limited to the minimum necessary - households should be largely independent, unlike the co-housing model where many residents eat together in a common dining room - joint facilities - roads, shops and buildings - should be built to cement the community - each household should be responsible for building their own home in their own timing and financing.
Once the land was secured, the future residents delegated the task of drafting development plans to Stefan and another design professional member. Draft site plans were submitted to meetings of all residents, and modified in accordance with their comments. Once the residents were satisfied with them, they were submitted to the local planning authority - who were enthusiastic. A novel feature of the plan was that it included four dwelling units for renters, owned by the farmer whose land had been purchased.
Clearing for the main access road to the individual building sites started in 1997, and will be completed as necessary to access the sites yet to build. Two ponds were also dug, with a channel between them, to create a small constructed wetland in the village.
Stefan and others started salvaging windows, wood and other construction materials once the land was secured, and now have a large stockpile for future use; all the windows used on Stefan's home were salvaged, and much of the lumber. Construction started on Stefan's home, four rental homes in a row-house configuration and another single family dwelling immediately; while the other two buildings were built by contractors, Stefan and his wife took on the task of building their own home.
Stefans' home is one of the first straw-bale houses in the Sweden, which now boasts several. Working from "The Straw Bale Home" and with advice from the straw bale email listserv, the house has an independent structural timber frame. I'd guess that the 3-bedroom, split-level house is approximately 120 sq.m in floor area. The family moved in last fall, with the building weathered in, but still under construction.
The bales were plastered outside with the traditional mixture of straw, cow dung and local clay; and with lime plaster on the interior. The outside had the first two scratch coats applied when we were there, and is awaiting the final finish. Originally, bales were intended to come from the adjacent farm, but a poor year for straw made it necessary to source them from several farms around the region - a bit of a scramble, according to Stefan.
Walls are thick - some 45-60 cm - which makes for deep-set window ledges on the interiors, useful for plants and other items. Stefan has rounded the sides and tops of window openings on the interior; incoming light reveals and models the curves, emphasizing the wall thickness, and daylight is distributed throughout the rooms, with little contrast glare.
All the salvaged windows used in the house are double glazed; though without low-e coatings. Eave overhangs extend horizontally about the half the height of the windows, to exclude high-elevation summer sun while admitting it for winter solar heating. The largest windows are on the south elevation for passive solar gain, and my rough estimate is that windows constitute about 10-15% of the total wall area.
The roof is insulated with recycled cellulose, with a butyl "rubber" membrane covered with soil lightened with perlite as a growth medium for local grasses. After a year, these are already well-established, without any deliberate seeding.
Heating is with a central masonry stove, using local wood; last winter the household used less than two cubic metres of wood. A solar hot water heater, and possibly a PV system, are planned as finances allow.
It is worth noting that the climate and vegetation around Goteborg is similar to that of much of Canada - in fact, the drive out to the budding village reminded me strongly of Northern Alberta, with jackpine and paper-birch boreal forest and many small lakes. We ended our visit with a refreshing (!?!) swim in the lake adjacent to the village.
Goteborg and Stockholm While I wasn't specifically seeking green building and planning efforts while in Sweden, I couldn't help but observe some common elements.
First, the traditional pedestrian-oriented city centres, as in the UK, have served well to create cities not completely dependant on cars, as we are in North America. Both Goteborg's city centre and Stockholm's Old Town restrict or ban car entry. Arterial streets are in general of asphalt; but most other streets are narrow and almost entirely cobbled - and bicycles and pedestrians rule, since cars are slowed by the narrowness of the streets. This should not be seen as an inevitable with European city development; London is an excellent example of planning (or the lack of it) that failed to control cars, with continual gridlock, noise and air pollution as the result.
Goteborg has a very well-developed bicycle lane system, with bike lanes on almost all arterials, separated from both cars and pedestrians by curbs and differentiated with larger cobbles, or different-coloured asphalt. (Not yet being used to bike lanes, I was always getting in the way of the cyclists - but the residents don't seem to have the same difficulty.) I found it very easy and safe to get around by bicycle, or on foot.
Pedestrian sidewalks in Sweden were typically cobbled, with different sized and coloured stones than the roads. Almost all of the sidewalks had smooth-surfaced parallel paving stones, about 30cm x 60cm laid with ~30 cm between them. These formed "wheel lanes" for baby buggies, carts and dollies, and presented a much smoother rolling surface than the ~15cm, curved-topped stones that made up the bulk of the sidewalk surfaces. I don't know if this was deliberate (neither did the people I asked), but it worked too well to be an accident. As well, each downspout terminates above a grooved stone that carries the rainwater to the stone street curbs, rather than flooding the sidewalk.
Goteborg also has an excellent electric tram system - quiet, emitting no local pollution, and with tracks running throughout the city. Tram service was frequent, clean, comfortable and efficient; typically I didn't pay any attention to schedules, and waited less than 10 minutes. As well, many trams had well-used bike racks. The city is currently spending a lot of money extending and upgrading their tram network; I spent a fascinating time at a sidewalk cafe watching workers use rubber rollers to texture the red-coloured concrete pavement between the tracks to look like cobbles.
The result is that it is quite feasible for many residents to get by quite well without owning cars, which were generally viewed as expensive luxuries rather than necessities. For cars, *all* on-street parking requires hefty payments at the ubiquitous electronic meters, which dispense tickets displayed on dashboards. Almost none of the buildings in the city cores (where I spent most of my time) had surface parking lots, but dedicated - and expensive - multi-storey parking structures dotted throughout the city. When combined with gasoline costing 3 to 4 times as much as Vancouver - mostly taxes - it is obvious that the government is actively discouraging automobile use, and dedicating large revenues toward alternatives.
The Swedes I met live very well indeed, with very high-quality furnishings and consumer goods, and luxuries quite the equivalent (or better) than the average Canadian or American. With average salaries much the same as those in North America, but *much* higher taxes (60% income tax, starting at 209,200 SKr, or 28,000 US$; and 25% general sales tax!), the actual material standard of living was at least the equivalent of Canada and the US. Of course, health care and old-age pensions have much better government support than we see (though this is waning); but part of the reason for this quality of life, I suspect, is that many Swedes do not need to support a car. (Asa subsequently has told me that in fact most Swedes own and operate their own cars. Damn - another brilliant graduate thesis blown by inconvenient reality....)
While in Goteborg I stayed with my friend Asa Jonsson and her brother Mats, who was looking for his own apartment. His criteria, and conversations about the search, were very illuminating. While he owns a car, and uses it for commuting to his engineering job at Volvo, he was looking for an apartment close to the central core, ideally high up on a hill. This was not just for the view, as it would be in Vancouver, but largely for better air quality. This in the centre of a city with far less air pollution than the City of Vancouver, and incomparably better than say, Toronto, Los Angeles or Vancouver's surrounding suburbs; and by a person who does not view himself as an environmentalist.
Mats' search also told me volumes about urban housing in Sweden. Apparently, a few very large companies own the majority of the apartment buildings in the cities, and are able to charge very high rents (1/3-1/2 the average salary) in a tight market. He was looking for a one-bedroom apartment, leased directly from one of these companies; many people sub-let, since most are reluctant to give up their direct lease even if they don't live in the suite.
The great majority of the housing I saw in urban Sweden is in the form of 4- to 6-storey apartment buildings, with no setback from the sidewalk or from side or rear property lines. Often the ground floor is devoted to retail or commercial use, with apartments above.
The shops, offices and apartments typically have two faces, one onto the street and the other to a common courtyard, entered through one or more gates or doors to the street. Several stairwells from the courtyard serve stacked apartments; elevators are uncommon. This design provides each apartment with exposure to the outdoors on two sides, for cross-ventilation with windows. As well, it makes for secure common courtyards where people meet, typically cobbled and often planted with a few trees, a small garden, or a play area - and populated by *many* bicycles.
Walls of larger older buildings are typically made of uninsulated stone, or brick with stone framing the windows, though many buildings of 4 storeys or less were built with wood stick-framing and vertical board and batten wood siding. (In Goteborg a 17th-century building code provision prohibited stick framing higher than 2 storeys for fire prevention - and lead to a hybrid construction of bricks below 2 storeys of wood-framing at the top. The result has become characteristic of buildings in old areas of the town.) In new buildings, insulation is now required by code, and construction is typically double-wythe brick or block, with rock-wool insulation in the void. The bricks and blocks typically have ~1cm voids formed into them, both to save on materials and for the insulation value.
Windows have traditionally been single-glazed with exterior storm windows; a very popular renovation is installing *excellent* windows. New Scandinavian windows typically have low-e, thermally-broken double- or triple-glazing in a metal-clad wood or vinyl frame; and large side-hung "tilt and turn" openable sections that allow for easy cleaning. They have extremely robust hinges, closures, and excellent seals and weather-stripping. Openable sections were large enough that I often saw people sitting in them, whiling away some time with a tea or coffee and idly watching people in the street. I wish that such good windows were generally available in Canada!
The roofs of these buildings enclose an attic accessible at the top of the stairwells, and used for bulk storage by residents. The one in Asa's building (and apparently quite typically) was uninsulated, with wood structures exposed to the attic, and almost exclusively had masonry shingles.
Heating is typically hot-water radiators, fed by a central heat distribution system serving entire neighborhoods. Apparently, many of these central plants are being upgraded to use natural gas, or waste heat from combined-cycle gas turbines generating electricity; and with deregulation of energy services, many of these plants are now privately-owned and operated. Each stack of apartments is served by one or more central exhaust shafts, topped with a continuously-operating rooftop fan; locally-switched exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms connect to the depressurized shafts. In Asa's kitchen, the stove hood had a section that pivoted down to better trap steam and cooking fumes - which worked much better than most hoods available in Canada or the States.
I found energy-efficient compact-fluorescent lamps, T8s and circular tubes were about as widespread as incandescent lamps. However, several people I spoke to preferred the warmer colours and better colour-rendering of incandescents. Street lighting almost exclusively used high-pressure sodium lamps; rather than separate lamp standards, they were hung from cables attached to the buildings.
Water-conserving plumbing fixtures seem to be universal; toilets typically use 6 litres per flush. Their operation puts North American (and even more so, UK) toilets to shame; *one* press of the button at the top of the tank makes for a positive, high-velocity, effective flush.
The clothes washers I saw were also of far better quality than most North American appliances. With horizontal drums and no agitators, they use less water (and energy), and are gentler on the clothes. As well, I saw an appliance I'd never seen before - a high-speed centrifuge to wring even more water out of the clothes before drying. The washers already resulted in dryer clothes than I typically get from those at my laundromat in Vancouver; with the centrifuge they came out virtually dry.
Each building has both a garbage room, and a recyclables storage room; glass, cardboard, plastics, and compostables are separated by residents and collected by the city. The city provides bio-degradable unbleached paper bags for kitchen waste; and roll-away plastic bins, a little larger than the typical North American garbage can. No backaches from lifting dented metal garbage cans in Sweden; the standard bins are designed to be lifted hydraulically by devices on the garbage trucks.
Denmark From Stockholm, I took the overnight train South to Copenhagen, and after a sleepless night, met with Erik Hansen, project manager for the Danish Defense Construction Service, and Henrik Terkelsen of Hou & Partners, architects for Denmark's 1998 Green Building Challenge entry. This was an administration and training facility for the defense forces, called "Højstrup Øvelsplads". While the project has not proceeded to construction, according to both Erik and Henrik it is representative of current Danish thinking on green design on the commercial / institutional side.
The focus in Højstrup was on materials selection for health and lower life-cycle impacts. A low-rise building complex laid out in an T-shape, it has 3200 sq.m gross floor area, with two storeys above grade and a below-grade auditorium opening onto a patio on one side for entry and daylight access. The building emphasizes the horizontal with a low-pitched roof and large overhanging eaves, shading a strip window around the second floor; smaller punched windows provide light and ventilation for ground floor rooms. Central double-loaded corridors are flanked by offices and other rooms; the main entry of the building is through an atrium located at junction of the three wings. Interiors were finished with water-based paints and low-emission carpets.
Energy conservation efforts were limited to those required by Danish building regulations. In the walls, 100mm of mineral wool insulation was located between the interior masonry blocks and the brick exterior finish. The roof was designed for wood framing sheathed with plywood, also insulated with mineral wool. Windows were double-glazed with a low-emissivity coating, and wood frames with aluminum sheathing for durability.
The hydronic heating system was to be controlled by a central EMCS with outdoor air temperature sensors, and each room is equipped with a setback thermostat. No mechanical cooling was installed, and mechanical ventilation provided only for meeting rooms. All electric lighting used high-efficiency lamps. The design was projected to use 0.576 GJ/sq.m/year, compared to the average of 0.646 for this type of Danish building.
Both Erik and Henrik emphasized how much they learned in the course of the design. Originally the new headquarters of the Danish equivalent of BC's Association of Professional Engineers was to be Denmark's entry to GBC, but this fell through when the program of the building lost many green elements, so the Højstrup project was selected as a replacement late in the process.
The Danish government had just published an extensive guide to green design, the "Miljørigtig Projektering" (principal author: C.F. Moliers Tegnestue Arkitektirmaet), as the design was being completed. A binder almost 5cm thick, it was found to be rather unwieldy for a design that was already well-advanced; a shorter "Cole's Notes" version is now being prepared. As well, the Architectural Academy is now offering a 12 week course on green design, starting in October, which Henrik is planning to attend. Currently, environmental and resource issues are being addressed largely by engineers and specialized consultants, with commercial architects focusing on their traditional strengths - integrating liveability and utility issues with esthetics.
It seems that, as in Canada, Danish commercial and institutional design is still catching up on environmental and resource issues, and according the Henrik there seems to be little awareness or demand for them by commercial clients.
However, I found that on the residential side, architects and engineers are very conscious of these concerns, and well-advanced in addressing them. Danish residential designers are at the forefront of learning how to renovate traditional European residential buildings for energy conservation - one of the most important areas to be addressed, with far more existing buildings requiring retrofit than new projects, if the EUs' ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets are to be met.
KMEK Just two blocks from the hostel I stayed at in Copenhagen, I stumbled across the offices of KMEK, the Københavns Miljø- og Energikontor. KMEK is Copenhaven's equivalent of Toronto's Energy Probe, researching and lobbying governments for environmental, energy and resource conservation, waste reduction, and renewable energy generation. More than just a lobby group, they provide consulting services, public seminars and advice on green building design, community recycling efforts and renewable energy projects. KMEK has some 8 full-time staff, and an extensive network of contract help and fellow activists. They are one of the most effective NGOs on the energy/environmental side I've ever seen. I had a lively lunch with them (at least, those I wasn't grilling had a chance to eat); sharing a daily common meal together is one the elements that cements them as an effective group.
With technical staff dedicated to renewable energy production, KMEK has been in the forefront of the effort that lead Denmark to renounce nuclear energy, and shift toward wind generators. Denmark now has a target of 20% of its' power generation from wind, and is a global leader in the field, exporting generators around the world. Currently, KMEK staff are consulting on the design of an offshore wind generation installation with some of the largest generators existing, over 1MW each. A measure of their success is that wind generators are seldom out of sight in Denmark; farmers are finding them an excellent cash crop, and are financing their own private installations in their fields. I lost count of the number of wind generators I saw travelling in Denmark by rail; they are ubiquitous. I took a wonderfully iconic photograph of Copenhagen's Little Mermaid; in the background, across the harbour, is a central heat/electricity plant - and seven wind-generators.
In fact, a major factor in wind-generator placement in Denmark is that they are viewed by many as visual pollution. New wind-generator sites on public lands must undergo public hearings, and this is always raised as an issue, and is a central concern in their siting. One issue that the Danes have found to be mythical is danger of bird kills - a bugaboo still raised with most new wind-generator installations in North America. Personally, I find windmills rather beautiful, just as a glider has sensuous curves derived from aerodynamics; though I recognize that there are definitely places they are inappropriate. Rather wind generators than smog, acid rain and nuclear waste - but hey, I'm an engineer, none of whom have any esthetic sense at all, do we?
At KMEK, I also had the great pleasure of talking with Ann Vikkelso, who has just completed a project with a Copenhagen residential neighborhood, inventorying their waste flows and setting up initiatives to reduce them. She and her colleague went to great efforts to put numbers to the source, type, amount and destination of household waste. Ann and her colleague created a computer spreadsheet tool for resident associations to use in reducing their waste generation, and track it over time for continued improvements. Ann had just returned from a tour of North America, studying and speaking on renewable energy efforts on behalf of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE). Ann gave me several copies of the "Sustainable Energy News", a monthly newsmagazine published by INFORSE, an international organization working on sustainable energy issues throughout the world. The August issue has given me many contacts throughout Southeast Asia and China that I hope to visit - many thanks, Ann!
As well, KMEK provided me with an *excellent* English-language book listing some of the many green residential designs and projects in the greater Copenhagen area. The "Byøkologisk Guide - København & omegn" (Urban Ecology Guide - Greater Copenhagen, ISBN 87-87487-993) by Nina Munkstrup & Jakob Lindberg, was published in 1996. With an updated version due soon, the book summarizes the green features of 45 projects, with photos, contact information, topical discussions, maps, guidance on public transit, further information sources and references. It became my constant companion in my travels around Copenhagen, leading me to many of the projects I toured; and I heartily recommend it to anyone travelling in Denmark with similar interests to mine. It can be obtained from the:
Dansk Byplanlaboratorium (Danish Town Planning Institute) Peder Skrams Gade 2 B, 1054 København K Denmark tel: +45-33-13-72-81 fax: +45-33-14-34-35 eml: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christiania One of the communities I'd heard of on the way to Denmark, and mentioned in the Urban Ecology Guide, is Christiania. Christiania is a self-declared "Free State", started by squatters who occupied an abandoned military base in the centre of Copenhagen. It was originally founded in the early 70s, dedicated to personal freedom and environmental conservation through individual and community action, in a context of non-violent, direct self-rule by residents. After many years of continuous harassment by Copenhagen and national governments, in 1997 the Danish parliament declared it a "social experiment", recognizing a reality that it could neither ignore nor suppress. And, unlike most intentional communities, it *works*, and the impression I got from my brief visit, it works quite well, thank you very much.
Christiania is the closest approach to the vision of San Francisco's 1968 "Summer of Love" I've seen. Governed by consensus at a monthly meeting of all mature residents, the 900 adult inhabitants have created a green oasis in the heart of an already environmentally- conscious urban centre. The site was once a military base dating to the 17th century, and has many existing wood, stone and brick buildings of a wide variety of ages, surrounded by a high stone wall on three sides, and a canal on the fourth. Squatters occupied the abandoned buildings seeking free shelter, and created a self- governing "outlaw area", where the existing Copenhagen building codes (and other laws...) are simply ignored.
Christiania (and Denmark!) has benefited from unregulated experimentation with solar, rainwater collection and biological waste treatment. Since originally there were no washing facilities, the early residents built a common bath-house, collecting rainwater and heating it with solar domestic water heaters integrated into the roof; it is still in use. All of the large buildings in Christiania recover rainwater for clothes washing and toilets; and a volunteer group of residents monitors and repairs the often ancient plumbing, fixing dripping taps and leaks.
Many of the residents now make their living at Christiania's recycling centre. Not only do Christiania residents recycle household waste, including paper, glass, plastic, cardboard and organics, but an important economic activity is salvage, resale and reuse of construction materials. Originally started as a resource for residents salvaging and using materials from Christiania, it now recycles materials from Copenhagen as well, offering them for resale to both residents and non-residents at a large warehouse. With automobiles banned from the community, most materials are moved around with pushcarts and bicycle carts. [An excellent version of bicycle carts are now built by a business founded in the community (Christiania Bikes), and sold throughout Denmark.]
Many of Christiania's homes are scattered throughout the green areas surrounding the canal, built or moved there by residents. In the eighties, the railway service retired many old wheeled train cars that had served as mobile barracks for rail workers. Many of these were salvaged by Christians, and the intent is to move them periodically, to allow the land to regenerate. Other small, funky owner-built houses have been located in the woods, on the shoreline, or on piles over the water - some very beautiful, in a homey, homespun way. (Yes, Susan, I *do* have photos!)
With no central water supply or sewage system, several common composting toilets were set up to serve these households, and grey-water treatment is ubiquitous with these homes. I had the opportunity to speak to one of the pioneers of Christianias' water-treatment efforts, Claus Van Deurs. Claus quietly and proudly showed me several of these systems, and talked about the lessons he'd learned in fifteen years of experience.
Clivus composting toilets have now been in operation in outdoor toilets for over a decade, maintained by volunteers, with *no* problems. I can testify that they are smell- and pest-free, and in fact are pastorally located amid the trees - far more pleasant than *many* public toilets. The maintenance work is not particularly onerous, requiring less than an hour a every two weeks or so; toilet paper is burned, the compost is turned, and the bins emptied annually. The clean, odourless compost is spread in the surrounding vegetation, to return the nutrients to the soil. The compost looks, smells and feels like excellent topsoil or fine potting soil. Each toilet serves from 7 to 10 households, and many passersby enjoying a walk through the green areas.
Claus showed me several grey-water treatment systems, all home-built. They fell into two types: container systems, and in-ground plant systems. The container systems started with kitchen sink or shower drains piped to the bottom of an open container, to separate out hair and solids. An overflow pipe was fed to two cascading sand-filters; each of these had the inlet at the bottom and the outlet at the top, and had been colonized by volunteer native plants. The final step was polishing by local plants in a large planter; all of the containers I saw were salvaged buckets or tanks. A system for a single kitchen occupied about 1-1/2 square meters.
The other system I saw consisted of an in-ground reed bed with a clay bottom, filled with sand. The sink waste was fed directly into the bottom, with the clay bed sloping from the inlet toward an overflow outlet. This system occupied an area about one meter wide and about 2-1/2 meters long, and was virtually indistinguishable from the nearby natural marsh.
One of the best features of Christiania is their reclamation of the adjacent canal. Originally, it was typical of others in Copenhagen, heavily polluted with storm water runoff from streets and paved areas, and essentially dead. Christiania volunteers, such as Claus, planted reeds, cat-tails and other marsh plants at portions of the shoreline, and these have since taken over the entire margin. Current plans are to install PV- and wind-powered fountains, to aerate the water and help treat storm water pollution, following a charming fountain Claus installed in a tiny natural pond near his home. When the sun shines, a single PV panel powers a small pump, which spurts a small jet into the air, oxygenating the water, treating pollutants - and reminding him of the sun and natural regeneration processes. The canal and its surrounding semi-wilderness now forms one of most natural areas in Copenhagen, which otherwise is mostly stone, pavement and buildings.
Claus was emphatic that nature has tremendous powers of recovery, and that only a little human intervention is necessary. He is especially proud of an aquarium he installed several years ago in Christiania's ecology learning centre, established by the community to educate residents' and Copenhagen's children. Claus continued to stock the aquarium with a variety of plants, snails and small fish from the regenerated canal, and he told me that after a year and a half of effort, it has now required no feeding or aeration for several years. He has succeeded in creating a tiny, *self-sufficient* ecosystem, simply by continued introduction of a variety of local plants and animals. His main points to me were: "Learn by doing"; and "Nature wins in the end" - and they've since provided me with a lot of food for thought for my personal future direction.
Any discussion of the green efforts of Christiania must have some explanation of its' context of economy and governance.
There is a characteristic pattern in Christiania - initiatives and problems are identified and dealt with by volunteers. If they are important to the entire community, or require commitment of common resources or an ongoing effort, the issue is raised with the standing volunteer committee delegated by the collective. If they can't deal with it, it is raised at the monthly general meeting of all residents for consideration and resolution. Each of the major buildings and areas also has a smaller resident's committee to deal with issues that range from who can live there, roof leaks, to domestic disputes and expenditures on renovations. Standing committees have evolved for external relations, energy, water, waste, and several other common concerns.
After prolonged pressure and negotiations, Christiania now collectively pays Copenhagen for its water and energy consumption, and the equivalent of municipal taxes for its residents. They have a common fund (running at a small surplus!) for expenditures, and levy fees from long-term residents - but are extremely conscious of the fact that most of its occupants have very low cash incomes.
A major part of Christiania's economy comes from the sale of soft drugs; one of the "downtown" streets is known as "Pusher Street", and marijuana and hashish are openly displayed and sold at many small booths - but *not* hard drugs.
Christiania had to deal with severe problems with heroin and cocaine at the beginning of the 80's, with dealers openly pursuing their business, and both covert and open battles between the undercover and riot police and the junkies and pushers. It was finally dealt with by the residents themselves, with a very successful campaign against hard drug use; prominent among the prolific graffiti are the campaigns' logo, a fist smashing a hypodermic.
Hard drug users were offered treatment; dealers were banned by consensus of the residents; they were expelled mostly by public verbal abuse; all gates except the main one were sealed to control their re-entry; and large four-colour posters with photographs of hard-drug dealers, taken by residents, identified them to one and all - including the Copenhagen police.
Now, hard drug use is no more prevalent than the rest of Copenhagen, according to several residents I spoke to. Their approach might well have lessons for Vancouver's Downtown East Side....
As you might expect, Christiania has a bustling tourist trade, with over ten thousand(!?!) visitors a day in peak summer seasons. They come not only to buy recreational drugs, but for the music (excellent, and running till the wee hours of the morning), guided tours of the community and its green design efforts, and to enjoy the extensive green areas that make up much of Christiania. Tourism seems to be a major contributor to their money economy - but in the main, it is volunteers and trading among residents that form its economic core.
Recently, Christiania created its own "Green Plan", as a foil to an official plan from Copenhagen's planners. The City's plan separated residential areas from park areas; which Christiania residents object to. A summary of the community's plan, and much other information on Christiania, can be found on their website, and is well worth looking at, for both techies and others.
Copenhagen I found Copenhagen delightful. I stayed in a hostel just north of the Sortedams lake for a week, and every day was a new pleasure. It's basically a flat, low-rise city, with few buildings over ten stories, so the skyline is still dominated by cathedral spires, many of which are architectural and structural tours-de-force.
I climbed the one of the highest spires to get an overall impression of the city - the Vor Frelsers Kirke, located near Christiania on an island south of central Copenhagen. The spire has been a landmark since its construction in 1752, with its gilded spiral stair along the outside that runs to the bottom of the golden ball at the top. While climbing to the exterior stair, you pass through the timber frame structure, up a narrow, twisting stairs past the bells and the dusty mechanical works of the clock, with shafts of sunlight picking out the dust motes dancing in the air.
The city centre of Copenhagen is defined by water; to the northwest by a long lake, the Sortedams, with five rectangular sections divided by bridges; and to the southeast by the port, Gasvaerksnavnen, which opens at the north end to the Baltic. The port has several canals leading from it; the Palace district, Christiansborg, in the downtown area is surrounded by one; and the island with Christiania and Vor Frelser's Kirke has two canal loops that split it, and a seawater inlet forming the island. The entrance to the port is guarded by a formidable moated fortress, the Kastellet, crowned by a windmill that pumped well-water - a stark reminder of wars with Britain, Sweden and France, and the very real necessity of guarding the economic heart of Denmark.
I took several canal boats; one of the boat services is essentially a bus service, allowing passengers to alight and re-board at will over the course of a day. The boats pass under some incredibly low bridges; you can reach up and touch the structure while sitting in your seat under several. Several of the canals are lined with fishing and pleasure boats; a tourists' delight, flanked by cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. Many of the traditional wood boats are varnished, rather than painted, to show off the quality of the wood and beautiful lines of the planking - which was an interesting to me, having just studied the cobles (fishing boats) of Staithes.
Copenhagen is also an industrial city. Looking either way up or down the Gasvaerksnavnen, the view is terminated by combined heat and power plants serving most of the city's buildings. Their stacks, once belching black coal smoke, are now emitting mostly steam and carbon dioxide; most have been converted to natural gas, with gas combined-cycle gas turbines a rapidly growing trend. On the outskirts of the city, many factory stacks define the horizon - which gives the city an gritty feel that echoes the down-to-earth, practical character of the Danes I met.
Stone and brick gives the city centre a solid, if somber feel; there are few street trees, with vegetation confined mostly to parks. But the parks are beautiful; many are the grounds of palaces like the Frederiksborg, and the mature landscaping frames some extraordinary views.
Copenhagen's bike paths are the best I've ever seen, bar none. As in Goteborg and Stockholm, the 2 to 3m wide bike lanes are mostly separated from car and pedestrian traffic by curbs and elevation changes; but have smooth asphalt surfaces that makes riding a pleasure; while the wide sidewalks and most side streets are cobbled. *All* the arterial streets are lined with bike paths, equipped with dedicated stoplights for bicycles and pedestrians, mostly equipped with switches for both cyclists and walkers, and audible signals.
The bike lanes are *very* well-used; apparently one-third of the trips in the city are made by bicycle. Three-wheeled Christiania bike carts are everywhere, carrying everything from flowers to refrigerators, and are especially popular with mothers - children can often be seen peeping out from under the Conestoga-wagon-like canopies many are equipped with. Again, cyclists have the de-facto right-of-way; but by this time I had gotten used to that. (At least, I don't *think* I caused any accidents....) Sidewalks are lined with parked bicycles; most Danish bikes are usually locked twice, with a cable or horseshoe lock, and with a small lock bolted to the bike that places a shackle through the rear-wheels' spokes. No, they have no bike-theft problem....
The major shopping streets are devoted solely to pedestrian traffic, and bikes are walked - a good thing, too, since the streets are full and more than lively. Several subway lines feed the downtown, and are integrated with the train system, and busses and trams are frequent. Again, the transit accommodates bicycles with racks, large doors and "lobbies" in the subway cars, and ramps up and down stairwells at the side of the stairs. The emphasis on transit, bicycles and pedestrians has made the city very livable: good air quality, quiet and safe streets.
The city's buildings follow the Scandinavian pattern: 4- to 6-storey buildings surrounding central courtyards. I saw much brick and stone, but no stick-frame such as in Sweden, except for a few smaller buildings in the countryside. Tile roofs were the most common, though many metal roofs can be seen. Again, the buildings typically had no setback from the sidewalks.
The Danes have some of the most progressive environmental and resource conservation attitudes and initiatives in Europe, according to surveys I've seen. However, the people I met are practical and matter-of-fact about these issues; they are part of everyday life, not the political issue-of-the-day. Having made very ambitious commitments to greenhouse gas reduction, abandoned nuclear power generation entirely, and with a polluted water table due to over-drawing their aquifers, Danes are now facing the necessity of renovating their existing building stock, while preserving the architectural heritage they are so proud of. Several of the housing projects I saw were attempts to resolve this difficult problem.
FDF Huset FDF is a Christian organization similar to the Scouts or Guides, which offers Danish children a chance to build character through public service, "wilderness" experiences with camps and hikes - and for those who live outside Copenhagen, a chance to visit the city. FDF Huset is their Copenhagen headquarters, with both offices and dormitory-like accommodations for groups of children experiencing city life.
Jacob Overby gave me a tour of the building, which recovers and treats rainwater for toilet-flushing and clothes washing. The building dates to the turn of the century, and has 12 low-flush toilets and an efficient washing machine.
Water is collected from the 450 sq.m masonry tile roof; gutters from the four roof slopes are gathered into two vertical rainwater leaders mounted on the exterior, and capped with leaf strainers. The downspouts lead to 8 galvanized-steel tanks in the ground floor, each of 1 cu.m capacity. From the tanks, a pressure-operated pump feeds the (rather elaborate) filtration system: an initial sand filter, then a fabric filter, and finally a cartridge filter, resulting in removal of particles larger than 5 microns. The water fed to the system is metered, as is the auxiliary municipal supply, to allow monitoring of water saved.
Jacob changes the filters every three months or so, and the tanks are cleaned every few years. The resulting water is clear and clean, though not potable (addition of an ultraviolet or ozone treatment system would make it so, I suspect).
Lessons Learned The system collects about 225,000 litres of water a year - the annual consumption of the average Danish family of four, for a cost-savings of 6000 DKr. It cost 125,000 DKr, so it is obvious that it would not be "cost-effective" in North American terms. But the aquifers feeding Copenhagen are becoming increasingly contaminated with urban and rural "non-point source pollution", and growing demands continue to draw it down. To FDF, the system has educational value for their kids, greatly reduces the amount of municipal water they consume - and consequently is worth every kroner.
Initially, the mechanical room housing the tanks, pump and filter had no floor drain, or curb at the door. This presented a problem when cleaning the tanks, and changing filters; once the floor of the adjacent room was flooded due to a piping leak. They have since added a drain and a curb, and have had no problems since.
Godthabsvej 11-13 I had the opportunity of meeting with Niels Herskind and Jens Harild of Byens Tegnestue, an architectural firm specialising in green housing, especially renovations. They designed the very interesting renovation of several apartment blocks in Godthabsvej, Copenhagen, and are one of the leading architects in energy-efficient renovations in Denmark. The Godthabsvej project was financed by the European Union and the Danish Ministry of Energy.
In the Godthabsvej demonstration project, they added glazed balconies to the non-north walls facing the courtyards on several existing 4- and 5- storey buildings. Niels and Jens went to a great deal of effort to optimize designs to reduce first costs and maximize life-cycle energy savings. The renovation's program also included adding penthouse flats in the former storage attics, and washrooms to the existing commercial leases on the ground floor; and connected the building to the district heating plant.
The benefits of the balconies are not just in energy terms, but in the new finish they give to the building envelopes, which often require serious maintenance; with glazed balconies these can then be minimal and esthetic only. The balconies do change the appearance of the buildings however, and are limited in their application, since Copenhagen's planning department forbids changing the appearance of street facades in most districts.
The glazed balcony design they arrived at is very ingenious; they obviously thought long and hard about it. Each balcony stack has an independent structure, in this case of concrete, responding to inflammability requirements of the building code. The unheated balconies are single-glazed, and the window system is sturdy and well thought out. Windows consist of a centre section with self-balancing double-hung windows that open simultaneously up and down; a lower section with an awning window that opens in, and an upper window that opens out; and are equipped with aluminum frames. In Skotteparken, these are installed on five faces of the bay-shaped balcony additions. The windows were developed working closely with a major Danish window manufacturer, and have since been installed on several projects, with good success and no problems.
Warm air from the balcony is drawn into each apartment by the central washroom and kitchen exhausts, similar in operation to those I saw in Goteborg. The windows are deliberately leaky, to ensure a greater leakage area than the door from the balcony to the apartment.
The total cost of the balconies was ~169,000DKr / unit, complete with design, construction, financing, the door to the suite, and 25% (!) VAT; of this 60,000DKr was required by the concrete structure. It resulted in an energy savings calculated to be ~25% (initial energy consumption was unavailable, since the apartments were not individually metered).
Lessons Learned One of the issues I raised with them was that of future residents adding heating to the intentionally unheated balconies, which has often happened as balconies have been enclosed in Vancouver. If the balconies are heated rather than used as buffer spaces that increase solar gain, they typically result in higher energy consumption.
They recognized and have continued working on this issue, and have developed a three-fold response. First, the occupants are educated about the operation of the balconies with a pamphlet that tells them how best to use it for energy-savings. Second, the single-glazing, and large operable window sections signal the occupants over the long term that they are to be used primarily for energy-savings and to extend their useful seasons. Finally, they have developed, and patented, a simple and cheap electronic box that mounts on the wall beside the entrance to the balcony. It's equipped with both indoor and outdoor temperature sensors, and has an LED which signals the residents when an open door to the balcony results in net heat gain to their suite - and flashes when the door is open, and the balcony is losing heat.
Neils and Jens also were unhappy with the costs of the Godthabsvej balconies. In subsequent projects, they've tried wood rather than concrete structures, and found large cost savings. Now they are concentrating on gaining wider regulatory approval for these, focusing on flammability.
Skotteparken While staying in Copenhagen, I also met with Ole Balslev-Oleson of Cenergia Energy Consultants, to talk about their work on energy-efficient housing. Ole kindly took a part of his afternoon to gave me a tour of Skotteparken, which Cenergia helped design. Skotteparken is located near their offices in Ballerup, which seems to have several projects of interest; unfortunately, I only had time for one. Luckily, it had several excellent lessons.
Skotteparken is a green-fields development with 100 units of two-storey, attached housing located in a large semi-rural site; the development won several awards for its' successful integration of solar energy generation, energy and water conservation with modernist Scandinavian architecture. These include the 1995 European Solar Prize, and the United Nations' World Habitat Award; the project is one of the 100 "Best Practice" case studies presented at the Habitat conference.
The area was developed by a cooperative, Ballerup Housing Association (KAP), with help from the EUs Thermie demonstration program and Denmarks' Energy Council, for a mix of market and low-income rental. Architectural design was by Marcussen & Storgard. The homes are served by common recreational facilities, a primary school, and several stores. Ole was especially proud of the lighting systems installed in the school; rooftop light monitors gather sunlight which is distributed to and in the classrooms by light pipes.
Cars are allowed in the development, but are slowed throughout with narrow streets and speed humps; parking is restricted to dedicated surface parking areas. Sidewalks are cobbled to allow rainwater infiltration, and to differentiate them from the roads. Roof and road storm water flows to a small marsh and lake via surface channels, which ensures recharge of the local aquifer with naturally-treated water.
Most of the houses have entrances through a single-glazed, unheated greenhouse, with insulated stone floors designed for storage of the passive solar gains. Each block of terrace housing is equipped with solar hot water heaters (600 sq.m in total, facing between SE and SW). These also act as the roof finish; and are very well-integrated with the architecture. They provide about 60% of the water heating consumption, in a climate very similar to Vancouver or Seattle, with 4-5 months that are largely overcast and wet.... Low-e double-glazed windows with thermally-broken aluminum frames are set into highly-insulated (150-200mm of rock wool) wood-frame walls, finished with brick at the ground floor and stucco above. Large counter-flow heat-recovery ventilators with low-energy fans (built by Temovex, Denmark) save ventilation energy, and serve 4-5 units each.
Water conservation efforts include use of low-consumption fixtures - Danish toilets are even better than the Swedish ones I saw; many have an excellent dual-flush capability. Use of thermostat-controlled, two-step showers and faucets has resulted in average hot water consumption of 66 litres per apartment per day, as compared to the national average of 100-150. Energy-efficient lighting is used throughout the buildings, and low-toxicity paints improve indoor air quality.
The district energy system also benefited from Cenergia's long experience; the combined heat and power plant has an energy management control systems that allows "pulse" operation, to recharge six local storage tanks distributed around the large site (and also heated by the solar collectors) only as necessary. The system has a low-temperature distribution system, with supply temperatures varying from 40 to 60 deg.C., and return temperatures between 30 to 35 deg.C.
Lessons Learned The result is heating and DHW energy consumption less than half that of standard developments in Denmark, at 77 kWh/sq.m per year - but this took three years to attain, tuning systems and the district energy system. Each household averages 1.2 cu.m of water consumption / sq.m of floor space per year. Capital costs were less than 8% higher than standard construction. Solar space and water heating is a large part of the reason for this outstanding performance, even with cloudy, cold and rainy winters.
Walking around the development, my impression was that it was very clean and spare, and the homes do not have excessively large windows, since much of the solar gain is from the greenhouses. The streets are winding and open, and will look much better when the many young deciduous trees that were planted grow up.
Danish planners require 5% of the capital cost of new developments to be devoted to public artworks, and for a Canadian, it seems to be everywhere. Some of the most charming are a series of large (2m high) rabbits, scattered around the open areas near the school.
Havrevangen Ole and I also discussed their experience with Havrevangen, another new terrace-housing development for low-income residents located in Hillerod, a town outside of Copenhagen. Completed in 1994, the project was the result of a Nordic ideas competition in 1991, and combined low-impact, healthy materials with high energy-conservation.
At Havrevangen, the long buildings were oriented east-west for greatest south exposure for both active and passive solar heat. Walls and roof were also highly insulated with rock wool; and low-e double glazing was installed in the windows; walls were finished with cedar siding, and steel roofs were used, uncommon in Denmark.
The wood-frame row-houses were capped with 376 sq.m of active solar collectors made of aluminum profiles, heating the attic air. The heat from the air is transferred to water via heat-exchangers, and fed to in-floor radiant distribution systems for space heating. Each suite is equipped with its own heat meter that measures supplemental heat provided by a low-temperature district energy system. Ventilation energy is reduced with heat recovery ventilators.
Lessons Learned Space and water heating are 44% of typical Danish low-cost housing - without major increases in capital costs. Cenergia and the architects had to nurse the contractors through construction; they were uncomfortable with the experimental air-collector systems and required more support than would otherwise be necessary. The radiant floor heating system has turned out to be very popular with the residents.
Cenergia Energy Consultants Cenergia is located at Ballerup, outside of Copenhagen, and is one of the leading Danish building energy and environmental engineering consulting firms. With 4 partners who originally worked at the Danish Technical University, they combine research with energy consulting and engineering.
Cenergia primarily uses its own simple energy-estimation program, based on a bin-hour algorithm, for most of their projects, but also use COMIS for airflow analysis and SUNCODE or TRNSYS for more detailed and complex energy calculations, especially with active and passive solar elements.
They have also recently released OPTIBUILD for sale to designers, after using and refining it in their own use in several projects. From their brochure, OPTIBUILD is "...a computer program to determine the most economical combination of energy saving measures for a given building. The optimisation is based on achieving the lowest life-cycle cost of the building by trying every possible combination of known energy saving measures."
"Optibuild's economy calculations are based on an advanced net present value method. ... <It> considers direct expenditures such as investment cost, maintenance cost and operation cost... corrected for inflation, interest rates and different lifespans...."
"Space heating calculations are based on the CEN-standard PREN 832 <IGT: a bin-method algorithm>. The energy consumption for domestic hot water and electricity are also calculated. ... The energy-saving measures are collected in a large database that contains detailed information concerning both energy and economy."
"The actual result of an Optibuild calculation is a positive list. The positive list describes what energy saving measures are profitable."
The brochure shows output in several forms; a list of energy-conservation measures (the "positive list"), their details, a graph of annual energy consumption for each, and a graph of CO2 emissions, and total investment cost and simple payback times. It also automatically gives a grade according to Denmark's new energy-certification system for housing.
The underlying database is editable, and would almost certainly have to be, for N. American applications. I don't know if the program includes embodied energy; the brochure seems to deal only with operating energy and water consumption.
It's a Windows-based program, and a demo is available; Cenergia will customize the program (for a fee, no doubt).
Cenergia has extensive experience not only with new developments, but with retrofits as well. In an EU-Thermie/Caddet project in the Copenhagen district, Osterbro, they demonstrated that >50% energy savings can also be gained with renovations. The building now has glazed solar balconies, 200mm of rockwool wall insulation, 300mm in the roof and newly-developed windows with a U-value of 1.24 W/sq.m deg.C. Other energy-saving features include a solar wall with Okalux transparent insulation that preheats ventilation air, which is fed to individual high-efficiency heat-recovery ventilators. Domestic hot water is preheated with 238 sq.m of solar DHW heaters integrated into the roof (east- and west- facing roofs each have 50 sq.m of collector surface area). Low-consumption plumbing fixtures were installed. Passive solar heat is supplemented by a low-temperature district heating system.
Hedebygade The final project I visited in Copenhagen was in the Vesterbro district, and known as "Hedebygade". This is an entire city block of badly-degraded apartment buildings currently being rehabilitated with energy- and resource-conserving elements, and renewable-energy features. Designed by several architects, and with energy/mechanical design of several buildings by Cenergia, I'd heard about it from Ole late in my time in Denmark. But, having already scheduled several meetings in Amsterdam, I wasn't hopeful that I'd be able to see much; but I walked down to see what I could see, the last evening I spent in Copenhagen.
Arriving at sunset, without having been able to contact any of the designers or contractors, I saw that the gate to the construction site was closed, but not locked. With the maxim "It is often easier to ask forgiveness than permission" firmly in mind, I slipped into the common courtyard, and started photographing the deserted buildings in the failing light. While I was trying to get the best camera angle from the steps leading to the construction office, Jens Baelum, construction manager for two of the buildings, stepped out to see just who this character was.
Rather than tossing me out on my ear, Jens fed me coffee, walked me around his buildings, and spent a couple of hours of his far-too-late working day talking about the project. Construction was due to be complete in three weeks, and was running late, and he was hoping to do his inspections, and plan his next day in peace, getting home at 2 in the morning. Instead, he spent some of his precious time with a vagabond engineer from Canada. Now, *that's* hospitality, extraordinary even for the Danes!
The entire project consists of six buildings, all five or six storeys tall, and dating to the (last) turn of the century. Each concentrates on particular approaches: "Prisme" (daylight distribution), "Green Kitchen", "Flora", "Facade", and "Light". All of the buildings incorporated passive solar balconies facing the courtyards; and all but two added insulation, heat-recovery ventilators - and (surprising to me) some PV electricity generation.
A common building in the courtyard will provide storage, separation and composting of recyclables and household waste. The courtyard will also be used for a common play area, vegetable gardens, and vegetation to temper the walls, and has paving materials selected for infiltration and low life-cycle impacts.
The building we spent most time is was Hedebygade 9, which concentrates on solar approaches. What really attracted me to the building was the courtyard wall - the first building-integrated PV systems I'd seen. With energy design by Cenergia, the PV arrays were located below and around passive-solar, unheated balconies, and had a very attractive dark-blue colour that complemented the glass. The panels were mounted in aluminum extrusions, that also supported the balcony glazing.
The apartments are quite comparable to most high-rise market condos in Vancouver - ie, rather small. Two shared stairwells opening to the courtyard serve several stacked suites; the building is five storeys tall. The original wall construction was brick with no insulation; adding the rain-screen PV facade and balconies allowed adding insulation to the outside of the original masonry on the courtyard side. On the street exposure, building codes that protect Copenhagen's architectural heritage prevented any modifications to the walls except restoration, and window replacement with low-e double-glazing in the characteristic "Danish Flag" frame and mullion pattern. The walls and the interior finishes were in the final stages of construction as we toured through the building. Cenergia optimized life-cycle costs, I suspect using Opti-build.
Other renewable & energy-efficient features of the building include: - solar hot water panels integrated into the roof - water-side heat pumps for heating duty only, located in a ground-floor mechanical room - individual counter-flow heat-recovery ventilators for each suite - high levels of internal mass in the walls and floors for heat storage - radiant floor hydronic heating - computer energy-management control systems, intended to be used for monitoring of actual energy consumption.
Lessons Learned Jens has long been involved in energy-efficient construction, and had made his own contributions to the buildings he was working on. He was very comfortable with working with innovative designs; and had few problems installing the PV system, or other features. Most intriguing, he was proud to do this kind of work, and the two buildings were the first contracts for his own company, which was acting as prime contractor.
Unfortunately, Jens didn't have energy-consumption projections ready to hand; he was most generous with his time and photocopier, with plans, names and addresses of architects, engineers, and the developer, and I just didn't have the heart to ask him for more. Many thanks, Jens - your hospitality was above and beyond, and the concern for quality shone in our time together! May your new company have much success - and allow you to get home at a reasonable hour more often, without nosey Canadians interfering in your life.
Wrap-up Hedebygade was the final project I saw in Denmark; the next day I moved on to Amsterdam, where I was *very* impressed with the work being done. As I previously mentioned, my next newsletter will cover my time in the Netherlands; this one is too long as it stands.
In general, I think that the Scandinavians are doing some of the best work in the world on green buildings, especially on housing, both existing and new. This was not reflected in their entries to last years' Green Building Challenge; but I hope that will be corrected next year in Holland; there are many lessons we in North America can learn from them.
With their excellent experience in housing, it's surprising to me that the Danish commercial and institutional designers are still grappling with fundamental issues. Much of the Danish residential expertise seems to result from excellent demonstration projects. They seem to be able to afford these, even though their population and budgets are much smaller than Canada's or the States'.
The EUs' Thermie projects are very successful with their financial and organisational aid to its member states in this field. Their dual focus on demonstration projects with enhanced performance with little or no increase in capital cost; combined with funding of more experimental approaches not yet generally affordable, seems to be working well. Their publications are excellent, and must be very useful in getting the word out to mainstream designers.
Nowhere I've been to date has there been much private-sector R&D expenditure on building construction; I suspect that the design and construction industries have margins too small, and have too much cut-throat competition, to allow these crucial investments. Unless governments take on the role that the private sector seems incapable of, I suspect that we in North America will not make much progress in reducing our building stock's ecological and resource demands.
What seems to work best is government-funded building science research; funding of incremental costs of demonstration projects that form concrete examples of well-proven, low capital-cost approaches; and larger funding of more advanced technologies. When combined with a hard-nosed, practical focus on simple, long-lasting solutions and keeping construction costs low, the British and Scandinavians are doing cutting-edge work.
The Scandinavian (and the Dutch) research communities seem to be much better at getting that knowledge passed on to residential designers and builders than we in Canada are. In the UK, that role is being played (on the commercial side) by first-class designers like Rogers, Foster, Ove Arup and Battle McCarthy, but on the residential side there seems to be much less interest in the private sector. I'm still pondering this conundrum; and may muse a little more in future posts.
In the meantime, I hope that these newsletters have some value to you, not least in communicating the inspiration I've had. If nothing else, they're probably good bedtime readingzzzzzzzz....
Warm regards, Ian Theaker
- - -- --- Newsletter #4a - Netherlands follows ----- Greetings from Phuket!
Ian Theaker here, again writing from Thailand. This my fourth post, covering my time in the Netherlands; you should have recently received my last one, which related my experiences in Sweden and Denmark. Originally I was going to send one letter on Northern Europe, but I decided to split them up; it was getting ridiculously long. In fact, I had to split this post on the Netherlands into two - That's what you get when you don't have a good editor....
I'm started writing all of these in Bangkok; and I'm wrapping up this one at Karon, a beach on Phuket island on the southeast coast. (Pronounced "poo ket", for the prurient-minded among you....) While in the vortex of Bangkok, I recharged my batteries; met with building scientists and energy researchers; rattled the bars of Vancouver's City Council on Southeast False Creek; and started sorting out contract details of some (paid!) writing I'm doing - a User's Guide for our City of Santa Monica Guidelines. To my surprise, Thailand has pretty good email access, far better than I was able to get through 'net cafes in Amsterdam. Even in here in Phuket, 'net access so far (my second day as I write) seems excellent. (Now, if only the trans-Pacific ATM lines were reliable....) So I'm staying here to enjoy the clean - and squeaky! - beaches on the Andaman sea, and to write, until I send off my first draft of a User's Guide for Santa Monica.
This is my first time in Southeast Asia, and I've been exploring Bangkok and Vientiane, Laos. It's been 'an experience' - that crude and inadequate description for fast and rude learning. In many ways, Thailand is exactly what I've been working for many years to ensure Vancouver (and Santa Monica) avoids - incredibly polluted from the explosion of cars, motorcycles and diesel busses; with armies of desperately poor people ignored by those far more concerned with acquiring the next Mercedes; and with social, economic and political gulfs that make me shudder. Laos is another story altogether....
The Thai and the Lao people have helped ease my transition to Asia tremendously - and my culture shock is very real. This is the first time I've really run across a language barrier; most Europeans (and for that matter, Thais and Lao) have been very patient and helpful with this essentially-unilingual Canuck. (I now have a severe envy for the multi-tongued.) For the first time since childhood, on these travels I've often felt both inarticulate and illiterate. My half-remembered high-school French, and miscellaneous curses in Cantonese and Mandarin, just don't cut it for real communication.
One reason I moved on, without visiting Germany as well, is that my travel/accommodation budget for Europe was obviously an exercise in wishful thinking - a real problem on a trip I'm financing myself. Here in Thailand, I can afford to take my time writing in the breezes, on the roof of a hotel with a pool, 'net access in the lobby, exercise facilities and my own private room. Two weeks here costs less than a day and a hostel bed in the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden - and the cost of London doesn't bear thinking about.
After initial moments of near-despair after arriving in Bangkok, I've since found many reasons for hope. Thailand is noisy, chaotic, hot and humid; Bangkok's traffic jams must be seen to be believed; both the air and the water are GROSSLY polluted, and you can get *anything*, or anything done to anybody, here - for a price. (The town has a serious edge that somehow, perversely, appeals to me.)
But, the people are warm and helpful, the food is excellent (if you like *hot*), the costs are low. More, there seems to be a growing awareness of environmental issues, and a growing resolve to deal with them. And I've found quite a few talented and energetic people that are working hard to make that happen.
However, all things in their proper order; this letter is about the people I met and places I saw in Amsterdam and its environs. You'll have to stay tuned for more Asia news.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands I spent most of my week in the Netherlands in Amsterdam, one of the best cities I've ever enjoyed. The Dutch say that Rotterdam is the place to make one's living, and Amsterdam is the place to spend it. It's a party town, with a night-life that doesn't stop - it felt at times as if half the population of young travellers in the world (especially British lager-louts) were there to drink cheap beer, dance to techno, frequent the red-light district, hang out in coffee houses serving more hashish than cafe-au-lait, and fall into the canals.
I entered Amsterdam by train from Copenhagen, on my (just-expired) Eurailpass. (I discovered this en-route - which lead to some tense moments as conductors checked my ticket, not too thoroughly, thank the Goddess.) This meant I arrived late at night at the central train station, which apparently rivals New Yorks' Port Authority for being the worlds' worst collection of thieves, pimps, dealers and touts imaginable. After escaping their clutches on the adjacent subway, and without a good map (the VVV tourist office was closed), I lugged my 30 kilos of junk the remaining two kilometers to the Arena hostel.
(Some of the best advice I've ever had: take half as much stuff and twice as much money. The first part I followed pretty well, until I finally decided, after much waffling, to bring my laptop. *That* blew my weight budget by another 6 kilos, what with plug adaptors, surge suppressor, disks, CDs, etc. On the whole, it was a good choice - but that's not to say I don't curse the damn thing when I'm carrying two heavy hand bags AND my pack to the first hotel in a new town....)
As previously mentioned, while in Amsterdam I stayed in the Arena hostel, of the Doors fame; apparently it was a favourite of Jim and the boys. Among its advantages was a huge disco facing the courtyard, open till four, where more English was spoken than Dutch. In fact, this was one of the best things about Netherlands hospitality for an illiterate like me; *everyone* seems to speak English fluently, and to be able to switch effortlessly from one language to another. (An intensely humbling experience....)
The next day, I took the number 20 tram around the city, as a first orientation. It didn't help much - for the first two days, I spent most of my time thoroughly lost.
Typically, my first move exploring an new city is to acquire an excellent map, and set out on foot to get a feel for the major neighborhoods and regions of the central part of town. It usually works pretty well - but was an utter failure in Amsterdam. It took me two days to figure out what I was doing wrong: unconsciously, I had the North American grid development pattern ingrained, and figured that if you take four right turns, you'll end up where you started. WRONG!
The secret to navigating Amsterdam, I found, is the canals and the river; they follow a spider web pattern radiating from, and surrounding the central train station. Once I'd memorized the canals, and followed the right ones, life became much easier.
Renting a bike for the week was one of the best moves I could make; by the end of my stay I was making great time on the cobbled roads that flank the canals all over town. Several shops rent them to tourists; I got a good deal on very well-maintained city commuter bike with dual locks, fore and aft lights, and a wonderfully musical bell. All of the major streets have bike lanes, and again, the cobbled smaller streets slowed bike traffic so I never felt threatened. As in Copenhagen, the de-facto right of way seems to go to the cyclists.
The City's public transportation system is *excellent*. Trams run frequently and late everywhere, and connect very well with the trains and subway. These also allow passengers to bring bicycles aboard, with large lobbies on several cars of each train. Stairs at most stations are equipped with 20cm wide steel channels - ramps that allow you to push your bike up, instead of carrying it.
The city has a cultural wealth we North Americans can only envy. I spent a wonderful day at the Rijksmuseet, where I discovered for the first time the glories of the Netherlands' 'Golden Age' in the Renaissance. Not just the Rembrandt, but especially the still-lives by others awe me; the Dutch painters brought perspective and brush technique to levels never seen before or since, in my limited, technically-focused education. These are paintings that cannot be done justice in reproductions; I remember one of a luscious Dutch breakfast, that made me want to gorge on the glistening oysters, and stroke the rabbit's fur....
The Van Gogh museum, as well, was a revelation. Most of my experience with Van Gogh is that of any semi-literate North American: sunflowers, starry nights, small, spare bedrooms, wheat fields with crows - boring because of their ubiquity. The paintings themselves - the force and surety of the brushstrokes, the colours that mix subtlety and violence! The museum not only features Van Gogh, but has a sampling of his contemporaries: and that exhibit brought home to me most vividly just how much his work broke the limits of his peers.
The Van Gogh Museum itself dominates the square, in sharp counterpoint to the baroque Rijksmuseum which ends it. A luscious curvilinear building of bold colours and shapes, it gives drama and life to the huge open area, especially at night, when it is lit with neon and floods. The roof of one of the buildings forms an amphitheater seating several thousands, each with an excellent view of the stage.
Here I lucked out; while in Amsterdam they were holding a days-long celebration of Dutch writing and culture, all around the Museum square. In the surrounding streets, hundreds of stalls of Dutch publishers held millions of books - and from the teeming crowds, it was obvious that they did not lack for patrons. And each night, five or more public stages hosted musicians playing everything from opera to Caribbean drums to jazz guitar to 70's disco to pop-schlock - all for free. The Dutch maturity about alcohol was in full evidence: young students with backpacks full of Heineken wandered the crowds, dispensing good beer at cheap prices to any who wanted it - and in the entire time I was there, I didn't see *one* unpleasant incident, or mean drunk. As you might imagine, I had an excellent time.
One thing that did disappoint me with Amsterdam was the relative poverty of the live club music scene. It seems that tape-wind techno-drivel and rap/hip-hop have driven out the jazz, rock and roll, Latino and African music that appeals more to my ears. Luckily, the classics and opera roll on, and seem unlikely to ever disappear from the city. (Boy, I sound more like my father every day - substitute "rock and roll" for "techno", and you'd have his spiel....) One night, I *did* follow a resounding syncopation echoing down the streets, to a second-floor venue that resembled a small-town Legion hall; there I found a mostly black party bouncing to a wonderful mixed-race parade band, drumming and dancing to exhaustion. Perhaps - maybe - I just didn't stay long enough to find the scene? Another excellent excuse to return!
A major part of my enchantment with Amsterdam is its architecture. While I found many of the old large public buildings rather florid and pompous for my taste, the canal houses are a true delight. They follow a characteristic - even strict - form: very narrow, typically three windows across; brick or stone, with stone window and door lintels; four to six stories tall; no separation from neighbouring buildings; and doors opening to stoops leading directly to the street.
But, the variations in the details! Bay windows, bow windows, square windows; romanesque and gothic arches; coves, architraves, decorated ribbons, and false roof fronts of brick, stucco, terra cotta and stone - each is unique, and most are a mouthwatering confection. The ground floors typically house retail shops, with offices (sometimes) and homes (seemingly always) above: the best examples of mixed-use I've seen, and these are not large buildings.
The rigid form hasn't limited good modern design, either; one of my favourites wouldn't look out of place in downtown Tokyo, with its mix of spare lines, bright colours highlighted by neon, and dissonant geometry. Another one that comes to mind has a tremendous, swooping Art Nouveau beech window frame on the ground floor, echoed by high-relief plaster and terracotta vine/leaf swirls that leads the eye up the wall to the roof.
Almost all of the canal houses have one tremendously practical feature - a hook mounted on a projecting cantilevered beam at the centre of the roof, to allow bulky furniture and goods to be lifted by rope and pulley to enter via the windows. The lots are so narrow (apparently, they were taxed by frontage, not floor area), that the stairwells just wouldn't allow large objects to be carried up them. These beams and hooks seem to have offered their designers license for expression - they tend to be exuberant in their curves and coves.
Not only are they equipped with cranes, but many of the building fronts slope inward to the streets as they rise, to help ensure that lifted objects don't collide with the walls while they rise. This tends to have an unnerving visual effect when walking down the streets; the world seems to lean in on you....
And, the fact that many of these buildings are distinctly crooked after centuries of settling into the Amsterdam mud lends itself to a slight spatial dislocation for passersby. One building I just had to photograph has three distinct changes in direction up the one corner.... The fact that they were constructed with lime mortar has ensured that the buildings are still (mostly) structurally sound; the lime mix, unlike modern cement-based mortars, slowly adjusts to differential settlement, naturally filling in cracks and holding the bricks and stones in place. These oddities helped me put Anton Albert's modern work in context (more about this later.)
All in all, I had a *wonderful* time in Amsterdam; but between recreation, sightseeing, meetings with designers and researchers and tours of buildings, I didn't get much sleep - which might help explain my near-collapse soon after arriving in Bangkok.
- Meeting with Jaap Kortman, IVAM Environmental Research - IVAM Environmental Research, a consulting and research firm associated with the University of Amsterdam, has long been a European leader in environmental issues, not just of buildings but of industry in general. I started my "studies" in Amsterdam with a meeting with Jaap Kortman, Programme Manager of their Sustainable Building division.
IVAM (and W/E Consultants, discussed later) have been especially important in the emerging field of life-cycle assessment (LCA) of buildings. Their computer tool, EcoQuantum, is one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive LCA tools available, with an extensive database of European building construction products and processes.
The Europeans are global leaders in building LCA. The field originated largely in response to product labelling required in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, to inform consumers of the environmental effects of their purchases. In the past decade, the same techniques and body of knowledge have been extended to buildings.
(Readers should note that I am definitely *not* an expert in building LCA; my specialty is in reducing the energy consumption of buildings. I've had a limited exposure to LCAs through colleagues and my own work. These brief notes are *certain* to have errors and mistaken impressions. For real experts, turn to Barbara Lippiat of the US-NIST; Asa Jonsson of Chalmers University, Goteborg; Peter Fraanje of IVAM; or Niklaus Kohler of Karlsruhe University. These people have spent a good chunk of their lives creating and working on the field of building LCAs - to the gratitude and relief of dumb engineers like me.)
EcoQuantum gives the European user as accurate a summary of the environmental, resource and health impacts of a building, over its entire lifecycle, as is currently possible. LCA tools do this by tying together several databases: - an inventory of the products & materials used in a buildings' construction - the energy and materials used during its operation - the inputs and outputs (I/Os) of the processes of extraction, manufacturing, transporting and eventually salvaging, reusing and recycling of building products and their materials. These "I/O tables" are specific to the product, and where these processes occur. Inputs include types and amount of materials and energy; outputs include types and amount of air, soil and water pollutants released - used to estimate the ecological impacts of extracting resources, and releasing pollutants.
Essentially, an LCA tool models the entire network of industrial and transportation processes of materials used in and by a building; characterizes and puts numbers to their mass flows for these processes; and uses these to quantify the buildings' ecological and health effects. This is rather like building a computer model of the entire economy, the ecology of a given area, up to and including the entire world; and the physiological effects of toxics released by the building. (EcoQuantum includes data on more than 700 industrial processes!) A mammoth task, fraught with uncertainty and continually running up against the limits of our current knowledge; and IMHO what economists *should* be doing - but few are.
In my experience, three considerations determine the value of an LCA program to a building designer: - ease of inputting the inventory of materials used in a building - quality, area and comprehensiveness of its I/O data - knowledge of ecological and health impacts of resource extraction and pollution
EcoQuantum is one of the best in several ways: - it has one of the most comprehensive I/O databases around, IVAMs, covering Europe and many global industries - it is a leader in incorporating current knowledge of ecological impacts, now extending to "micro-pollutants" - pollutants like dioxins, that are very small in quantity, but with very large ecological effects - it is one of the first to start to include health effects of pollutant releases, both inside and outside the building.
You may have noticed the qualifier "Europe" in the sentences above. Unfortunately, EcoQuantum is of limited use in North America, since the current product and I/O databases are those of the EU, not the North American economy and ecology. Statistics Canada and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US (US-NIST) are both working on North American databases; and Barbara Lippiat at NIST recently released BEES, a building LCA tool with US data.
According to Japp Kortman, current and future work on EcoQuantum development is focusing on two important areas: - links to CAD program databases, to ease the task of inputting the building material inventory, and - extension to towns and cities, to aid in planning efforts.
So, how do building LCAs help the typical concerned architect or building engineer, who can't afford either the time or the money to do a full LCA?
At the moment, their primary use is in creating selection guides, like the AIAs Environmental Resource Guide, the BREs ENVEST, or the Dutch Handbook for Sustainable Building, to help designers select less environmentally-damaging construction materials or processes. With current buildings, reducing the operating energy is still the most important factor, which is why I focus on this area - a study by Ray Cole and David Rousseau showed that the operating energy used by most typical buildings today is almost seven times the impacts embodied in their building materials.
However, as buildings consume less energy, the importance of their materials grows in relative importance. Further, there are some materials whose scarcity, ecological or health impacts are critical in and of themselves, regardless of their embodied energy; rare tropical hardwoods, CFCs, PCB-laden transformer fluids, and asbestos are a few examples.
Other activities of IVAM include consulting and research into: - LCA for industries including food commodities, electronics and other sectors, including governments. They have particular expertise in data quality assessment and verification; produce and sell a commercial database on European LCA information; and provide training in LCA. - Cleaner manufacturing: minimising or eliminating waste and emissions of manufacturing and industrial processes at the source, by demonstration projects, policy development and training. They have expertise in "Cleaner Production" auditing methods, developed with the Netherlands PRISMA project in the late 80s, and now being applied world-wide. - Research and consulting into quality of life and the environment: social acceptability of project implementation in neighborhoods, districts and recreational areas, as well as buildings; design and implementation of sustainable buildings; and development of policy instruments. - Energy efficiency and renewable energy: monitoring social acceptance of wind and PV energy projects, by analysing and monitoring performance, decision-making processes, and institutional barriers. - Technology transfer, especially to developing nations. IVAM works with the World Bank, the UN and the EU, with projects in India, China, Poland, Swaziland and the Czech Republic.
- Meeting with Chiel Boonstra, W/E Consultants sustainable building, Gouda - After a few days cycling and sightseeing in Amsterdam, I took the train to Gouda to speak to Chiel Boonstra, a director and one of the principals of W/E Consultants. Chiel has long been active in the green building field in the Netherlands, with many accomplishments to be proud of. As well, he is currently serving as Chair of the Program Committee for the upcoming Sustainable Building 2000 (SB 2000) conference, successor to the Green Building Challenge 1998 conference in Vancouver last October.
W/E Consultants was originally founded as the Woon/Energie Foundation in 1979, and is still a non-profit organization. Since expanding their original focus on research and policy development, they have also been aiding green building design and policy-formation, by consulting, creating and using a wide variety of computer design tools; creating design guides and codes of practice and holding workshops to transfer knowledge to professionals; as well as monitoring and evaluating building performance. They work extensively with IVAM; one of their most valuable contributions has been in creating EcoQuantum.
For the energy modellers reading this letter: W/E uses several energy simulation programs, including TRNSYS and TSBI. They also developed the standard tool used in the Netherlands for (code-required) energy-ratings for housing, EPC. For natural ventilation and cooling design, they use a airflow network model developed in-house, TSB13, and climate chambers for flow visualization.
About half of their practice currently comes from private-sector clients, much of it design consulting; the balance of their work is research and consulting for the Netherlands and EU government bodies. The Netherlands is expected to have 80% of its new buildings meeting basic standards for sustainability; and I have no doubt that W/E and Chiel will continue to play a major role in making that happen. However, Chiel feels that the nation will require even more effort to meet its Kyoto greenhouse gas emission targets.
Sustainable Building 2000 (SB 2000) In many ways, the buildings presented at GBC 1998 inspired the route I've taken on this sabbatical; and it certainly provided me with contacts and buildings to survey. As a result, I looked forward to speaking to Chiel, and to get another, more detailed, perspective on the state of the art of ecologically-responsive building design in Europe. Heading up the Program Committee gives him a unique position for an overview.
SB2000 will be held in Maastricht the 22-25 of October, 2000. Jointly held by CIB W-100 (Buildings and the Environment), and Natural Resources Canada's GBC 2000 (Green Building Challenge), it is being sponsored by the Netherlands NOVEM (Agency for Energy and the Environment) and VROM (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment). As a result, it promises to be even more valuable: not only will building designs from 17+ participating national teams be showcased, with a common framework for assessing their environmental performance; but the findings of CIB W-100 on issues and technologies of building rating and labelling systems, will be presented.
More information on SB2000 can be found at www.novem.nl/sb2000, or by email at SB2000@novem.nl I strongly recommend attending, if you possibly can; it promises to be one of the best learning opportunities available.
Netherlands "Handbook for Sustainable Building" Chiel is one of three authors of the Handbook for Sustainable Building, an excellent Dutch example of a materials selection guide that presents data in a usable form for time-pressed designers. (The other two authors are David Anink and John Mak.) Rather than burden the reader with too much information, the Handbook has relative rankings of resource and ecological performance of building materials, according to an "Environmental Preference Method" based on EcoQuantum LCA analyses, and qualitative data.
With the Environmental Preference Method, information on four different materials are presented for a given building component, with relative rankings in several categories: - scarcity of the raw materials - ecological damage from resource extraction - energy consumption from all stages of the life-cycle (including transportation) - water consumption - noise pollution and odours - air pollutant emissions, including ozone-depleting substances, acid-rain precursors and climate-change pollutants such as CO2 - health effects - disaster risk - repairability and reusability - waste generation
One of the materials is *not* recommended, as being the worst option in environmental and resource terms. As you might imagine, this has resulted in complaints from several suppliers and manufacturers. To the credit of IVAM and W/E, these have NOT resulted in watering down the recommendations, but the input has on occasion helped to correct minor factual errors. An example of objectivity, honesty and intellectual courage I'd love to see followed more often in North America....
Currently, more than half the municipalities and housing associations in the Netherlands use the Handbook, including the City of Amsterdam. Updated regularly, there have now been four Dutch-language editions since the first in 1991, the latest in 1997. The 2nd edition of the English version of the Handbook for Sustainable Building was published in 1998, and is available from James & James Science Publishers, London.
Enschede Tax Office Chiel provided me with a great deal of information on two design projects W/E was involved in: the Enschede Tax Office, and a joint project with Studio A4 architects, and the Municipality of Szczecin (Poland) Municipal Renovation Team on several existing apartment blocks.
The Enschede building, completed in 1996 for the Netherlands Building Agency, the Rijksgebouwendienst, shows that the English are not alone in their approach to daylighted, naturally-ventilated and cooled office buildings. A 4300sq.m, six-storey concrete building with cellular offices flanking a full-height central atrium, it has five storeys of offices over a bicycle and auto garage at grade. The block-finished rectangular building has its long elevations facing north and south, and is located in the centre of the city - with an urban areas' low wind speeds, and ambient noise and air pollution from cars and the adjacent rail line.
As in several of the UK designs I looked at, the natural ventilation design has exposed concrete ceilings that act as a cold storage medium in a night-ventilation strategy. However, the design in the Enschede building has several unique details: - two pressure-independent, user-adjustable inlet vents are located in the wall of each office near the ceiling, and provide a constant flow of air regardless of wind speed (operable windows are also installed) - acoustic lining in these inlets reduces transmitted noise from the outdoors - acoustically-lined transfer ducts from the offices to the atrium are located above the corridor ceilings, preventing cross-talk - six towers draw air into the offices, and exhaust it from the top of the atrium.
During design, an environmental chamber was used to explore airflow patterns within the offices, and to locate the air inlets. The placement high on the walls makes the air jet from the inlet vents hug the ceiling, enhancing heat transfer to the concrete, and preventing drafts, since the outdoor air is thoroughly mixed with room air before it reaches the lower occupied zone. The inlet and outlet locations were tweaked to eliminate "dead corners" with little airflow.
W/E used their TSB13 simulation program to evaluate optimal energy-conserving strategies, and found a night cooling strategy with 4 air changes per hour (ACH) to be the most effective for the projected internal gains of 37 W/sq.m. Tracer gas studies after construction showed the actual airflow to be 3.75 ACH - a testament to the performance of the unpowered inlets. As well, the design intent of 100% outdoor air was confirmed to be achieved, with less than 4% of the air entering the office recirculated from the building, and CO2 levels typically between 300 and 600ppm.
Post-occupancy surveys revealed that cold draughts were reduced to average occurrences of fewer than 1 day/week, compared to 1-2 days/week typical of the artificially air-conditioned building the people previously inhabited. Indoor air quality was also significantly improved, and occupants reported very high satisfaction, especially with the opportunity to control their own indoor environments - though there were a few complaints of diesel exhaust odours from the nearby trains.
A few features of the daylighting design (aided by RADIANCE simulations) are also of note: - office windows are divided into a vision section at eye-level and an upper daylight section, separated by an internal light-shelf that reduces glare, bounces natural light deeper in the room, and mounts high-frequency gas discharge luminaires - vision window sections on the south elevation are shaded with external venetion blinds - excellent glazing, with solar transmission of 38% and visible light transmission of 65%, is installed - 3m floor to floor heights aid deep daylight penetration - a partial sloped dropped ceiling is located at the middle of each office, to aid daylight distribution in the 3m deep rooms. It has a large gap that allows incoming air to maintain contact with the concrete ceiling; this dropped ceiling also mounts electric luminaires. - the HFGD electric lights are electronically ballasted and dimmed to a 30% minimum, and maintain 500 lux at desk level.
The building also incorporates a roof-mounted PV array, rainwater collection, materials selected using the Environmental Preference method - and several nesting boxes for birds.
Lessons Learned First, the design works *very* well - in fact, better than targeted. Part of this is due to occupancy that was slightly lower than expected, but this was found to have only a small effect on the measured performance.
Primary energy use was measured at 141 kWh/sq.m of floor area, compared to 342 for a typical reference building, and the 165 targetted, a reduction of 59%(!). CO2 emissions were reduced by 62%, NOx by 80% and SO2 by 82%. Annual site lighting energy was only 2.5 kWh/sq.m, 37.5% below its target; total electricity consumption was 15.7 kWh/sq.m, compared to the more typical 90.7 and the target of 32.7.
Fans installed in the atrium stacks to supplement stack and wind flow operated only when peak temperatures coincided with low windspeeds: in May, July and August of 1997, a particularly hot year. The design natural ventilation airflow of 100 cu.m/hour was maintained more than 90% of the time.
The proof of the pudding also shows in occupant surveys: absenteeism was reduced by 25-30%; acoustic complaints by 25%, and building-related health complaints by *half*. The occupants are particularly happy with their individual ventilation control, the solar shading, lighting systems and lack of glare in their workspaces.
- Overview of Netherlands Sustainable Building Policy Initiatives - Chiel and I also discussed the current state of the sustainable building and planning fields in the Netherlands, and how it developed. He also provided me with a pre-print of a paper he and Marjo Knapen will soon be publishing. Between the two, I was very impressed (and envy) the focused, pragmatic approach that the Dutch have taken.
The Environmental Policy Plan (NMP) has guided Netherlands public policy since 1989, placing it third(!) on government priorities. To quote the Dutch Minister for the Environment in 1989,"The environment is in a very critical condition. In spite of improvements in some areas, the situation is continuing to deteriorate. Further postponement of drastic measures is unjustified. Radical decisions which will affect everyone are therefore unavoidable. The coming years will be characterised by a hard struggle; and it is not only the improvement of the quality of the environment which will be at stake here, but ultimately the continued existence of mankind." Oh, to hear this from a Canadian Minister....
Revised and extended in 1990, the new NMP+ intensified their commitment to reducing CO2 and acid rain pollution, solid waste generation; and higher waste reuse. NMP+ added a specific Annex on sustainable building, and made the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment responsible for implementing it. The Annex focuses on three policies: life-cycle management, energy-efficiency, and quality improvement. It set a target for energy conservation by space-heating of buildings of 23% from a 1989 baseline; and emphasized more renewable energy use.
The NMP was the result of a collaborative political process. To follow through with the NMP, the Ministry created its first sustainable building "Action Plan" in 1995, outlining specific efforts for a two-year time horizon; one of the critical elements they recognized was that the government has the prime responsibility to ensure that its policy mandate moves forward, and thus has a responsibility to motivate, facilitate, monitor the process, and adapt it as necessary. It formalized a consultation procedure to ensure that all parties (industry, citizens and governments) are involved in creating ways to implement policy goals.
Further, it set forth several principles to aid further action: - a common understanding of sustainable building is required; and a general information centre created to provide knowledge on approaches and technique to all involved parties. - application is the critical step, in several sectors: new buildings; existing buildings; renovations and repairs by home- and building-owners; and in demonstration projects and examples. - principles of sustainability should be integrated into existing plans, regulations and fiscal instruments - sustainability should be a normal part of the educational system; and this requires investment in building science research, and environmental assessment tools.
One of the goals of the NMP+ is to increase production of renewable energy to 10% by 2010 - a target jointly arrived at by utility companies, industry and government.
To create a forum for cross-sectoral discussions, the Environmental Council for the Construction Industry was founded in 1989. It brings together governments and the construction industry, including trade unions - some 17 non-governmental organizations. Supported by research from NOVEM and SEV (government research institutions for energy efficiency and housing, respectively), and SBR, an industry-funded building science research institute, the Council created 15 targets, both quantitative and qualitative, divided into six categories: - Reducing scarce raw material use - Promoting reuse of existing materials - Promoting use of renewable materials - Reducing the volume of solid waste, and separate collection of construction waste - Ending use of materials with severe environmental impacts; and phasing out use of materials with unsatisfactory environmental impacts - Conserving energy use by buildings, particularly in space heating and hot water.
The consultation process had remarkable success: the targets were formally adopted not just by the government, but management committees of the represented NGOs, in their "Plan for Sustainable Building".
Having a bad taste in my mouth after serving as the AEE-BCs representative on the BC Technical Committee for Canada's National Energy Code for Buildings, I suspect there's a very valuable story in the Environmental Council's experience for some grad student - especially and for government policy analysts responsible for implementing Canada's Kyoto commitments.
Building Energy Performance Standard There are some very concrete results of these consultations and Action Plans (the first was adjusted after their initial experience). These include a national Energy Performance standard (EP), enforced by municipalities, that sets a maximum energy consumption for buildings. The Netherlands EP is based on energy consumption, floor area and conditioned-envelope area; building energy includes space and water heating, lighting and ventilation. Calculations of energy consumption can be done with several computer tools, including EPC, created by W/E sustainable building. As well, a design guide with examples and guidelines was jointly produced by W/E and NOVEM.
The EP has been lowered in 1998, from the initial standard set in its introduction in 1996, and a further reduction is set for 2000. It is aimed at a 30% reduction compared to 1995 building regulations - a far cry from Canada's stalled NECB effort, which has yet to be widely adopted - and was a step *backward* from existing practice in BC.
Not only has the Netherlands instituted firm energy performance standards, it has been working on harmonizing building and planning regulations of municipalities and building codes. A model "Set of Measures for Sustainable Building" for housing was created, that local authorities can adopt; currently they are also being developed for other building types, renovations and urban planning. As in our Santa Monica Guidelines, they include both mandatory measures applied to any project, and recommendations that can be used when they are appropriate to the site and the project. Chiel was a little frustrated with progress in local adoption of the Measures; apparently some building product manufacturers have been obstructing the consensus process. (I can empathize - it echoes my NECB experience....)
Demonstration Projects NOVEM and SEV jointly run a program that creates demonstration buildings that show better environmental and resource performance in a most concrete manner. The purpose is to disseminate concepts and approaches in a convincing way to both the public and design professionals. They often collaborate with EU and IEA efforts, such as THERMIE's Solar Urban New Housing (SUNH), Solar Housing through Innovation for the Natural Environment (SHINE), the European Housing Ecology Network (EHEN), Renewable Energy Strategies and Technology Applications for Regenerating Towns (RE Start) and Energy Comfort 2000 (EC2000). (The European Commissions' DG XVII for Energy tends to over-scratch the acronym itch common to bureacrats - and engineers....) THERMIE has an excellent website and many publications on these projects, for those who'd like to know more.
Over 100 demonstration building projects were funded by NOVEM and SEV in just two years, 1996 and 1997 - probably more than the US and Canada combined in the same decade. Sigh....
Fiscal Incentives for Better Buildings The Netherlands is also providing incentives for better buildings in a form that tends to grab attention - cold, hard cash.
A "Green Investment Scheme" provides financing capital for buildings that satisfy a certification system, adjusted periodically to raise the bar and ensure that the fund doesn't run dry. A similar program helps stimulate introduction of new building materials, construction and demolition processes, and technical innovation.
Renewable energy technologies, such as solar hot water heaters, photovoltaics and heat pumps are promoted with both national and local subsidies.
- - -- --- Newsletter #4a - Netherlands ends ----- - - -- --- see Newsletter #4b - Netherlands for continuation -----
Here's the second part of my letter covering my time in the Netherlands. You'll have to stay tuned to find out about travels in Asia.
Hope you enjoy them! Ian Theaker
- - -- --- Newsletter #4b - Netherlands follows ----- - - -- --- continued from Newsletter #4a - Netherlands -----
- Meeting with Peter Fraanje, IVAM Environmental Research - David Rousseau, my dear friend and colleague on both BEPAC and our Santa Monica work, recommended that I speak with Peter Fraanje, who has been doing very interesting research into sustainable building materials for years. I'm very glad I did; we had an excellent afternoon where he filled me in further on his work at IVAM as Building & Environment project manager. He's been looking closely at how materials can be used more efficiently, to reduce their environmental impact over their life-cycles; and to encourage greater use of renewable materials in the the Netherlands.
Of particular interest to Canadians is the movement of Dutch construction toward greater use of wood. This is now government policy (which Peter helped form); one goal of the "Plan for Sustainable Building" is to increase use of sustainably-harvested wood by 20% by 2000, as compared to 1990 levels. The reason for this is that several European studies - including an influential 1996 report by Eco-logica in Scotland - indicate that wood construction is better over the life-cycle than masonry or concrete. Several advantages underlie this assessment: wood is a renewable resource; it has low modified energy and pollution content; it is easily salvaged and recycled; and with proper design, construction and maintenance it has a long service life. (The last point was obviously missed in the construction of many 80s BC Coast condominiums....)
At the moment, typical wall construction in Netherlands single-family dwellings is double-wythe brick or concrete, with a 10cm cavity filled with 8cm of insulation, typically fibreglass or rock wool. With tightening energy standards, the insulation levels - and thus wall thickness will increase. This also tends to encourage more use of stud-wall construction, which can easily incorporate more insulation. (It is called "timber-frame" in Europe, a common source of confusion in cross-Atlantic conversations. In North America, the term is reserved for large-dimension wood structures.)
In his PhD thesis, Peter identified several building assemblies that could benefit from increased wood use in Dutch single-family buildings. The following list includes Peter's estimates of the current market share of wood in the Dutch SFD market in brackets: - foundation piles (1-5%) - floor structural beams (1-2%) - flooring finishes (essentially none, though wood floors are popular, and a very little is currently being resawn from salvaged structural timbers) - wall and parapet finishes and structures (1.5% & 50% respectively) - non-structural partition walls (no data) - ceiling finishes (no data) - roof structures, especially re-emphasizing roof eaves (90% of sloping roofs) - windows and doors (90%, of which 87% is hardwood - which is dropping due to campaigns against use of scarce and unsustainably-harvested woods) - insulation (no data)
Peter showed that there is need for a greater market share for wood-framed construction, especially in single-family houses, to meet the 2000 target. 9000 to 10,000 more single-family wood-frame houses annually will be required to meet the goal, each with an average of about 12 cu.m of wood each. Interestingly, Peter estimates that roughly 80% of the wood-framed house market is currently being served by pre-fab construction, rather than being site-built.
Peter noted that the Netherlands' goal is not going to be fulfilled only with newly-harvested wood; nor does it mean that conventionally unsustainably-harvested wood will be in greater demand. One of his papers indicates that two-thirds of even the Netherlands' expanded gross consumption of wood can be filled by more efficient initial use, and expanded recycling efforts.
Peter greatly emphasizes the role of the "quality cascade" in reuse and recycling of construction products, and has done much research on more resource-efficient wood construction. The idea of the quality cascade is to get as much value from a resource as possible, by reusing it to make successive products, each conserving the quality of its raw material. For each product, the raw material should be carefully selected for the quality appropriate for its' task - no greater; product should be designed and applied thoughtfully for a long service life; and the resource's quality maintained to ensure the resource can be salvaged, reused or recycled as a new product at the end of its' service life. The point is to "...reuse wood as often as is possible and responsible."
Peter gave an example of a quality cascade for pine with the following sequence of products and uses: - structural, large-dimension floor joists using new sustainably-harvested wood - finish flooring sawn from salvaged floor joists - replaned finish flooring from scarred and salvaged flooring - finger-jointed window or door frames recycled from twice-salvaged finish flooring - oriented-strand or flake board made from recycled window and door frames - fibreboard recycled from OSB and flakeboard - incineration for power and heat generation
Each of these products is currently being done, but in a fragmented manner. The challenge facing the Dutch - and us - now is to create salvage, resource information and distribution systems that link the products through multiple use of their raw materials.
CMHC, CHBA, COFI and Macmillan Bloedel, are you listening? Here is a *great* market opportunity for Canadian wood-framing skills and products; and the Netherlands' experience is being closely watched throughout the EU. The sooner we move away from irresponsible and obsolete "forestry" practices, and further enhance our construction skills, especially with deconstruction, salvage, reuse and recycling, the better. But, please, let's learn from our hard lessons - and *not* export our many - and recent - mistakes.
Peter feels that the Netherlands' wood-use target is unlikely to be met without greater government and industry efforts - which are likely to be adopted soon. The wood content of Dutch buildings has historically been dropping, not growing; this has been counterbalanced by the growing size of the typical Dutch house, now 140 sq.m, compared to 120 sq.m in 1975. (This same trend shows up everywhere, it seems - smaller households that somehow need more space....)
Peter and his colleagues recommended that the government prohibit dumping of "waste" wood (the Netherlands is rather short on landfill sites, as you might imagine); and create a database on available wood resources - virgin, salvaged and recyclable - that details its quality for appropriate use by manufacturers and builders. These are probably going to be adopted soon. They've also recommended increased emphasis on substantial taxation of resources, rather than labour or services, harnessing market forces to increase efficiency. Shades of carbon taxation, applied to materials! I'll watch this effort closely.
Peter is not only working with efficient wood use, but also doing life-cycle assessments of other construction materials, including reed, hemp and lime plaster. These are all traditional renewable building materials that have fallen into disuse in the industrial era, but are now undergoing a renaissance with increased concern for overuse of depletable resources. One new to me is the use of seashells as an insulation product.
Peter showed me a sample of fingernail-sized seashells, mined from large banks on the Dutch North Sea coast. Apparently, there are large deposits of these shells that have lain underwater for decades or centuries; all the organic matter has long since returned to the food chain, and what is left is clean shells that can be mined with dredges, draglines and power shovels. This is now a commercially-available building product in the Netherlands, called "Isoschelp".
Use of shells as insulation is not as farfetched as it may at first appear; it has a well-defined niche as slab and foundation insulation. Shell insulation is poor at transmitting water by capillary action, unlike rock wool or fiberglass, and has greater compressive strength; it does not rot, unlike cellulose; and it is a renewable material commonly found in the Netherlands, unlike foam-plastic insulation board. While their insulation value is not great - a 32cm thick layer of shells has a U-value of 2.5 sq.m deg.K/W - they do fill a need. Shells are particularly useful as insulation below wood-framed ground floors, which in the Netherlands have always been problematic with their high water table.
Construction in Richmond came to my mind; I once did an energy audit on a house equipped with hydronic slab heat for a prominent sustainability activist and theorist. (For non-Vancouver readers: Richmond is a suburb at the mouth of the Fraser River delta, protected by dykes and just a few centimeters above high tide level. I fully expect much of it to disappear, with a hundred year flood, or the next big earthquake, which is overdue.) He'd just purchased a new house right next to a dyke, and the builder could not explain why the house had such high utility bills with good wall and roof insulation, and a heating system reputed to be energy-efficient. I explained to them that the total absence of insulation under the heated slab, and the fact that cold tidal water was often in contact with it through the underlying sand bed, might have something to do with it.... The family was paying to heat the Fraser River and the North Pacific - what fun!
- Tour of Java-Eiland, Amsterdam - In my conversation with Jaap Kortman, I asked him if he could recommend any projects around Amsterdam that he thought would illustrate current thinking on green design in the Netherlands. Among the several projects he mentioned was a conversion of many ex-industrial warehouses into a mixed-use residential complex, Java-Eiland. The project has some very good lessons for Vancouver - particularly for the former Woodward's store on Hastings.
The Java-Eiland buildings and neighborhood are rich in history. The warehouses were originally part of the vast complex owned by the Dutch East India Company and associated traders. A good chunk of the wealth stolen or extorted from Sumatra, Java and Bali that financed the glories of the Dutch Golden Age - including Amsterdam itself, Rembrandt and those incredible Dutch still-life painters - flowed over these docks, and was stored in these buildings.
(Not that the Dutch were alone in this massive thievery - all the colonial powers competed to conquer foreign lands and get rich in the process. Half of my personal forebears - the British side - were most successful in exploiting the other half, my Chinese side. Being born in Hong Kong, the major spoil of the first Opium War, makes me particularly conscious of this. Its origin tends to put the current "war on drugs" into historical context for me....)
The buildings were long derelict, as Amsterdam declined as a major commercial port; and being somewhat out-of-the-way relative to the city centre, they lay essentially idle for decades. Rather than tear them down, as would normally happen in much of North America, the developer transformed the buildings into a large complex of retail and offices at grade, and apartments in the upper floors.
I have little hard information about the project, really, basically impressions from wandering around the buildings, camera in hand. It seemed just recently completed; many of the retail/office spaces were as yet unoccupied, and seemed likely to remain that way for some time. (The complex is somewhat distant from the center of Amsterdam's commercial and tourist action, and not on the way to anywhere else.) But the apartments were fully occupied, and I would expect command a pretty good price, if they aren't rent-controlled or subsidized. The main reason for this is the excellent design, which echoes a growing trend with residential low-rise buildings in Vancouver.
The complex is long and linear - about 3 blocks long and one block wide, with many five- and six-storey buildings facing a canal and its flanking cobbled street, used mainly by pedestrians and bicycles (a characteristic pattern in Amsterdam). The ground floors facing the canal street have many tall, repeated romanesque arches - very suitable for retail units, and with an excellent rhythm. The buildings themselves have a variety of roof and window shapes, which add variety and interest to the canal- and street-scape.
The outside elevation away from the canal faces a bland street where cars enter the grade-level garages; and its' apartment windows are triangular-plan bay windows that provide "eyes on the street". Bicycle parking and service spaces are located in locked common ground-level rooms behind the commercial units, adjacent to the parking.
While the outside facades were restored to their former brown (and rather plain) brick finish (I suspect that the canal elevations were required to be restored for their heritage value), the original upper floors had their centre portions removed to create a second-storey "street" of connected courtyards, surrounded by apartments. The courtyard connections unify the separate buildings, admit light, and allow cross-ventilation for the apartments. The architects had more room for creativity with apartment elevations facing the courtyards: many of the second floors of the apartments have a distinctly modern feel. On the upper residential storeys, both open and (I think) solar balconies overlook the courts; each court-level apartment has a small private yard surrounding its' entry, delineated with planters and low fences.
The courtyards are extensively planted, though most of the vegetation has not yet reached maturity. The result is very pleasant, creating community and security without the use of locked gates, since every apartment overlooks the courts.
So, what are the visible green merits of the development? First and foremost, it is an ambitious building recycling effort, which no doubt greatly reduced the use of virgin building materials. As well, the mix of uses reduces the need for auto transport, especially as the commercial space fills with services for local residents, and businesses provide employment. Other features, such as energy-efficiency? More on that subject later....
- Tour of GWL Waterworks Complex, Vanhallstraat, Amsterdam - Another large change-of-use project I took a look at was the GWL Waterworks Complex, off Vanhallstraat. This was once one of Amsterdam's largest water-treatment complexes, occupying an area of about 3 blocks by 5 on the north-east side of the central city. It has been transformed into a new residential neighborhood, complete with its own small shopping area.
Dominated by the original water tower and the old central water-treatment building (which has been resurrected as a cafe and community centre adjacent to the stores), the residential buildings are a mix of salvaged and new 5- and 6-storey apartment buildings, surrounding large courtyards. It is one of the best examples of urban agriculture I've seen.
The new construction responds very well to the context provided by the original workmanlike brick industrial buildings. About half of the new buildings are very simple rectangular blocks with concrete balconies that run up to the 4th floor, facing the courtyards and the surrounding streets; the top two floors have red brick finishes, echoing the old aisle-and-bay industrial buildings. The other new buildings are smaller rectangular red-brick blocks, again very simple and modernist - in fact, stark. However, this is just at present: everywhere I saw vines planted, starting to creep up the building walls and spiral stairs, softening their outlines. I hope I can revisit the place after a decade - it should be something to see!
But, to me, currently it is the gardens that really make the place. Each ground-floor apartment has its own small fenced garden; but the majority of the large courtyard area (each about half a block long and wide) is devoted to food gardens. I couldn't swear they were organic (how could *I* tell - I'm the original "black-thumb"...), but they looked to me much like large versions of Santa Monica's community gardens or like Vancouver's Strathcona Gardens, with much native vegetation at the fringes, and many small allotments. They offer a welcome respite to the stone, brick and water that dominates Amsterdam, which has only two large parks, and very few small ones - and none nearby.
One other building caught my eye - the community's arts centre. Originally a very dull rectangular concrete-block box, the entire south facade that forms the main entrance has been enclosed with a striking black glazed solar atrium.
Again, the residents have food stores and community services within walking distance, though unlike Java-Eiland, there is little opportunity for paid work within the complex. And again, in most cases the energy-conscious features are hard to see.
- Ecolonia, Alphen aan der Rijn - I'd heard of Ecolonia several years ago - a demonstration of green, low-rise residential development that had it all: energy conservation, materials selection, solar heating, water conservation and natural stormwater management, green roofs.... I was greatly looking forward to seeing how the buildings had weathered since their completion in 1992, and what had been learned. My hopes were more than fulfilled.
Ecolonia had its beginnings with an idea floated by W/E Consultants and BEAR Architects, to create a large and very solid demonstration of the state-of-the-art of energy-conserving, environmentally-conscious design at the turn of this decade. The intent was to educate and reassure the mainstream housing sector of the practicality of novel but well-established techniques - and deliberately *not* to be a test-bed for experimental approaches. They managed to convince NOVEM (the agency for energy and the environment) to fund a feasibility study.
With the green light from the Bouwfonds Nederlandse Gementeen (the Building Fund of Dutch Municipalities) that both the economics and the technical side of the project were promising, it evolved into a development of 100 single-family, terrace and semi-attached dwellings at a green-fields site near the small rural community of Alphen aan der Rijn. Financed jointly by NOVEM and the Bouwfonds Wonignbouw, the houses were intended for sale on the open market - so first costs had to be competitive, and building techniques suitable for widespread mass production.
Three themes for the development echoed those of the NMP: - energy conservation and use of renewable energy; - life-cycle management, from extraction of raw resources to eventual return of residual materials; and - quality and durability improvement.
These themes were further elaborated into nine areas of concern for the houses' architectural programs: Energy Conservation: - reduced heat loss (BBHD - Bakker Boots Van Haaren Van der Donk) - solar energy (J.P Moehrlein) - energy conservation during construction (Architektenburo Hopman) Life-cycle Management: - water consumption and reuse of building materials (BEAR Architekten, Gouda) - extended lifespan & minimal maintenance (Architektenbureau Alberts & Van Huut) - construction for flexibility in use (Lindeman cs Architekten & ingenieurs) Quality Improvement: - acoustic insulation (Workgroep Woningbouw en Energiebesparing) - health and safety (Peter Van Gerwen) - "bio-ecological" building (Architekten ArchiService)
A different architectural team was selected to focus on each of these themes, rather than get a cookie-cutter community from a single design team. (Their names follow their focus, in brackets - I believe in credit where credit is due!) Overall planning of the community was done by the renowned Belgian planner, Lucien Knoll.
At each intersection and at the ends of housing terraces, an extra storey on the buildings emphasizes the streetscape, and creates a sense of entry and urbanity. The nine designs are mingled, to avoid uniformity, and located to create "squares" and social spaces, with no setback from the streets. Streets, paths and squares are lit with high-efficacy lamps.
All of the buildings had the same general requirements: - environmentally-aware materials selections - crushed and recycled concrete aggregates - anhydrite cast floors - household waste separation and recycling facilities - solar water heaters - fossil-fuel space heating equipment to have high-efficiency, low-NOX burners - no use of tropical hardwoods - no use of bituminous products - no radon penetration to interiors - no use of CFCs in equipment and materials
Two energy targets were set for space and water heating and cooking; <300MJ/cu.m and <220 MJ/cu.m; the tighter standard was required of the "Energy Conservation" theme buildings.
The rural site, midway (about 30 kilometers) between Amsterdam, den Hague and Utrecht, had previously been designated for increased growth. Like all of the Netherlands, the site is flat; an existing natural waterway bounds the south side. The Ecolonia houses are only a part of a larger development, which totals some 300 dwellings in a variety of densities and forms. Knoll's plan created small central lake to provide a focus for Ecolonia, to treat storm runoff and allow it to infiltrate into the ground; the little overflow from the pond runs to the natural waterway via a small surface channel planted with rushes and cattails. Extensive native planting and gardens are used to separate the buildings, with many deciduous trees for shade in summer, and allow solar exposure in winter.
Ecolonia was consciously designed with the pedestrian having priority. Streets have a variety of widths, but have narrow and winding sections, and are mostly cobbled. There is no differentiation of car, pedestrian or bicycle paths, nor is there a through-route for cars. Knoll used a mix of east-west and north-south blocks to create variety, deliberately sacrificing optimal solar exposure of the housing. Even so, almost all of Ecolonia's houses have a significant passive solar contribution, and active solar collectors.
There were several building design responses especially worthy of note. Moerhlein and BEAR selected wood-frame construction - as yet unusual in the Netherlands - largely on the basis of lower environmental impact over the life-cycle than the more common brick, concrete or lime-sandstone block.
Several houses used recycled wall and roof cellulose insulation - with detailing that reflects the warning by building scientists from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)to ensure that avoiding damp is imperative. One designer proposed compressed cellulose insulation below the floor slab - which was rejected due to this concern.
All the houses underwent airtightess testing during construction, to standards considerably higher than those required by code.
Water-conserving fixtures were universal; composting toilets were avoided due to concerns with proper operation and maintenance by the owners. BEAR collected rainwater for toilet flushing and clothes washing, and recovered heat from wastewater.
Moehrlein incorporated solar conservatories in their buildings, but they were found to overheat in the summer due to the lack of shading (and - my surmise - insufficient thermal mass).
Several designs (BBDH, Moerlein, Lindeman and Van Gerwen) had balanced ventilation via heat-recovery ventilators; the others used switched or continuous exhaust fans with window-frame inlets; and one used exclusively natural ventilation through carefully-placed window-frame inlet and outlet vents.
Most buildings followed the Dutch standard practice of hydronic heating, but with radiators oversized according to practice at the time to reduce temperature differentials and pumping energy. In most cases, the high-efficiency boilers supplement the solar domestic water heaters as required; Hopman also had solar collectors for space heating. Two designs had hot air/furnace heating systems - uncommon in Holland.
ArchiService's design was unique in several respects. These were the only homes that had vegetated roofs. Rafters were covered with 20mm cork and a 1.3mm EPDM membrane; sloping roofs were further insulated with 50mm of mineral wool, and flat roofs with expanded clay granules. These were then covered with 150mm of peat substrate and grass turfs. As well, in these buildings, particular attention was paid to avoiding electromagnetic fields, and global and cosmic radiation. Most interesting to me was the design of hydronic radiant "heat walls", developed in conjunction with suppliers. These consist of plaster applied over cast lime-sandstone blocks that have channels for hot water tubing. Insulation is placed outboard of the blocks, and the exterior finish is brick.
Lessons Learned In subsequent monitoring, seven of the nine Ecolonia designs met their heating energy targets of a 25% reduction from current standard practice in 1991; their annual primary energy consumption varied from 181 GJ/cu.m (Archiservices' "bio-ecological" design) to 288 GJ/cu.m (226 to 916 cu.m of natural gas for space heating; numbers are normalized for a standard 300 cu.m volume). The other two projects exceeded their targets only slightly.
Solar energy - even with the Netherlands' cloudy, rainy winters, and with sub-optimal building orientation - contributed to this performance, especially in the shoulder seasons. (Take note, Vancouver designers!) However, many collectors required fine-tuning and commissioning the first year.
Annual electrical energy varied from 2765 to 4374 kWh/household, comparable to 1991 average consumption of 3079 kWh. (Compact fluorescent use was already standard practice.) PV arrays were not used due to high initial cost, except for small ones in the BBHD designs, for pumping through the solar water heaters.
Five of the nine designs failed to meet the high air-tightness standard, indicating that more detailing and on-site supervision would be beneficial.
As mentioned before, solar conservatories and rooms with large south-facing glazing for passive solar heating, require shading (and probably thermal mass) to prevent summer overheating.
Heat recovery ventilators were found to be significant electricity consumers, and did not make large contributions to heating energy savings in the Dutch climate. Further, they were the least satisfactory to the occupants, due to their continuous noise. It was recommended that warm ventilation air should in future be supplied to the living rooms, rather than the bedrooms - a contradiction to Canada's National Building Code.
Building material selections for lower environmental impact was a positive experience for the designers and builders. Crushed concrete aggregate use was straightforward; alternatives to PVC plastics were easily found, with no compromise in quality or service; anhydrite concrete floors were healthier for the workers, improved airtightness and provided smoother surfaces. Wood-framing reduced life-cycle environmental impact compared to constructions more common in the Netherlands, but required additional care in construction, and in maintenance (no surprise to Vancouver's Barrett Commission...) Laminate use was successfully limited; but too few interior finish options offered to the buyers resulted in later modifications - and materials waste.
Airtight floors barring radon penetration, and selection of finishes with low emissions, improved occupants' perception of air quality inside the homes.
Residents were most satisfied with the hydronic heating systems - particularly the radiant floors and walls. They were less satisfied with the hot-air systems, especially with their lack of individual control of temperature in each room, dry and dusty air, noise, and distribution of cooking odours. These last two complaints were also leveled at the heat-recovery ventilation systems. The wholly natural ventilation system gave the most satisfaction; and then the exhaust-only systems.
Construction costs were kept competitive - but only after the original designs were re-examined for savings. Prices ranged from 191,000 to 298,400 NLG in June 1992, comparable to market prices for the average homebuyer.
I spent a fine afternoon wandering the site, looking and photographing the buildings, streets and squares. The houses are all in fine shape; and ArchiService's grass roofs, and the vine-covered trellises at the corners of the BEAR designs are especially beautiful. The pond creates a very healthy, tranquil - and desirable - focus to the community; it is largely surrounded by reeds, with a resident family of ducks, which delighted the small kids I saw playing as I sat on its' shore. The kids had no fear playing in the streets, and the design was such that a parent could easily keep an eye on them from their homes. Anton Alberts' brick houses struck an odd note, with their tilting rooflines and window frames - but fit superbly with their gorgeous gardens (one of the ducks was peacefully asleep on the patio between the house and the reeded overflow channel). Obviously, their residents take a great deal of pride in their homes, and for good reason.
I also had a chance to speak with Martin Regenboug, one of Ecolonias' first residents, and steward of the Informatiecentrum Ecolonia. He is the very satisfied owner of one of ArchiService's "bio-ecological" row homes.
He obviously loves his terrace house, and the community - he was most generous with his time, information and hospitality. Martin found me sitting in the small grassed space behind his home, where I was watching (several!) flocks of birds feed and chatter in the vegetation that covered his roof. We had tea in his back yard, at a beautiful handcrafted birch table that once formed the base of a model of Ecolonia, for the benefit of tourists like me. He was especially happy with the wall heating system - silent, comfortable, and economical. He could not recall *any* problems with any of the homes - and he's been keeping track since the beginning.
Apparently, general interest in Ecolonia has died down in the past few years; I was the first visitor he'd had in months. It seems that its lessons have already been internalized by the Dutch mainstream - either that, or the novelty value has disappeared. He was disappointed, however, in the lack of environmental fervour exhibited by his neighbours, whom he felt took the community, and what it represented, for granted. He told me that the market value of Ecolonia homes is significantly higher than the other homes in the larger surrounding development, for several reasons. The proximity to the pond, the lower operating costs, and the healthy construction are all selling features that command a premium - much the same experience in Village Homes in Davis, California. Are any mainstream Canadian developers in the crowd?
ING Bank, Amsterdam The Internationale Nederlanden Group (ING) Bank headquarters is probably known better to many of you as the NMB Bank, by Anton Alberts of Alberts and Van Huut, with Techncisch Ingenieursbureau Aronsohn B.V and the ULC Group as consulting mechanical engineers, and lighting design by London's Pentagram Design. Completed in 1983, in a suburb southeast of Amsterdam, like Ecolonia I had long looked forward to touring the building for myself. However, in this case I *was* disappointed - not because of the building itself, but because of the adamant refusal of the ING facilities managers - or INGs PR department - to show me around, or indeed, even allow me to step beyond the lobby. I had to satisfy myself with walking around the exterior, observing and photographing what I could. This is a fair bit; but it is *not* the same as speaking with building operators and occupants on their experience in how the building functions; nor could I experience the interior 'streets', courtyards, artwork and offices for myself.
Apparently, ING has had so much interest in the building since taking over (or transforming itself from - the corporate picture is murky to me) the NMB Bank, they've found it necessary to restrict tours to groups of professionals or students, booked long in advance. While I'd spent the better part of several days attempting to find a contact at ING who might be able to make an exception to this new rule - or even to arrange a group tour - this was the first time on this trip I was unsuccessful. The lesson I would like to draw from INGs experience is that general interest in corporate green design is intense, in the Netherlands, anyway. However, it might also be Ton Alberts' design, which is unique in many other ways, as well as in its response to environmental and resource issues.
I did get hold of a glossy PR brochure ING hands out, and the figures below are quotes from this publication (trust a bank to have financial and floor-area information). This has been supplemented by my (probably often faulty) memories of previous readings, and my walk around the complex.
The design is not a single structure, but a very large, rambling complex of ten brick towers, varying from 3 to 6 storeys in height, unified by a 350m long interior street that connects several atria and punctuated with several outdoor courtyards. Locals I spoke to loved it or hated it at first sight: largely because there are very few plumb lines - almost all the walls slope, mostly inward toward the centre of the buildings, but a few seem to overhang their surrounding pedestrian streets in an imposing manner. (One of the people I spoke to *despised* it - not because of its design, but because of its' cold "corporate suit" inhabitants. His ex-girlfriend worked there....) It does tend to dominate the Amsterdamse Poort shopping complex bordering the north side, and the arterial street to the south - there is *no* mistaking it.
Alberts' rationale for this reveals his take on "natural" design: since there are few cubes in nature, his buildings are not entirely ruled by the plumb and the square. This is not to say that he is totally cavalier about cost, either: the construction cost of the building complex was 2270 Dutch guilders per square meter, including the extensive landscaping, about XXX CDN$/sq.ft. Part of the reason for this is that the concrete building envelope was entirely prefabricated before being clad on-site with 600,000 custom bricks, and over 2 million standard ones. The brick walls have a wide variety of colours, that blend into a harmonious and warm ochre-yellow in the sunlight.
Nor is this simply an exercise in architectural ego; Alberts follows a long tradition of organic brick form in the Netherlands, probably best known by the work of the Amsterdam School at the turn of the century. (I also visited several of these buildings - they opened my eyes to just how sensuous brick can be. There are very few buildings I've seen that make you want to stroke them....) The shapes of the ING buildings serve a functional purpose as well; the inward slopes admit more daylight to lower floors and surrounding streets and paths; and noise tends to be reflected and dispersed upward, away from pedestrians and neighboring buildings.
The complex provides 35,000 sq.m of net office space, with a gross conditioned area of 50,000 sq.m. Offices and common spaces overlie an underground car park; the site area is 43,500 sq.m, which includes the many outdoor courtyards, each landscaped with a different ecosystems' flora by Copijin Greonadvisors B.V. Unfortunately, the publication has little data on energy performance - guess it's only the 'geers (and not the corporate financiers) who want to know. Pity, because the comfort design is of real interest.
Almost all of the building is naturally ventilated and cooled. The general strategy is to introduce air to the offices via operable windows, and draw it through the narrow (<6m) office floor plates into the 'street' or atrium. From there, the warm, stale air flows out the top through solar/wind towers that punctuate the roofline, supplemented by exhaust fans. The large thermal mass of the building holds heat generated during the day for release at night. It's the same strategy that works so well with many of the UK buildings I visited - no surprise, the climate is much the same (as it is in many cities in North America, not least Vancouver). A minimum level of ventilation is provided by mechanical means; and this supply air is tempered with heat provided by ceramic heat-recovery wheels, which rotate through the outgoing airstream.
The building is one of the best at integration and synergy - solving several problems at once with one design solution. The towers at the corners of most buildings are capped with pentangular solar collectors, for water and air heating, that echo the floor plates - they look like architectural features, and only techies would see that they also serve a functional purpose. The interior landscaping is also used for humidity control, cleaning and adding oxygen to the air. Rainwater from the roofs of several of the buildings flows the height of the atrium down 'flow-forms' that act as stair handrails, aerate and treat the water, provide irrigation for the landscaping - and add a musical 'white-noise' that masks sound transmission in the open spaces. (I first saw these flow-forms for myself on the main street in Staithes, the tiny Yorkshire fishing village my fathers' family comes from. There's a distributor there - and we had an excellent conversation about them. They tend to draw lots of attention and comments from passersby.)
Almost all the ING workspaces are daylighted; external roller blinds and recessed "punched" windows on the south-east to south-west elevations control glare and sunlight entry. Of course, the narrow floor plates aid in daylighting, as does light entry from the atria and 'streets'. In my walk around the building in the late afternoon, I noticed that the north windows were not nearly so deeply recessed, nor were they equipped with roller blinds. I also noticed that many windows on one tower were being replaced - quoting my old English teacher, Sister DeNiro, "It's a mystery...".
The building is very friendly to the neighboring streets, with a new and interesting perspective at every turn. Several windows had very beautiful modern stained glass, layered in abstract shapes to create many colours. The main entrance is unassuming, but identifiable, framed by a grove of mature beeches and geometric shapes in the pavement that point directly to the doors. (I subsequently found out that the trees were intentionally preserved by the landscape architects.)
However, the sharp corners and odd angles of the buildings, while of initial interest, are not to my personal taste; I prefer more curvilinear forms (Douglas Cardinal is a favourite of mine). But, each to his own; I have to applaud the design team for buildings extremely well done. Now, if I could only get some performance numbers, and speak to the people who have to deal with the problems. What *is* happening with those windows???
- Observations of a Wandering Innocent - Obviously, the Netherlands is taking green building and planning seriously - far more so than either Canada or the US. Being a nation lying so low to a rising ocean tends to focus public attention and political will - and IMHO that is the main lack at home. As the cliche goes, "We have the technology"! Our barriers lie primarily in attitudes and economics - and thus are inevitably political.
Of course, there are other important factors in Hollands' picture as well. For one thing, energy costs are much higher than we're blessed with in North America. But I suspect that the major issue is cultural; according to Chiel, municipalities were pushing building energy conservation before the national government. My impression is that general awareness of the connection between resource depletion, environmental degradation and individual lifestyle choices is much more than the veneer of most North Americans. The national government acted after prolonged, focused and effective pressure from activists, with widespread support from the electorate.
The Dutch people I met were quietly idealistic, very thorough, and intensely pragmatic. Most understood the intimate connection between excessive resource consumption and growing ecological fragility - to the point where it's a non-sequitur, and not worth discussing. They also keenly appreciate the practical difficulties in dealing with obstacles. This stands in sharp contrast to most North Americans; we tend to want to have our cake (such as 200 horsepower cars and 300 kWh/sq.ft. year apartments), and eat it too. Canadians also tend to avoid open disagreements in goals or methods, often by capitulating to established interests whose profits might be hurt by real change. The course set by the NMP reflects careful thought about how best to overcome these barriers.
The Dutch electorate's high priority for environmental issues is manifested in clear goals in the NMP and Action Plans. Consultations with industry and interested parties ensures that methods and timelines are realistic - and focus on how to make those targets happen, not on whether they should be achieved. This limits the ability of those reluctant to change to block progress, since there is already wide consensus that the goals are worth doing - and obstructionism for the sake of narrow self-interest is made obvious.
I'm sure that Chiel, and others I met in the Netherlands, will disagree with me somewhat about this; they've been working hard for a long time to make the progress they have, no doubt with stiff opposition, and probably without the recognition they deserve. However, I must say I envy the social and political context they work in.
I see two excellent trends occurring in green design, especially in Northern Europe. First, energy-efficient features are no longer obtrusive, or often even visible. Added insulation, tighter envelopes and better windows are essentially undetectable without a ruler, a blower, or a probe; good window shading is seen as an opportunity for architectural expression. The best solar balconies in retrofits look as if they had always been there. Solar hot water panels become the roof finish, rather than being mounted on unsightly racks; PV arrays are integrated into walls, roofs and canopies, displacing finish costs in the meanwhile. Orientation to take advantage of wind or sun is subtle, and typically obvious only to those who pay attention and carry a compass, like me. The point is that I could not really tell by looking whether these buildings had taken extraordinary measures for energy-conservation or lower environmental impact - which is as it should be, in most cases. Unlike the first flush of solar and energy-efficient design in the 70s and 80s, architects are learning to take advantage of local microclimates to conserve resources with style.
Instead, many buildings and developments are being intentionally designed to celebrate green in the sense of plants - to shield facades from sun, wind and cold; add humidity, cool and clean the air; for food production; or to supplement and restock native vegetation. This harkens back to a very old tradition - remember the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? All things old are new again - or never completely disappeared. Quite a few of both the new and old buildings I see in Thailand have *many* planters - at the foundations of walls, on balconies and sunshades, and/or on the roofs. Modern Netherlands green design seems to emphasize planting much more than most others, but it seems the Orient never forgot.... It makes for some lovely buildings, where it is difficult to tell where the building ends, and the plants begin.
- Closing Thoughts - Well, I've now been almost a month and a half in Southeast Asia. The time has allowed me some perspective on the green design I saw in Northern Europe, and how it relates to my North American experience. I'm even further convinced in my initial impression: we in North America, and particularly in Canada, are well behind the current state-of-the-art. In many areas - natural ventilation, renewable energy, water conservation, materials selection, integrating plants and buildings, renovation and preservation - we have much to learn.
In one sense, this is an advantage. We can avoid the paths the Europeans have tried, and backed away from; and we can emulate their successes and the methods they used to achieve them. However, I'm more and more convinced that the main barriers we face are *not* technical. They fundamentally lie in societal attitudes, economic systems and governmental approaches - which are much harder to change, and have no simple solutions.
What strikes me is that in fact it is *not* the application of advanced technologies that forms the best European design. Instead, it is simple, robust design strategies backed by excellent analysis and hard common sense; coupled with a widespread and serious intent to do better buildings and towns; and driven by a public well-educated in quality design and its effect on the environment.
Frankly, we in North America have a lot of opportunities to do better, largely because we're doing so badly now. We needlessly hurt our occupants, waste our resources and damage our planet with poor-quality design, construction and planning. I think our current sad state of affairs stems from two things: short-term economics coupled with a development system that rewards poor performance (viz the Coast condo fiasco); and a general lack of understanding of quality in building design and the role buildings and settlements play in ecological degradation and waste.
We know how to do better - at least many of us do. We, as professionals, could certainly learn more. And I'm convinced that in general, North Americans *want* higher-quality, healthy, resource-efficient, ecologically-friendly buildings - that there's a very large market that is now being very poorly served, because they can't tell good from bad by appearances. But the systems we have in place to develop buildings and communities are currently a mess, with economic and regulatory signals that ensure bad buildings are profitable - in the short term.
IMHO, our industry and governments should focus on three areas: - educate the public on how to discern high quality in building design and planning, and the role they play in resource and environmental issues; - create many demonstration projects - good buildings anyone can walk up to and kick - that showcase better technique that we already know how to do well and economically; - accelerate development of promising approaches that are currently too expensive, with more applied research in real-world conditions, and broad dissemination of what we learn.
Some of this is already being done - but with meager resources and less commitment from senior politicians and bureaucrats. I have to applaud those who have the frustrating job of working for them - as the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water - but if you can make it do the backstroke, you've *got* something." It's a task with little glory, lots of trauma, few thanks and much abuse from the outside - and absolutely necessary. Keep it up! You're why we've got as far as we have. But I hope you'll all forgive me if I'm impatient.
I believe that the time is ripe for one or two brave and far-sighted Canadian developers to respond to this new market. They'll demand - and pay for - *much* better work from their designers and contractors. Some will rise to the occasion, and design buildings that rival the best work of Frank Lloyd Wright or Greene and Greene; that enhance, rather than degrade, their surroundings. After many battles with regulators, they will get built well by contractors with pride in their work. These few developers will market the hell out their buildings, pointing out their quality - longer lives, economic, health, productivity and environmental benefits.
And they'll make bundles and bundles of money, because prospective building buyers and lessors will prefer them: they won't cost much, if any, more than the junk currently being offered. Some of their worst competition will go to the wall, because they can't shift their focus from short-term profits and short-sighted practices; and designers who don't make quality and environment central to their practice will go broke with them. The others will shift - slightly - toward this better direction, and stand taller when they face their mirrors in the morning.
Enough preaching; you probably don't need it any more than I, so I'll climb off my soap box now. My apologies for this closing rant - I usually manage to bite my tongue when thinking about waste and mediocrity. But sometimes impatience bursts through; and I've just seen *much* better.
I am determined to find - or create - a good way to help this make this vision real, when I return home.
Warm regards, Ian Theaker, P.Eng.
Sabbatical letter #5, Part 1: Thai Green Buildings & People
My last letter related my experiences in the Netherlands - and some of my initial impressions of Bangkok and Thailand. I was bewitched enough by Thailand - and Thais - to spend two months there in total, with only a brief side trip to Vientiane, Laos. And, I can't honestly say I explored the country thoroughly; most of my time was spent in Bangkok, in Phuket on the Andaman Sea in the South, and I wrapped up my time there with a week in the North, in Chiang Mai and its surrounding rain forest.
I found Bangkok fascinating - in much the same way that a child views a horror film, through the cracks between his fingers. If there was ever a persuasive argument for planning of urban areas, Bangkok is it. As far as I can tell, Bangkok evolved from being a charming Asian city, defined by its khlongs (canals), mix of colonial and vernacular buildings, tropical vegetation, and organic street layout, to a noisy, polluted and overstressed megalopolis in the course of two explosive decades of unrestrained, incoherent economic and population growth.
Yet - the city has a chaotic edge and energy to it that is very attractive to a closet bananarchist like myself. Anything is possible - and indeed probable. The only restraint is self-restraint, and often there seems precious little of that. If there is ever a place for exuberant self-expression (self-indulgence?) - of whatever sort - that place must be Bangkok.
The city is a place of extreme contrasts: the neon flesh and flash markets of Patpong are foiled by the ranks of Buddhas in Wat Pho; the human scale of the small sois (streets, or alleys) are fed by the traffic chaos of Sathorn and Sukhumvit Roads. Each plot of land has a tiny temple/altar, with daily offerings of flowers, water and fruit; yet the air is gross, and the Chao Phraya river is fouled by the gray, foamy, filmed open sewers of the khlongs. Early morning streets are filled with tranquil orange-robed monks and earnest joggers; at night the taxis and motorbikes overflow the streets to the sidewalks, jostling the crowds and the sidewalk food stands. Mercedes, BMWs, Cardin and Rolexes are flaunted next to begging amputees crawling the sidewalks to attract a little charity.
As you can probably tell, I found the city more than absorbing; I ended up spending far more time there than I'd intended, trying to understand the beat it moves to - unsuccessfully, I think. I suspect I could spend a lifetime trying to plumb that rhythm, and get no closer.
Of course, being a unilingual farang doesn't help. English skills of many Thais are more hopeful than helpful; and my Thai is severely limited to a few polite words. The result has been a great sharpening of my histrionic skills; use of body language and gesture is absolutely necessary, and I typically found myself acting out an idea or question. (Requesting the location of the nearest toilet is a *real* exercise in cross-cultural diplomacy... and often laughter.) However, amateur theatrics are of limited use when trying to find out the source-energy mix of electrical generation; why an odd number of incense sticks is used at a Buddhist altar; or the relationship of individual ecological responsibility to Buddhism doctrine, to cite just three examples. I was able to get some insight to each of these questions - but it took awhile, and many attempts with several people. Speaking the language fluently is an absolute prerequisite to really understand a place or a culture, and this trip has really driven home my personal limitations that way.
I found almost all Thais I met to be charming, immensely friendly, and with a sincere desire to be helpful. But many dislike giving bad news, or offering no aid at all. This sometimes resulted in being given information that is just plain wrong, to avoid their seeming unhelpful in the moment. Persistence coupled with tact are qualities with great value to the traveler; a short emotional fuse is *not*, and if nothing else, I've become far more patient, and able to laugh at myself. But the Thais' genuine friendliness, and ready smiles flashed at the least excuse, made the effort more than worthwhile.
As well as the Thai people, my friend Graeme Bristol greatly eased my introduction to Asia and Thailand. (Hi, Graeme!) Graeme has been teaching architecture at King Mongkut University for more than a year now, and has continued his Vancouver focus on affordable housing and social justice. Last year some of his students won a UN award for a co-design project they did (in the face of continued obstruction from the school) with the residents of a Bangkok slum, whose occupation is picking through the adjacent open-air dump . He's now considering how he can help long-term refugees with post-secondary educational opportunities. Besides showing me some of the highlights (and lowlights?) of Bangkok, we spent several fine evenings on the roof of our hotel, doing in a bottle of good scotch to old rock and roll tunes, and trying yet again to solve the problems of the world. Not that we came to any really earth-shaking conclusions - but they are times I'll always treasure.
Graeme also introduced me to a worthy trans-national institution, the Hash House Harriers. Founded post-war by British expatriates in Asia, the HHH is a volunteer organization devoted to running and beer - not necessarily in that order. Most cities in the world have at least one chapter (Bangkok has four, including a bicycle Hash). Once a week or more, a volunteer "Hare" lays out a trail through streets or countryside, using chalk, paper or other arcane signs. The runners then follow the route as best they can, to cries of "On, on"; After a run, all gather at a circle to raucously praise or vilify the Hare and others, welcome newcomers, and to replenish precious bodily fluids. The Hash's membership is primarily drawn from English-speaking expatriates, of all genders; my impression is that these are some of the most diverse, genuine, worldly and relaxed group of people I'll have the luck to meet. And, (though I'll probably be punished for this) probably some of the most sophisticated and highly-skilled - they're often overseas exactly because of their expertise. I learned a great deal from conversations with Hashers, who tend to have travelled extensively and gained much more local knowledge and insight than tourists (like me) could ever get. Not least of the lessons was the huge difference between Beer Lao and Singha....
But, be warned: political correctness is *not* part of the Hash agenda, and pretensions really don't get very far. I was honoured to be inducted to the Bangkok Hash during our trip to Vientiane for their 1000th run, with the Hash name of "Who F***ing Cares?", which I'm assured is entirely appropriate to the spirit of the Hash. (And probably too damn close to personal truths to be entirely comfortable - which is the point, I guess.)
I was first introduced to the Bangkok Hash on one of their evening runs near Bangkok, and joined them on their weekend trip to Laos, where the group commandeered sleeper cars on the overnight trains up and back; later I ran (well, ran and walked) with the Phuket Hash. Each time I met many good people, saw areas I would never have found on my own - and enjoyed myself immensely.
Bangkok Bangkok is defined by the Chao Phraya River, a wide and seemingly lazy brown snake that surrounds the extensive palace grounds and original city site, and now divides the city. The other defining characteristic of Bangkok today is its horrendous traffic - and the grotesque air pollution that results.
Bangkok is built on a massive river delta - extremely flat and prone to regular floods. (Graeme told me that the highest land in the city is a landfill site, and I believe him.) While I was away in Phuket, parts of the city were flooded, and he reported that alighting from the boat during his morning commute required a dance over a flooded gangway. On my return from the south, I spent a couple of days in Bangkok arranging visas and plane tickets. One evening I and several Thai friends visited a vast riverside seafood restaurant to the south of the city. The last five kilometers of the drive to the restaurant were literally through the water; the Chao Phraya had overflowed the adjacent roads to the point where I wasn't certain if we would end up wading, rather than driving.
The river is a major thoroughfare, and one of the best ways to get around; the large Chao Phraya express boats have many docks on either side of the river, and are extraordinarily cheap. It's a very busy waterway, crowded with strings of industrial barges (often with gunwales and decks awash), navy and police boats, dredges, deep-water ships - and buzzing with "long-tailed boats".
To me, these long-tailed boats are emblematic of Thai attitudes to technology and life. They are alarming combinations of brute power with elegant traditional form, with little regard for comfort, safety or pollution. Their long, slender teak hulls have beautiful curves and craftsmanship; and seat up to twenty or more passengers on hard benches, slightly protected by canopy and side curtains. Their canopies are an elegant study in tension/compression structure that Bucky Fuller or Frei Otto would be proud of; pilots stand on a box at the stern, and wrestle with the fire-breathing monsters driving the boats.
The disconcerting feature of these boats is a deafening open V6 or V8 car motor mounted on swivels, driving a 15-20 foot long shaft projecting over the stern of the hull that ends with a large, open propeller. The engines drip fluids into the boat and the water, have no guards for the boatman from the spinning fan, often no mufflers, and certainly no protection for nearby swimmers, boats or docks from the propeller. Steering is by manhandling the entire mass of hot, blaring metal and its spinning shaft and propeller. They seldom travel at anything but top speed, and provide an exceptionally speedy and exhilarating - not to mention noisy, polluting and dangerous - ride. The long-tail boats collide the highest traditional craftsmanship and materials with loud, ugly and dirty technology, with no regard to their dangers and pollution, in pursuit of speed and immediate gratification. Classic examples of Thai (Asian?) bricollage!
Unlike most cities, where the tall buildings are concentrated in a central business district, in Bangkok, they are dispersed throughout the entire sprawling megalopolis, popping up with little apparent rhyme or reason. Bangkok doesn't really have a downtown per se, in the sense of North American or European "Central Business Districts". There are several areas where shopping, business and hotels have concentrated, such as along Sukhumvit and Silom Roads; but there doesn't seem to have been any intention to concentrate activity in a single downtown area.
The road network seems to have continued to accrete at random as well - with both good and bad effects. The old part of the city has a a roughly North-South, East-West grid in small area around the Palace and the banks of the river on; to the west major streets radiate from a large (for Bangkok) central park surrounded by a wide (and chaotic) roundabout. There is an organic hierarchy of street scale: the major streets in this part of town are relatively wide - four to six car lanes (not that anyone pays much attention). Roughly perpendicular to these run one- or two-lane sois which can accommodate a slow car wending its way through the stalls, pedestrians and the ubiquitous motorcycles. From these sois lead narrower lanes (also called sois) and courtyards that typically can only accommodate pedestrians or motorcycles. But, the sois have few interconnections to each other; the pattern is dendritic, rather than a grid, where multiple paths are possible to any destination.
The result is a human scale at all levels but the largest streets - but mixing modes in a way that would appall most Western traffic engineers, since only the largest streets and sois have sidewalks and no bicycle lanes. And, since there are few alternatives to the large streets, with sparse interconnections between the sois, bicycles have almost completely vanished. The traffic makes them far too dangerous, even for the Thais.
Outside of this original settlement, the street network has accreted seemingly at random. The largest streets, such as Sukhumvit, Sathorn, Rama IV and Silom, are 6 to 8 car lanes wide, often divided by a central boulevard, and laid out on a semi-grid, with several networks colliding at odd angles. Many of these boulevards sprout supporting columns for Skytrain guideways or elevated expressways, which obscure the sky and concentrate the pollution at breathing level. These ground-level streets are typically bumper-to-bumper with idling cars, buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, bicycle carts - and motorbikes filtering their way forward through the mess. (It seemed that ALL of the Thais I met had road rash scars from motorcycle accidents....) Larger sois, of two to four lanes, lead from these nightmares; and then the traditional pattern follows.
As I mentioned, only the larger streets have sidewalks. For a handicapped person, Bangkok would be virtually impossible. Buildings are often approached by stairs meant to be impressive, but with no provision for wheelchairs. Large street intersections have elevated pedestrian bridges - and no ramps. Even the new Skytrain stations often lack elevators. There are few sidewalk curb cuts, and the paving blocks are often missing, heaving, or have disappeared into holes dug by water; sewers often have cracked or missing covers. Pedestrians in Thailand must continuously watch their step, or risk a broken ankle.
The new elevated expressway network allows the wealthy to escape ground-level street traffic jams for at least part of longer trips. But navigating it would be a real challenge to anyone who doesn't read Thai very quickly, and is equipped with a good map; there are typically only one or two signs indicating upcoming exits, which can leave from either side (people drive on the left on Thai roads).
Traffic is the bane of Bangkok - and from what I hear, many other large Southeast Asia cities. The now-defunct Asian economic boom ensured that many Thais could buy cars, and almost everyone could afford a motorbike - and car ownership is seen as a sign of having arrived, economically, and almost as a fundamental human right. The result has been a vehicle population explosion; now almost 3 million cars for a population officially set at 10 million. Coupled with the migration from the countryside to the city, this has completely overwhelmed the city's roads.
This is not helped by the fact that Bangkok devotes very little land to the road network - 8.5% of the land area, compared to the 15-20% of many Western cities. Even having filled and paved most of the original khlongs, and with a brand-new toll elevated expressway system that rivals Los Angeles' in extent, gridlock is the regular fate of many surface streets. Rush hour starts at 2:30 in the afternoon, as people start to pick up their kids from school, and doesn't end till well after 7pm. It's estimated that 20% of the total fuel consumption is by standing vehicles locked in traffic jams - and the damage to the air, and peoples' health is beyond comprehension.
Most people who work the streets on a daily basis wear cotton masks or filters - traffic police, street-sweepers and many tuk-tuk drivers. Many pedestrians cover their mouths and noses with handkerchiefs at busy intersections and sidewalks. *Everyone* hates the air quality - except perhaps the mask manufacturers.
The worst offenders are the old diesel buses, and the millions of motorcycles. There is little money to repair or replace the public bus fleet; it's been operating at a severe deficit for decades, and its fiscal problems are now a crisis. Fares are ludicrously low by North American standards, averaging 8 baht (less than 30 Canadian cents). This makes them affordable for the average Thai, but fare revenues are nowhere near what's required to keep the vehicles in decent operating order, so the soot behind an accelerating bus must be seen to be believed. But, the (absolutely necessary) bus system somehow continues, providing very frequent service and comprehensive coverage of the city - though a pedestrian must stay very alert to avoid becoming a gory hood ornament.
Similarly, the majority of the motorbikes are in poor shape, often missing mufflers entirely, and/or with balding tires. Imported motorcycles are limited to 125cc displacement - with the result is that almost all bikes are two-strokes, belching oil smoke. The talent of Thais in using them is amazing; I've seen five people - three generations - balanced on a tiny bike, winding its way between the cars to the front of the traffic-light queue. And the adaptations made to motorbikes show immense ingenuity; they range from the three-wheeled tuk-tuks, which seat paying passengers in a platform behind the driver; through tricycle goods "trucks" supporting television boxes stacked four high; to entire kitchens to cook and sell (excellent!) roadside food.
Gas prices while I was in Thailand were much the same as those in Vancouver this spring - about 50 cents/litre. But, low-lead, low-emission gasoline is non-existent, and raising gas prices leads very quickly to political uproar - though it doesn't stop most Thais from buying high-octane gas, even when their engines can't take advantage of it. The common misapprehension is that it makes engines perform better and last longer.
The result is one of worst air pollution problems I've ever seen. It must lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths annually from respiratory disease. It has profound effects on surrounding farms with acid rain; destroys cultural artifacts; and it stains buildings to the point where most have given up cleaning them.
Bangkok has haltingly taken the first major steps toward a mass transit system. A comprehensive system was first proposed in the 70s; but construction only started in 1994, and the first 26 km line wasn't completed until December 5th - after I'd left Thailand. The first line has 24 stations largely in the central areas of Bangkok and was built by a private consortium of a Thai company with Bombardier - so the deal was that fares would be set to recover the 1.7 billion US$ construction costs, and provide a profit for the builders. Of course, budgets overran, and the economic crisis created major financing problems. So, while I was in Thailand there was major public controversy over fares: after much public debate and maneuvering, they were set at 15 baht for rides up to two stations long, and rise to a maximum of 40 baht. This is well beyond what the average Bangkok resident can afford on a regular basis, so how much it will help with the current pollution problems remains to be seen.
Construction of the next line - subsurface over much of it's length - is planned to start in three years. As the system becomes more comprehensive, it will provide better service, and may tempt more car drivers out of their cars. But the space will probably be filled with yet more cars, as the Thai economy recovers.
There are only a few other responses available to the Thais at this point, most with profound economic, political and/or technical problems. Tighter regulation of vehicle emissions (most are already equipped with catalytic convertors) may raise the price of cars beyond most people's reach and is prone to corruption, with attendant political difficulties. New bikes (most now being produced in Thailand) are shifting from two-stroke to four-stroke designs, due to recent Thai emissions legislation. Shifting to natural gas or propane requires building a brand-new, expensive distribution infrastructure; the Thais have already moved to lead-free gasoline in all grades. Building more roads requires more capital than the government can afford, and the public-private partnerships to build them has already gone about as far is it can go, with little effect - and more roads will just encourages more traffic.
Not all of the pollution is generated by traffic though. Most recent construction in Bangkok was dismaying to me. The city was a bellwether - and a victim - of the recent Asian economic boom. From my hotel roof, I counted dozens of idle cranes; but fewer than half of the new tall buildings have forms that pay any attention to the fierce sun or the hot, humid air. The typical architectural response has been to install tinted or reflective curtain-wall glazing nearly opaque in its shading factor, so from many newer buildings the outdoor sky looks threatening and gloomy even on a bright, sunny day.
This glazing choice enhances the effect of the appalling air pollution; the horizon is usually obscured in grey haze except in the very early morning; the brief sunsets, rather than being spectacular as I expected, often disappear into the smog. And I saw stars perhaps twice in all my nights in the city.
This lack of climate-responsive architectural design is not because the designers don't have many good local examples that adapt to the sun. Many of the older buildings, especially traditional vernacular designs and those built in the 50s and 60s, have excellent shading strategies, ranging from generous roof overhangs; masonry and metal brise-soleil; window overhangs and fins; projecting columns and floor slabs to shade the walls; roof trellises supporting vines... the variety is endless, and quite creative.
However, most high buildings from the boom years are bad examples of popular Western architectural fashions that have recently swept the world: Pomo, Decon or neo-classical monstrosities that pay more attention to dramatic lines, lobby finishes and column-head detailing than cooling loads. Several people I spoke to had recently moved into a new office building with floor to ceiling glass - and hated it. Single-glazing was hot to the touch, requiring constant mechanical cooling; glare from high sun angles obscured computer screens, forcing blinds to be drawn and artificial lighting. This with electricity costs rivaling California's!
One 20+ storey hotel on the bank of the Chao Phraya comes to mind; the podium was surrounded by Corinthian columns, backed by a clear single-glazed glass wall set too close for shading by the overhang or columns; and capped with an imitation Greek temple. This was just down the river from the elegant traditional design of the Royal Palace....
Architectural indulgence seems to have been the name of the game in recent Bangkok high-rise design. Tower tops were obviously a major concern; many have creative and quite beautiful caps. However, elevations were mostly either banal International glass, or incredible follies; one building near my hotel on the bank section of Sathorn Road imitates a robot, complete with 5m diameter "bolts" as ears.
It is not only the tall buildings with problems, though in my opinion they represent some of the worst influences of the West. The Thais have a building form I've only seen in Asia: the "shophouse". The only other examples I've seen have been one or two in Khun San, outside of Shanghai; and in TV clips from Sri Lanka.
Shophouses are ubiquitous in Thai cities and towns, lining the majority of the larger streets. Two to five stories tall, they are distinguished by high-ceilinged commercial space on the ground floor, often with a mezzanine floor at the back, and with the full width open to the street; night security is provided by a steel shutter or grate that rolls up like a garage door. The upper floors are residential, and typically the ground-floor shop is rented or sold along with the residential space above, as a package. They are built with no setback on the sides, and often none at the back lot line either.
The street-level space is used for a wide variety of purposes: retail, warehouse, restaurant, even industrial workshops or car repair or storage garages. (Bangkok has little separation between occupancies that would be strictly segregated in Canada or the US; there are entire streets lined with sheet metal or wrought-iron workshops, cheek by jowl with housing, retail and incredibly, artwork and antiques. How people can live with the noise is beyond me....)
The design of these buildings is strictly utilitarian; with little or no decoration, relief - or shading. They are typically foursquare concrete or brick/stucco blocks, with elevations cluttered by air-conditioners, wiring, piping and rusting window grilles, and peeling paint. This is easily forgivable in my eyes; they are practical responses to a need, and suffer the vagaries of economics.
But, what is conspicuous by its absence is separate access to the upper floors. Each shophouse has a stair at the back of the shop leading to the residential floors above; this is the only access the upper floors have to the ground. Besides creating a fire hazard (how do residents exit, especially from the 4th or 5th floors?), and providing a path for indoor air pollution to travel to the residential space, the lack of a separate stair reduces flexibility of the space, since the residential portions can only be rented along with the ground-floor spaces.
The shophouses provide economical housing, and accommodation for workplaces, especially for family-run businesses; and in sustainable planning terms, they inherently provide mixed-use space, reducing transportation needs. But, I never understood what drives the lack of separate stairwells to access the upper floors, and neither could Graeme.
Not all of Thai design was this bad, though. I was especially impressed by traditional vernacular designs, the many remnants left from colonial times in Vientiane, and some of the buildings dating from the post-war period.
- - -- --- End of Part 1 Sabbatical Newsletter #5 - Thailand ----- See Sabbatical letter #5, Part 2: Thai Green Buildings & People (LONG) for the last part
- - -- --- Start of Part 2 Sabbatical Newsletter #5 - Thailand -----
Traditional Vernacular Houses and Utility Buildings I saw three types of vernacular design still widespread throughout Thailand, especially the countryside: traditional post-and-beam houses and utility buildings such as sheds and barns, both of which still largely follow the archetypal structures and materials, but incorporate new materials in slightly modified forms; and the many wats, or Buddhist temples, many of which are well preserved and maintained, even after several centuries, and adhere to characteristic patterns everywhere in Thailand, with regional variations in details.
The best example I saw of the traditional Thai house compound, ironically, was built by a Westerner, Jim Thompson. Thompson was a post-war trader in silk and fine fabrics, and lived in Thailand for decades - but mysteriously disappeared in 1967, never to return. He obviously loved Indochina, and collected artworks throughout his life, to furnish his beautiful traditional Thai house and garden complex on the bank of a Bangkok khlong. The buildings are now a museum, complete with gift shop and restaurant, but were the most well-preserved, and finely finished teak structures I saw.
Two visual characteristics define traditional Thai house complexes: the high, swooping rooflines protecting wide porches, and living quarters located on the second storey, supported by an open pole structure. The pole structure is elegant and efficient in material use, very light; and creates forms that are both pleasing to the eye and functional for protection from the elements.
The classical vernacular house is not one structure, but several, each sharing a common central deck, and elevated on poles. (I discovered this from beautiful models displayed in the lobby of one of Bangkok's upscale malls, but didn't run across a full-scale example of an complete house complex). At least three separate buildings made up a house complex: a large "living room" shelter, for daily activities and to receive guests; one or more sleeping quarters; and a kitchen shelter. Domestic animals and tool storage was located below the common deck, protected from the elements.
The teak or bamboo walls are single planed boards, with large windows equipped with side- or top-hinged shutters; often, large sections of the upper walls were bamboo or teak lattice. Both allow easy movement of cooling air throughout the rooms, while providing shade from low sun angles as desired.
Protection from the sun and (often torrential) rains were provided mostly by the lower roofs overhanging the generous verandas and decks. The roofs are very beautiful to my eyes: the central gable-ended roofs over interior rooms are very steep, 60 degrees or more, providing for very high "cathedral" ceilings. Slightly inside the wall junctions, the roof slope changes abruptly to 15-20 degrees on all sides of the building, providing shade and rain protection for the walls and surrounding verandas.
The result it visually striking; the surrounding low-slope roofs are capped by the central roof that leads the eye to the sky. This effect is accentuated with wide gable-end boards at either end of the central roof, extending above the peak line to taper to a point at either end of the central roof - a gratuitous detail with no other purpose than to please the eye, as far as I can tell.
Jim Thompson's house was obviously built for a wealthy person. The structure was entirely teak: poles, walls, floors and shutters, roofed with glazed ceramic tiles. Most of the thick teak doors and shutters were elaborately carved in high relief with scenes from nature or legend. I suspect that this extravagance limited to houses for the rich or powerful, and would be very hard (if not irresponsible!) to duplicate today: some of the columns were over a foot in diameter, and floor and shutter boards well over 18 inches wide. The columns and walls leaned slightly inward to the interior, subtly enough that it took a little while to recognize; this was echoed by the trapezoidal shape of the windows, which were typically wider at the bottom than the top.
More modest houses were made of almost entirely of bamboo; I had the luck to sleep in several of these during a "trek" through the rainforest. These houses were owned by members of the hill tribes, the Karen and the Aung, whose living is now largely made from tourists. In these, the walls and roofs were thatched, and floors were a lattice of split bamboo, laid closely over joists at roughly two-foot centres. These floors were delightful to walk on; the bamboo is laid shiny-side up and has a sensous texture, and split to a thickness of perhaps a quarter of an inch, was soft and flexible between the joists, like a fine carpet. They not only let air flow through them, they were also very easy to clean; a few sweeps of broom allowed dirt and dust to fall through the cracks to the pigs below. (No, they didn't smell: manure was obviously gathered regularly, and probably applied to the rice fields.)
But even with the difference in materials, the simple structures were always the same: rows of round columns, spaced at 6 to 10 feet on centre, with round or squared beams at floor level, waist level forming window sills, and at the tops of the walls. Running overhead in the interiors between columns were beams to contain the outward thrust of the sloped roofs. The joists supporting the central roofs run transversely to the house axis, and terminate at the wall beam; and purlins are laid lengthwise across the joists to support the thatching or tiles. A purlin is placed to support the junction at the roof slope transition.
When the roof span was larger than 10 or 12 feet, loads are carried down from middle areas of the long roof joists to cascades of transverse intermediate beams, each supported by two posts down to the next intermediate beam, and ending at the beam at the top of the wall. This seems to be characteristic of Asian framing, since I saw it in the temples and again in China; it is different from the king-post or queen-post systems more often used in Western buildings, since I never saw a post running directly up to the beam forming the roof peak. The surrounding low-slope roof joists were supported at their outer ends with brackets projecting from the walls, often terminating at floor level.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya restaurant I mentioned earlier is one example of utility building design appropriate to the climate, and sensitive to its site. The restaurant was an experience in itself. One of several built on bamboo wharves over the water, it seated at least 1200 people in several structures, similar in form to the several barns and utility buildings I examined in Phuket and Chiang Mai; but the restaurant was the closest approach to the Thai house complex I saw. Half of patrons were seated under the thatched roofs, half on the open deck under the sky. The low, waist level walls were also thatched, and the structure was completely exposed in the interior, allowing easy examination.
Our entrance, due to the flooding of the Chao Phraya, was over an improvised steppingstones of milk crates, placed by parking attendants from the truck doors to the entrance gangplank. The passage down the entry wharf was flanked by 40 or 50 fish tanks, holding incredible varieties of live fish, shrimp, shellfish, turtles and crab. We chose a table at the corner of one wharf, overlooking the water and a large floating lotus-blossom lantern (and a speaker blaring saccharine Thai pop music). In the next two hours, the five of us managed to make our leisurely way through oysters, crab and sea- and fresh-water fish, noodles and rice, under fleeting clouds lit by the city lights and brief glimpses of the moon.
The buildings and wharves were completely functional in construction and intent, but elegant in form and materials - and some of the few vernacular buildings left in the Bangkok area. They reinforced the enormous appreciation for bamboo that I've gained in Asia. It is a tremendous material: providing structure, joint bindings, flooring, scaffolding; easy to build and repair, and growing everywhere. In my time here, I've slept under it, walked on it, floated down rivers on it, showered under bamboo pipes - and ate it.
These buildings are highly evolved adaptions to the hot, humid tropical climate. Placement of living areas high on poles, open walls, and latticed floors promote cross-ventilation and exposure to cooling breezes. High ceilings allow hot air to rise above the occupied levels of the rooms. Lightweight structures, walls and roofs cool quickly at night, making night occupancy and sleep more comfortable. Placement on poles raises the living levels above floods and ground moisture, prolonging building life and providing healthier, safer dwellings. The wide overhangs shade the walls and windows from the daily high-altitude sun, both cooling the interiors and creating dark, shady refuges from fierce mid-day glare.
Modern modifications to the original design are largely limited to substitutions in materials: clay tiles or corrugated masonry panels for the roofs; cheaper woods and concrete columns and beams, rather than than teak; and uninsulated brick infill walls between columns, finished outside with stucco and inside with plaster. Many modern structures also have walls ground level to create more usable space in the lower floor. The results have been mostly detrimental to comfort, since the masonry stores heat from the day through to the night, and the lack of ventilation of the underside of the floor reduces the cooling effect.
I had very interesting meetings with Dr. Surapong Chirarattananon and Dr. Thierry Lefevre of the Asian Institute of Technology's Energy Program while staying in Bangkok, and toured AITs "Energy Park". The facility includes a small experimental vernacular-style house, and many solar energy collectors are installed for research purposes, including PV panels for electricity and hot water, and hot-air crop dryers .
Among the huge amount of information they provided me was an interesting paper by T. Buranasomphob about experiments with insulation in the experimental traditional-style house, built in 1986. The house is 5.4m x 6m in size, and built of wood in the vernacular form. It's equipped with a small photovoltaic array and 3 flat-plate solar water collectors on the roof; and louvred single-glazed low-e glazing in the generous windows. The PV array is sized to power two "casablanca" fans and interior lighting from flourescent lamps. Large louvres were placed at the peaks of the two gable-end walls below the high-pitched roof.
The paper reported on the effects of insulation added to the roof and walls: one half of the house using 50mm of glass wool, and the other half using aluminum foil. The inner side of the walls was finished with gypsum wallboard, and the outer finish was 16mm wood in a vertical tongue-and-groove arrangement. These insulations were also sandwiched between the clay-tile roof and the wallboard interior finish.
To give you an idea of what the building had to deal with: maximum horizontal radiation was 624 W/sq.m at noon on a sunny day, with outdoor air temperatures reached 37.5 deg.C at 2:30pm. Exterior roof temperatures peaked at 45.6 deg.C (!) at 1:30pm, and exterior wall temperatures at 35.5 deg.C on the west wall, between 3:30 and 4pm - with the windows open. With closed windows, wall temperatures peaked at 41 deg.C (!) for the south wall.
Both of the insulations provided cooler interior temperatures than uninsulated wood walls. Measured K-values of the walls were 0.0162 W/m deg.K for the glass wool wall; 0.0293 for the foil-insulated wall; and 0.0717 for the uninsulated case. The fiberglas insulation was marginally more effective than the radiant barrier, providing maximum interior temperatures of 35.4 deg.C, compared to 35.6 deg.C for the foil insulation, with windows open. Peak interior roof surface temperatures were moderated to 38.1 deg.C by the fiberglas insulation, and 38.3 deg. for the foil; for the walls, the figures were 35.4 and 35.6 respectively, with open windows.
Lessons learned: Both insulations are effective in providing greater comfort; inside temperatures can be reduced by 2 to 10 deg.C by insulation. The difference between the two insulation types is minor. Roof insulation is more effective than wall insulation, especially with open windows - which can be taken for granted for a house that is not mechanically cooled, in these climates.
I also met with Dr. Joseph Khedari, of the Energy Technology Division at King Mongkutt Institute of Technology, where Graeme Bristol teaches architecture. He had his grad students show me their test house, built on the roof of the ET Division's building; and provided me with several papers describing his work incorporating renewable energy into traditional house design.
The test house was built to investigate a novel use of a modified Trombe wall to insulate and ventilate tropical houses. The small house, about 4m long x 3m wide, has a single room and a medium-pitched gable roof, without the side overhangs seen in traditional vernacular designs. The south wall is equipped with 2 sq.m Trombe wall consisting of a masonry exterior, a variable air gap, and gypsum wall board forming interior finish. Two 250cm wide x 50cm high vents opened to the interior of the house; and the top had two vents of similar size opening to the outdoors; the cavity also opened to the airspace between the interior wallboard finish and the clay-tile roof. The peak of the roof was equipped with a large ridge vent, open on both sides, to also allow heated air to exit. Outdoor air was allowed into the room via a door grille.
Lessons learned: the wall was not found to provide sufficient air movement to adequately cool the room. As expected, the larger the air gap, the greater the air movement; and painting the outside of the masonry wall black helped enhance the flow, but the highest airflow rate of any arrangement was found to move 20-90 cu.m/hr, reducing ambient air temperatures by 2 to 3 deg.C. However, the wall was found to be an effective insulator, with calculated U-value varying from 0.672 W/sq.m deg.K at noon to 0.288 at 8am, as compared to 2.673 at noon and 3.144 at 8am for the standard masonry wall. (The thermal resistance of the walls varies with the airflow rate induced by the incident sun.)
The wall uses cheap, commonly available materials; is simple to build, since all that's added are vent openings, and wallboard replaces the the more common plaster as an interior finish. It is almost foolproof in operation, with no mechanical parts - perfect for widespread application in a developing nation. I hope that Joseph retries the experiment with the addition of radiant foil insulation - it might greatly improve thermal performance, with only a very small increase in complexity and cost.
This knowledge could help greatly with energy consumption as well as thermal comfort for modern residential buildings. Many Thai homes now have air-conditioners; and they form a large - and growing - portion of the load on the electrical utilities. This is a major concern, since Thai generation mix is currently mostly provided by coal-fired steam turbines, with some hydro (much purchased from Laos) and a growing natural-gas turbine capacity - so energy conservation is recognized as an effective way of reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and defer costly generating station investments.
1986 figures indicated that residential sector, at 1900 million kWh, was the second largest consumer of electricity, after industry, from the Metropolitan Energy Agency, which provides power to Bangkok and three adjacent provinces. And this has certainly increased; a 1994 study indicated that the average Bangkok household electricity consumption was 327 kWh/month.
Of the Bangkok homes surveyed in 1994, one quarter had air conditioners; and it was found that penetration of mechanical air-conditioning was strongly correlated with increased household income - which was just beginning strong growth at the time, as the Thai economy boomed. Over 30% of the households surveyed planned to buy a new electrical appliance in the next year, with the most popular being an air-conditioner, followed by a clothes washer. My own limited and unscientific impression is that perhaps one out of three households now have air-conditioners.
With this level of installation, reduced heat loads by better building construction would have large impacts on energy consumption. This would be accentuated by good habits most Thais have in their use: since electricity is so expensive for them (2 baht/kWh, or roughly 8 cents Canadian), residential air conditioners are typically turned on only intermittently and briefly; added insulation would both reduce the hours run and the cooling load serviced.
Thais have avidly adopted the electric lifestyle. Refrigerators in 1994 were found in 90% of Bangkok households; most had been purchased in the previous decade. Colour TVs were almost as widespread. Electric rice cookers also approached 100% saturation, and 40% of homes had VCRs.
Wats and Temples While in Thailand and Laos, I visited over a dozen wats, or Buddhist temple complexes, some dating back many centuries. Each wat consists of a cluster of buildings, always featuring a central temple housing an image of the Buddha, and often with a dormitory residence for monks, as well as other buildings and structures, all arranged in a tranquil garden surrounded by a brick wall. The subsidiary buildings may include smaller temples; shelters for Buddha images, bell towers, crematoria, and often a chedi (tower) dedicated to a disciple, a particular manifestation of Buddha, or an aspect of nature. Bangkok alone has over 400 wats; and they are often the highest rural landmarks, with their cascading roofs dominating the horizon.
Almost all of these religious buildings and structures are made from rough clay brick with a plaster finish, and timber-frame structures supporting clay tile roofs. In architectural terms, their roofs, structures, and elaborate decoration make them extraordinary.
The characteristic temple gable roof is actually not one, but several, running lengthwise with the long building axis. The highest is very high, with a elaborately decorated ridgeline and a long overhang curving skyward at each end. This roof covers the central portion of the temple lengthwise, but often the side eaves lie inside the line of the walls. It covers a cascade of several lower roofs - I've counted up to five - each snuggling under the protection of the one higher, projecting farther out on all sides, especially at the gable ends, with a deep recess below the higher roof highlighted by densely decorated eaves. The gable ends of the roof cascades protect the main entrance porch, and often a Buddha image placed outdoors at the opposite end. The lowest roof projects well over the walls, and often a gallery of columns at the sides of the temple, providing a shelter for windows and passing occupants from the sun and rain.
A wide variety of masonry or metal decorations enhance the upwardly-curled ridge ends: organically curved spikes, dragon heads and bells hung from acanthus curls are two popular elements. The result is visually inspiring; the upward curve of the central ridge line leads the eye to the heavens, and is counterbalanced at either end by the lower roof cascades, which refer both to the ground and the sky. The half-round roof tiles are typically glazed in bright colours, and terminate at the eaves with round caps decorated with relief characters or sculptures.
The gables of the the roofs, the ridge lines and eaves are heavily decorated: often exquisitely, and sometimes gaudily. Inlaid into the plaster are bright ceramic and mirror fragments that sparkle in the sun; combined with dense gilded plaster figures and forms, they call attention for long distances. Usually, the entire gable end of the roof cascades and the end walls of the temple are highly decorated, providing a visual feast - the scenes and decorations are laid in long-hallowed patterns that recall Buddhist doctrine and nature: trees, curls, leaves and vines frame images of boddhisvatas, the Buddha, scenes from Buddha's life, or animals, minor gods and demons. The quality of the workmanship reflects the sacred nature of the work - the thought, time and effort invested in the temple decorations is mind-boggling, similar to that of the cathedrals of Europe.
This elaborate decoration extends to window and door frames, which are marked with wide bands of applied plaster frieze and inlay. Windows are typically equipped with carved or lacquered wood shutters, open during the day to the breeze, and with tremendous wrought-iron screens, welded or rivetted to create line drawings in shadow and light.
At each door, a high sill forces a distinct sense of transition on entrants; one must step high, one foot at a time, when entering the presence of the Buddha. This is reinforced by the custom of removing one's shoes at the steps leading up the porch, the high platform that raises the temple above ground level, and the dense, florid decoration of the entrance porch, doors and their frames.
The walls are typically thick - one to two feet is not uncommon. On the outside, the stucco is usually painted white; interiors are often often dark, and feature tremendous painted, inlaid, or fresco murals of the Buddha's life and teachings. In each temple, a large Buddha image placed at the end of the hall overlooks an altar for offerings, incense and candles; on either side of the hall there are usually areas for monks and devotees to meditate, listen to senior monks expound, recite the sutras and pray.
The images of the Buddha vary tremendously, as might be expected from several thousand years of devotees from many lands, all in intermittent communication. Thai images, I've since found, are different in detail from their Chinese and Japanese counterparts. There are several distinct styles of Thai Buddha images; an influential one dates from the Ayuthaya period, when that city was the political and religious centre of Thailand. These images are more lifelike, with realistic proportions and physique; as contrasted with later images with more ethereal and stretched bodily proportions, and extensive fabric drapings. Both seated and standing figures tend to have very elaborate gilded bodhi tree canopies.
Before Thailand, I thought that all Buddha images shared the same expression. This was proven to be an ignorant misapprehension by the hundreds of large gilded sculptures featured in the galleries in Bangkok's largest temple, Wat Pho: each was subtly unique, their faces suggesting everything from sublime indifference, through compassion and forgiveness, to transcendental joy. And I learned that each of the many hand positions symbolizes a different aspect of Buddhist teaching: non-violence, forgiveness, charity....
Another visual feature, particularly visible in the countryside, are the high chimneys of the crematoria. Slender, gently tapered, and capped with four-sided rain canopies with elegant curves, they punctuate the forest and croplands. Would that industrial smoke-stacks were so beautiful....
One common element of the wats I saw in the North are balusters and wall-caps made in the form of nagas - dragons. The scales and eyes are made of fired tile, in delicate greens, reds and blues, laid into cement mortar; facial features are molded in high mortar relief, and often have delicate projecting whiskers and eyebrows. The stairs leading to the temple at Doi Suthep, overlooking Chiang Mai, have most stunning example of balusters; the 600-plus stairs are flanked on either side by two-foot diameter nagas, whose undulations match those of the mountain. Several temples in Chiang Mai have these wonderful decorations - of which a few photos will now grace my walls.
Lessons learned: The wats are comfortable - for the acclimatized person - for several reasons. Their walls, windows and doors are well-shaded by the generous eave overhangs which, combined with their light colours, reduce solar heat gain during the day. The eaves also moderate the daytime light, and the porch entries provide a transitional light levels, allowing the eye time to adjust from the fierce outdoor sun to the relatively dark interiors. The masonry walls are relatively cool, and present large areas to occupants relative to the high roofs, making interiors more comfortable in radiant heat terms. Their windows and doors are designed with beutiful grilles that can be left open at all hours, still providing security, to allow cross-flow of errant breezes, which are trapped and accelerated by the eaves, and often exterior columns.
Their roofs provide tall interior spaces, which allow heat to rise away from occupants. However, the wats I saw missed an opportunity to allow the hot air to escape by stack effect, or provide low-pressure areas to draw air out the top. Short walls were placed to block the openings between the cascading roofs, and the gable-end walls were solid. I'd wondered about this, before I saw the buildings at first hand.
- - -- --- End of Part 2 Sabbatical Newsletter #5 - Thailand
Part 3 Sabbatical Newsletter #5 - Thailand
Climate-adapted Modern Buildings As well as these traditional buildings, I saw several others that were well-adapted to the climate. Many of the buildings on the campus of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), for example, responded to the sun and wind with a wide variety of overhangs, lightshelves, fins and galleries, in many different materials.
The buildings housing the Energy Program at AIT show a variety of window shading techniques - all of them quite elegant. The windows are deeply recessed, at least 18 inches deep. On two sides, the 5 foot high windows are visually divided into three sections by masonry horizontal fins, 3 inches thick, and anchored by the edges within the window recess and cantilevered out from the wall by a foot or so. The top of the window is protected by a similar overhang. Their horizontal projection is at least 1:1, compared to their vertical separation, and keep the windows shaded at almost all hours of the day. The effect is distinctly modern, with clean horizontal lines.
The windows on the south face of the building are even more deeply recessed; and protected by large horizontal aluminum fins placed within the recessess. The fins are elliptical in section, modelled nicely by the light, and slope down to the outdoors at about 15 degrees. Each window has three, providing about the same projection factor as the masonry fins on the other sides. An additional benefit of all of these fins is the daylighting provided by the upper surface.
Most of the buildings at AIT seem to have been built in the 50s and the 60s - and obviously the architects were more sensitive to climate issues than most current designers. There were many other examples of shading overhangs and fins on campus buildings; many of precast concrete, or masonry. Another characteristic of the campus are the pedestrian circulation under covered outdoor walkways, that often flank the buildings and shade walls as well as walks from rains as well as sun.
There is one classic example of good shading, juxtaposed with no shading, on the AIT campus; I couldn't resist taking a photo of it. It is a day-care or a pre-school building; the entry is from a large patio shaded by a flat roof, and surrounded by openable windows. The adjacent south-facing windows are also openable, but completely unshaded and flush with the exterior surface of the wall. Both times I was on campus, the windows and the blinds facing the entry patio were open; but the nearby unshaded windows and their opaque curtains were tightly closed. The occupants - and the air-conditioning equipment - will have to respond to the architectural failure for the life of the building.
Several buildings at AIT, and at King Mongkutt University, are built beside water features, or on pilotis over pools. These moderate surrounding temperatures due to evaporation - and provide a delightful reflections of the building. Some were equipped with fountains, and these tended to look healthier; I suspect that aeration is necessary to ensure the water does not stagnate and fill with algae.
Many of the buildings built in the 50s and 60s in Bangkok, have deeply cellular facades, with an an 8 to 10 foot grid of exterior vertical fins and horizontal projections that extend out from the walls by 3 to 4 feet, shading the walls and windows. (Often, the horizontal projections also now support air-conditioning condensor units serving one or two rooms, obviously added after construction by occupants.) Others used precast concrete panels over windows cast in beautiful curvilinear forms, to protect from sun and wind. Unfortunately, in most cases these were grossly soiled by the omnipresent air pollution, so not very photogenic; a problem shared with most Bangkok buildings.
However, several Bangkok buildings integrated vegetation into their design very well. The AIT campus was very well-treed, cooling the walkways and shading the buildings. All of the balconies on one new high-rise hotel on the Chao Phraya, beside the Sathorn express ferry dock, were made of planters overflowing with vines. These softened edges, cooled and cleaned incoming air, and shaded the wall-sized windows and patio doors. A delightful touch - one of the few new high-rises I liked.
I was encouraged - and somewhat surprised - by the sight of so many compact fluorescent lamps in Thai buildings. They are cheap and widely available, and seem to have completely displaced incandescent lamps except in low-wattage applications, intermittent applications. One of the most common uses iis to highlight shops, restaurants and windows: the Thais are fond of the tiny white lamp strings we only see in Canada at Christmas time; often the entire street face of a building has been completely draped with these fairy lamps.
34 watt cool-white T8 fluorescent tubes are also everywhere, and used in applications and ways that would bring shudders to lighting designers (hi, Jill!): as road sign arrows, outdoors to light streets, shops and sidewalk merchandise displays, indoors everywhere. The concept of colour rendition seemed completely unknown; I got used to eating with companions with vaguely purple or green faces. Often the tubes were exposed without the benefit of diffusers or guards - even outdoors at knee- or forehead-level. However, electronic ballasts were largely confined to new office building construction.
Wiring was often an electricians' nightmare: taped or simply twisted connections; wires draped over the nearest handy tree or pipe; and often unprotected conductors running for hundreds of meters outdoors within easy reach of small children. One night in my hotel in Phuket, I noticed a crackling, sizzling sound outside; on further investigation I saw that the utility's transmission wires were briskly spouting a foot-long stream of sparks at one set of insulators just behind my room. This continued for over a week....
Renewable Energy I saw little use of solar water heaters, and no PV installations in Thailand, even with their tremendous solar resource. People I spoke to extended several reasons for this. For DHW, the use of heated water is not large: due to the heat, most of the showers I and most people took two to three times a day, were unheated except by the ground: a cool shower was a welcome moment of luxury. As a result, water heating is not a great priority in the South, except for applications like laundry; water heaters didn't even show up in consumer appliance purchasing plans in the studies I saw.
But for hotels and guesthouses that have with large laundry loads, and households with swimming pools could save a great deal of money with solar water heating, since water heaters are typically electric - not to mention a marketing advantage to eco-conscious Westerners. Gas water heaters are uncommon; few (no?) areas provided with a gas distribution piping system. (Bottled LPG gas is widely available, and used for cooking in most urban homes in the South, and about half of the households in the North.)
Second, solar water heaters are mostly imported, and relatively expensive in capital costs, at 40-50,000 baht (1600-2000 Cdn$) for a household-sized system. Even with their recent flush of prosperity (in Asian terms), first-costs are definitely the highest priority for most.
I spent an afternoon talking with Sommai Vathanasakphubai, general manager of BP Thai Solar, and touring his plant on the outskirts of Bangkok. His staff of 17 assemble and install PV systems for the Thai and IndoChina market, using imported cells and glazing. BP Thai Solar is one of 7 or 8 companies doing PV in Thailand; others include Solartron, using Siemens PV products; Cannon, using Unisolar thin film PVs; and several Japanese companies, such as Sharp.
The majority of the systems installed by BP Thai Solar are for remote applications; primarily water pumping and battery charging in villages not connected to the national grid. Typical water pumping applications included a 2 kW PV array, and 3/4 HP Grundfos AC pumps with an imported inverter. DC motors would be more efficient, but were 3-4 times the cost of an AC motor/inverter combination; Mr. Sommai told me that they typically derated the PV panels by 10% to account for their high operation temperatures. Typically, these systems cost 500,000 baht (20,000 Cdn $) - far too much for anything but a fair-sized village. Apparently, costs could be reduced, if the requirements of the government contracts were revisited: standardized government specifications tend to oversize the PV arrays and inverters well beyond what is necessary. BP Solar has installed more than 600 of these systems, mostly funded by a trust established by the Thai royal family.
The other major application is battery charging for remote villagers; over 1000 have been installed. In these installations, typically an 800W PV array is installed, with a simple 12 volt battery charger. These are used to charge car batteries, five or so at a time, brought to the station by nearby residents. The batteries are owned by the villagers, and used for light and to power radios and batteries. Regular auto batteries are used, even thought they only last a couple of years, since they are commonly available, and cheap as compared to more long-lasting and less-polluting gel-acid batteries. Typically, these stations cost 300,000 baht (12,000 Cdn $) installed; a large part of the cost is transporting the materials to the site. These stations have mostly been installed under a program funded by provincial public works departments.
One of the biggest issues with both pumping and battery charging installations is maintenance. The government provides for their installation, but not for ongoing service. The result is that when they eventually break down (there is no program for regular service checks or preventive maintenance), the local villagers often don't have the skills to repair them; and even when they do have the someone with technical background, they aren't authorized to fix them, nor do they have the money or contacts for parts.
Battery charging station installations are also complicated by the politics of the villages; often the locals are not consulted as to their needs, or who is going to supervise battery charging. This often results in social conflicts between the villagers, since the stations are a small but significant source of income. This can be a source of friction if arrangements are not made with sensitivity to local village chiefs and existing power structures.
Thai government authorities are slowly taking steps toward greater energy conservation, and use of renewable energy. Currently, the Electrical Generation Authority of Thailand (EGAT), has excess generating capacity at 16,000 MW, mostly coal, natural gas and hydro, with a reserve of about 18% over peak demand. But EGAT estimates that demand will rise to 41,000 MW in the next decade, with renewed growth in the economy. This will require an incredible amount of new generating capacity, which is largely being constructed by private-sector companies on contract, using coal and new supplies of natural gas from offshore sources. As well, EGAT intends to purchase hydroelectricity from yet-to-be-built dams in Laos.
EGATs renewable energy programs are more symbolic than intended to provide a large portion of new demand. In 1998, it started a PV pilot project that installed 10 small household systems connected to the grid in Bangkok and its suburbs. These 1.2 kW (peak) systems are net-metered; in non-techspeak, their excess production turns their meters backwards, so to speak, so the households are paid at the residential supply rate for the electricity they supply in excess of their own needs. The systems help especially with peak loading, since the time of greatest air-conditioning load coincides with the greatest solar gain.
These initial systems cost about 550,000 baht each (22,000 Cdn $), or 20% over initial estimates - not cheap by any terms, and higher than similar North American systems due to duties on the imported components. The National Energy Program Office subsidizes the cost by 50%, with the homeowners paying the balance. Still, consumer demand was still high: 400 households applied for the chance to install one of these ten initial systems; and over 120,000 applied to participate in the second phase.
This is the first step in the national power plan announced in 1997, incorporating renewable energy officially for the first time in Thai planning. By 2001, 15 MW of solar electricity were to be installed - 1000 installations of 2.5 kW peak each, largely at the fringes of the overstressed transmission and distribution network. Currently, EGAT has three demonstration PV sites: 20 kW at Klong Cong Klum, 14 kW at San Kamphaeng, and 8 kW at Phuket Island. The 1997 plan has been derailed by the Asian economic crisis; and the increased support of local renewable energy suppliers like BP Thai Solar has not yet materialized.
I saw only one wind generator installation in my time in Thailand, at a demonstration site at Promthep, on a hill at the south end of Phuket Island owned and operated by EGAT. Here, the largest mill had a 5m diameter, 3-blade rotor; several smaller generators of a variety of designs was installed. While these were connected to the grid, the contribution to the grid is miniscule as compared to the total.
Government Energy Conservation Efforts There has been more success with initial efforts to conserve energy in buildings. In 1992, the Thai government passed its first Energy Conservation Promotion Act (ECP), after many studies (and a fair bit of lobbying) by the researchers, among others, including Dr. Lefevre and especially Dr. Surapong at AIT. One influential study by Dr. Surapong used DOE 2.1c to estimate energy conservation opportunities available from application of the Act on reference buildings, and its impact on EGAT.
The Act also created an energy conservation fund, to help pay for research and subsidize conservation efforts. It is paid for partly by a surcharge on oil, refineries, bottled gas and gasoline sales, and electricity used by factories and buildings; and partly from general government revenues.
The regulations resulting from the act were approved in 1995, and address industry, equipment and appliances, and buildings - not only new large buildings, but existing buildings as well.
For large new buildings whose energy demand exceeds 2 MW (typically high-rises), their envelopes must have an overall thermal transfer value (OTTV) not exceeding 45 W/sq.m of exterior wall area, and roof thermal transfer value not exceeding 25 W/sq.m. These can be provided by many methods, including insulation, appropriate glazing choices and architectural shading. Maximum lighting power density must not exceed 16 W/sq.m of floor area for offices and most other buildings, and retail is allowed 23 W/sq.m - including display lighting. There is a graduated scale of air-conditioning equipment efficiencies, ranging from 0.75 kW/ton of cooling for large water-cooled centrifugal chillers, to 1.4 kW /ton for split-system units.
For renovations of large existing buildings, the Act requires the appointment of an energy manager, who is responsible for ensuring the building complies with the Act. The OTTV standard is 55 W/sq.m, and roofs must comply with the 25 W/sq.m value. Lighting and equipment efficiency standards are the same as those for new buildings. The result of the legislation has been a large number of energy audits of large Thai buildings, which Dr. Surapong has summarized in a paper entitled "Energy Use Intensities and Emissions of Thai Commercial Buildings". It showed that the Thai buildings surveyed consumed between 180 - 300 kWh/sq.m per year - very low compared to similar surveys done on US and Canadian buildings of similar size. Energy audits required by the Act must be redone every 3 years - which has resulted in a new profit centre for Thai consulting engineers.
The Acts' regulatory requirements are not very onerous - and what is more, they apply only to very large buildings, not the vast majority of floor space that has been, or will be, built. Further, enforcement has been haphazard, from accounts I've heard, with bribery a common method to gain regulatory approval. However, the legislation is a start - and it remains to be seen if its scope will be extended, and standards and enforcement tightened as economic conditions improve.
In Closing I had a great deal of aid in Thailand, gathering the information I'm passing along to you - far more so than in China, where I've been immensely frustrated. Especially helpful were Drs. Surapong and LeFevre, Lilia Robles-Austriaco, and Marites Cabrera, a grad student at AIT, and editor of the Asian Energy News; and Dr. Joseph Khedari and Sireesap Chansue at King Mongkut University.
Graeme Bristol was of immense aid, patiently lending an ear and helpful understanding of Thai customs. I'd like to thank each of you for your tremendous help and hospitality - this letter wouldn't have been possible without you.
- - -- --- end of Part 3 Sabbatical Newsletter #5 - Thailand -----
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