19 February 2013 — In this installment of Green MashUP, Leon Gettler takes a look at some of the world’s greenest buildings around the world, from Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, India and the UK to Australia.

We know that cities generate most of the world’s greenhouse gases. According to the US Green Building Council, buildings contribute, on average, to about 45 per cent of cities’ carbon emissions, making the building sector one of the least expensive, low hanging fruit of emissions mitigation opportunities.

That’s why green building is so important. It not only minimises environmental impact and creates a healthy indoor environment for occupants, it saves money for owners and occupants, ensuring there will be a higher resale price. With energy prices continuing to climb and more becoming aware of their personal impact on the environment, green building has moved from the fringe to the mainstream of the construction industry. Green building will affect builders, property owners, councils and insurers for years to come.

It’s a trend that’s sweeping the world. What are some of the best examples?

Earlier this month we looked at the Construction Industry Council’s Zero Carbon Building in Hong Kong. It’s connected to the local grid and produces renewable energy on site, from a combination of photovoltaic panels and a biodiesel tri-generation system, to offset the power consumed on an annual basis.  The excess is exported to the local grid. It also uses waste cooking oil to generate power.

We also looked at the Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute in Queenscliff which absorbs heat in summer and naturally warms the interiors in winter with inclined walls acting as solar controllers. The concrete roof slab is covered in soil, grass and crushed rock, which also helps to insulate interior spaces

There are many more examples.

Take for example the The Bond in Sydney, headquarters of Lend Lease. It is the first building in Australia to achieve the five-star Australian Building Greenhouse Rating. The Bond was the first building in Australia to use chilled-beam air conditioning technology.  It features individually operated external shades to manage heat and solar gain. There are winter garden rooms and rooftop gardens. Walk through and you’ll find drought resistant plants inside. Lend Lease says that 30 The Bond emits 30 per cent less CO2 than a typical office building.

Or you can check out the CH2 in Little Collins Street, Melbourne. It’s been awarded a six star rating by the Green Building Council. That’s makes it one of the greenest buildings in the world.

The CH2 features hollow floors with individual vents that workers could open and shut to cool their area as required. There are wavy ceilings fitted with radiator-like grills that channel cold water to cool the hot air created by computers, lights, human activity and other factors.

Slots in the ceilings channel stale air to the outside of the building. There are special windows on every floor that can automatically open late at night to flush the building with cool fresh air. Solar power and rainwater are collected on the roof.  An underground sewer can also collect water which is thoroughly filtered and used to water plants and flush toilets. There are sensors constantly monitoring natural light and adjusting interior lights accordingly. There’s also a large area set aside for bicycle parking, lockers and change rooms. As one would expect, the energy bills there are much lower than in other CBD buildings.

A good one overseas is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Being Saudi Arabia, the roof is shaped like a Bedouin tent, spanning across buildings, blocking the sun on facades and covering the outdoor pedestrian spine. The architects have designed it so that the buildings self-shade themselves. Incorporated in the design are chilled beams, heat-recovery wheels, displacement ventilation, smart lighting controls, variable frequency drives, and low-flow duct design.

Two solar towers use the sun and Red Sea breezes to naturally ventilate about one million square feet of space within the outdoor circulation spine. It also incorporates recycling, composting, green cleaning, electric service vehicles, and an alternative transportation plan.

Another is the Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg, Canada. It is regarded as the most energy efficient large office tower in North America. It has radiant ceilings, double-walled facades with operable windows, and geothermal wells. The radiant ceilings are heated by an alcohol-based fluid and this heat is supplied in by chillers, whose source is a bank of deep geothermal wells drilled beneath the building. It has a “Capital A” form designed to harness the maximum amount of passive solar and wind energies and to provide 100 per cent fresh air, 24/7.

You will find a pair of long, north-south oriented, column-free office blocks set at angles to each other, separated by the service core. These office blocks face west and east-northeast. At the pointed north end, a solar chimney runs continuously from the ground level to several stories beyond the roof.

Three south-facing, stacked six-storey winter gardens form the short side of the triangle. This allows those southern winds of Winnipeg to provide the ventilation.  In winter, fresh air enters each winter garden through louvers located in its south-facing, double-walled facade.  The air is heated by the sun and humidified by the water features of 280 tensioned mylar ribbons that carry water from the ceiling to the floor.

Then there is the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in New York. This $1 billion, 54-storey, 1200-foot tall tower housing 2.1 million square feet of office space has designs which include waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures which save 10.3 million gallons of water annually. A grey water system captures, stores, and then re-uses 100 per cent of rainwater and recycles waste water. There are green roofs, reducing the urban heat island effect. Waste heat from co-generation is used to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer through an absorption chiller.

There’s an ice storage system providing approximately 25 per cent of the building’s annual cooling requirements. That reduces daytime peak loads on city’s electricity grid. At night, excess electricity from co-generation system is used to produce ice, which is melted during the day to supplement the cooling system

A good one to look at is the India Tower in Mumbai, India. Looking like a stack of misaligned boxes, it’s 74 storeys tall with 882,000 square foot of multi-use space. Each rotated block in the tower has a completely different use, that is, residential, office, retail and recreation. The design incorporates solar shading, natural ventilation, daylighting, rainwater harvesting, and green interior finishes and materials. This makes it this one of the greenest buildings in India.

Or BMW Welt in Munich. The standout feature of the 785,000 square feet BMW Welt is the 157-foot wide Double Cone providing support for the roof. On the roof of the building there is a large photovoltaic array, made in Germany by Solarwatt, producing a minimum of 824kWp. The designers have installed a network of steel panels on the roof that helps to heat the building via solar gain. Solar gain is also encouraged through the materials on the external facade of the structure. Of course, there is something deeply ironic that this is a car manufacturer’s building but then, that might be BMW’s way of saying it is taking greenhouse gas emissions seriously. We’ll wait and see but at least its building is doing something about it.

An interesting one is Dubiotech in Dubai. The amount of airconditioning in one of the world’s hottest places is reduced with under floor airconditioning and solar shading. The two connected buildings also incorporate water-efficient technology.

The 25-storey Cor in Miami incorporates photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and solar hot water generation. It has an exoskeleton providing thermal mass for insulation, enclosure for terraces, armatures for turbines and shading for natural cooling. This exoskelton encloses 20,100 square feet of office space, 5400 square feet of retail units and 113 residential units.

The Crystal in London, owned by Siemens, has been hailed as a showcase for innovative green building tech. The roof is covered with solar power arrays. The building’s entire heat comes from a ground source and a proportion of its air conditioning is connected to geothermal wells buried beneath the building site. Windows at the top of the building operate automatically allowing fresh air to ventilate the building and air vents along the exhibition room’s floor allow cool air to circulate. Glass panelling and insulated roof make use of natural light and heat, creating its very own “greenhouse effect”. In other areas the glass is angled away from the sun to allow for self-shading.

The University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability  has photovoltaic panels that also act as solar shades. These are aided by living walls, which help to block unwanted sun in the summer while cleaning the air. The CIRS also makes the most of natural, passive ventilation systems, and heating and cooling via 30 geothermal wells. The building is specifically designed this way for a reason. It’s been created to offer students of sustainability a “living laboratory” for green building strategies and technology.

All these are examples of what’s possible. With imagination, architects and the building industry are creating a new market.

As green buildings move into the mainstream, we can expect more of these sorts of commercial buildings in the next five years. Because they produce lower energy costs, they are more likely to have higher resale values. It’s a trend that will transform the building, commercial property investment and real estate sectors.

Leon Gettler is a freelance business journalist, author and podcaster. He works for a range of publications and produces two podcasts for RMIT every week: Talking Business and Talking Technology. He has an acute interest in the environment, its impact on business and the response of businesses and governments.

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