and Business Resources
Report from The Bangkok Post
Save energy and maybe save lives
Buildings account for about half
the world's consumption of fossil fuels. Producing buildings that are
less dependent on oil is the only long term, sustainable way to reduce
the power of America over our lives.
LUCIANA MELCHERT SAGUAS PRESAS
As the war on Iraq rumbles forward against
the will of the majority of the world's citizens, we need to ask ourselves
if there is any way to avoid the periodical outbreak of such conflicts
more effective than protesting on the streets.
It is no surprise that this war was launched against the backdrop of a
cost-benefit analysis carefully calculated by the United States. As many
commentators have made clear, American pressure for the disarming of Iraq
is more about controlling the Near East's oil reserves to meet the needs
of an expanding empire than about combating terrorism.
The immediate benefits for America will obviously result from its share
of sales of Iraqi oil. But let's not also ignore the indirect profit it
will earn by reinforcing the policy of using oil-based energy to run the
entire world. The likely impact on the emergence of new Osama bin Ladens
aside, this war will probably carry a huge cost which the whole world
will have to repay in years to come.
If we carefully analyse the costs and benefits of the race for oil, it
is obvious that those who will pay the bill for this war _ and thus subsidise
the war industry _ are the consumers of energy.
Rather than protest in the streets for what could be a lost cause, there
are other means we can pursue to limit America's ambitions, one of which
is a serious energy savings policy.
Yet, as obvious as this is, energy saving has been a missed opportunity.
This oversight results in part from the strong economic interests, especially
prevalent in the United States, that have been so successful in limiting
the impact of alternatives to oil, such as solar and other renewable sources.
It also is largely due to the fact that people around the world, particularly
in the largest cities, are not doing enough to change the practice of
oil consumption, which not only is destabilising the ecology of the planet
through global warming but now increasingly places safety issues at stake.
Cities and their buildings, though occupying only 2% of the Earth's surface,
account for 75% of the consumption of the world's resources, including
oil. Buildings alone, including homes, offices, commercial facilities
and so forth, directly or indirectly use half the commercial energy of
the planet, be it through their systems of acclimatisation (air-conditioning/heating)
and lighting or through the manufacture of its components, such as cement,
steel, aluminium and so on. In England, for instance, the energy used
in the manufacture of building materials accounts for 10% of the country's
total commercial energy.
There are now numerous solutions to minimise the oil dependence of buildings,
ranging from energy efficient materials _ for instance, high efficiency
windows, insulation, bricks, concrete and masonry _ to high performance
technologies _ such as energy saving appliances, advanced lighting controls
and thermostats, efficient heating and cooling systems, solar water heating
systems, heat recovery systems and photovoltaics, among others.
In addition, and most important, the solutions involve passive strategies
_ that is, better orienting and siting of buildings, calculating glazing
size and its location strategically, considering natural ventilation and
appropriate shading for cooling, and so forth. A building in Rome used
a large vertical garden to control overheating in summer. A 60-storey
skyscraper in Frankfurt uses natural ventilation to reduce the use of
air-conditioning, without jeopardising its structural stability. In Amsterdam,
a company opted for low energy materials in the construction of its headquarters.
Common to these solutions is the understanding that buildings are not
isolated from the surrounding environment.
The glass box concept largely imposed by American culture, which now dominates
the landscape of major cities, has to be discarded, in particular in regions
where solar gains are too intensive, such as here in Bangkok.
Perhaps a suggestion for Southeast Asia would be to have a look at what
neighbouring Malaysia is doing, in view of the solutions proposed by architect
Ken Yeang. His buildings are breaking away radically from the glass box
tradition and creating forms that suit the local context and lead to serious
energy savings. Another option could be to review the architecture of
traditional Thai settlements and the passive solutions they applied to
see how they could be translated into the modern building culture.
Reductions in energy consumption can vary from 100%, with the most drastic
proposals, to 40-50%, with more reasonable approaches. Of course, and
as a result of the economic impediments mentioned above, it will require
a great deal of trial (and probably error) by architects, developers,
engineers and their clients.
But it is clear that continuing to practise design solutions based on
the air-conditioned model is not only emblematic of support for the American
culture, it demonstrates the current subordination and vulnerability of
our countries to policies designed abroad.
Energy saving buildings could be the best way to reduce the impact of
a unilateral power on our daily lives and achieve a better-balanced world
in the future.
- Luciana Melchert Saguas Presas is a Brazilian architect specialising
in energy saving buildings. She is currently carrying out a comparative
analysis in Bangkok based on policies implemented in the Netherlands,
China and Brazil.
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