The drive down Clementi Road might be peppered with greenery alongside several schools, but the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment is still a sight to behold.
Standing six storeys tall, the multidisciplinary space boasts a large oversailing roof, airy and open spaces, floor-to-ceiling glass panels and concrete surfaces that resemble marble — and its sleek facade is only enhanced by weaving in the surrounding mature trees into its design.
Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, one of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan‘s key targets is to green 80 per cent of its buildings by 2030.
Net-zero buildings can be part of the solution to fight climate change, says Mr Lei Zhang, founder and CEO of Envision Group and Envision Digital, whose company aims to address sustainability challenges with technology solutions.
“Buildings in Singapore account for over 20 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions. Given the high emissions footprint of buildings, using design and technology to enable them to be net-zero can help mitigate climate change in a meaningful way,” he said.
Mr Zhang also cited the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which he said suggested that “globally, we will see more floods, changes in temperatures, more frequent rainfall”.
“A third of Singapore, including its central business district, is less than 5m above mean sea level. Singaporeans have cause for concern, as it will literally be a situation of sink or swim if nothing is done,” he added.
Building on its commitment to achieve “net-zero operational carbon emissions” by 2022, the bank will retrofit an existing four-storey office building at 135 Bukit Timah Road into Singapore’s first net-zero development by a bank, DBS said in a press release in July.
“We thought, what can be more green than not tearing down the building that we already have? … We said, hey, let’s truly challenge ourselves. Can we actually turn it into a net-zero building?” shared Mr Erwin Chong, Group Head of Corporate Real Estate Strategy and Administration at DBS.
“(There’s) carbon that has already been used. There’s concrete, there’s cost, there’s everything that has already been built. (So that) set the ambition and the way we look at it. All of that fits with our responsible business practices and goals.”
Another principle guiding DBS in the process is that their building should “blend in with the existing environment”, much like the School of Design and Environment building.
“We’re very near Botanic Gardens, a nice green patch of land in Singapore. The last thing we want is to create a building that looks like a concrete thing. We also wanted to make sure that we give back to the environment and the community,” added Mr Chong.
Speaking about BCA’s zero-energy building that was built more than a decade ago by retrofitting a building within the BCA Academy, Mr Ang pointed to the concept of “passive design”.
“It’s about harnessing the energy from the external environment to create a space that’s conducive for the end-users. This is probably the first step that most buildings must take – deploy as many passive design strategies as possible,” he said.
“One concept that we’re trying to promote very aggressively is the use of natural ventilation, even in office space. We recognise that it’s challenging, because now I think the acceptance of air conditioning is almost the (default) mindset.
“I think we need to do a lot of demonstration projects around what we call mixed mode ventilation, which means that you have a hybrid kind of system.”
Mr Ang also said BCA employs “smart energy management”, which is the opposite of a “one size fits all” approach in many offices, where a central system controls the lights and air-conditioning for the entire building.
“We wanted to give power to the individual, in terms of air-conditioning and lighting. For instance, they will (gauge) the right level of light for their own workspace; if other people are not using the space, then the light might not be so bright … We need to make sure that the demand is met just right, so we don’t waste energy unnecessarily,” he said.