Pushing the boundaries of new and existing green buildings

Liak Teng Lit, chief executive of Alexandra Healthcare, is not an architect or engineer. He is a health care professional, but that has not detered him from understanding the importance of green buildings. He knows that for his patients, the fundamental features of a green building clearly lead to faster recoveries and better outcomes.

Speaking at the Singapore Green Building Conference on Wednesday, Mr Liak shared the journey taken by the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) to achieve the highest Green Mark rating.

At KTPH, Mr Liak set a very ambitious vision for his design team. His lead designer, Prof. Lee Siew Eang from the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment, told the conference he enjoyed the challenge of working for such an ambitious and demanding client.

Mr Liak needed 110,000 square metres of space and a design that was not overwhelming and very people-friendly. He wanted architectural solutions to take precedence over engineered solutions, so that “over engineering” did not take place. But it needed to be done at a reasonable capital cost and use 50 per cent less energy than the previous generation of hospitals.

The design of the hospital was primarily driven by the principles of a positive and healthy environment for the recovery of patients, positive publicity, lower operation costs, and future-proofing. Located near a lake, the final design maximises the use of balcony greenery, allowing the perception of being on the ground - important for patent recovery, said Mr Liak. Amazingly the building’s green coverage is 3.9 times of the building footprint.

To overcome potential problems, the roof planter drainage was oversized, and to reduce garden maintenance, non-manicured tropical gardens were chosen.

Other key green design features included a façade in the shape of a fin that not only act as shades but guide ventilation into the building.

By setting clear and ambitious goals and pushing the design team beyond the conventions, the hospital, under the direction of Mr Liak and Prof. Lee, has achieved the highest Green Mark scores to date, creating a “new paradigm in green building for hospitals”, as its advocators claim.

Another interesting session at the conference today was a case study of how the Empire State Building was retrofitted.

Buildings don’t get more high-profile than the Empire State Building. Built in 1931, the 102-storey building was using a huge US$11 million in power each year.

Thus, when the Clinton Climate Initiative had the option to assist in using it as a showcase for their program they jumped at the chance.

Clay Nesler, Johnson Controls, shared this exciting project at today’s Singapore Green Building Conference. He explained it is a great example that breaks the perception that old buildings cannot be economically retrofitted and given a new greener life.

And so the team of Jones Lang Lassalle, Johnson Control, together with the client set about the replacing the old paradigm for retrofitting – replacing old with new – with being smarter with the $93 million budget that had been allocated.

What was the result? They followed a carefully-guided process of options analysis, justified an additional $13 million budget which showed an incremental payback of 3.1 years by achieving a 37% energy saving.

Two interesting retrofit features were the windows and the chillers. The windows were re-manufactured on-site, panel by panel in the evenings so that all 6,500 were revamped in a one-year period with no disruption on the tenants. Furthermore, the old chillers were retrofitted with an abundance of controls and variable speed drives.

From the tenants’ perspective, they can now compare their energy consumption with that of their neighbouring tenants. This was due to the installation of sub-metering and via an online system. In addition to this, they also had more predictive control during the design phase in selecting the fit-out features thanks to a smart calculator that predicted energy consumption.

Mr Nesler shared three key lessons. Firstly, be sure to address tenants’ space as it impacts half of the power footprint.

Secondly, be disciplined in the options identification and analysis.

And thirdly, get the project timing right to integrate with buildings capital plan to avoid negative NPV outcomes.

His final recommendation for building owners: be holistic and find the real solution. Don’t blindly follow the obvious advice of the chiller manufacturer recommending bigger chillers, or the cooling tower manufacturer recommending bigger cooling towers.

It should be obvious advice but it is a good reminder of such a lost opportunity to save costs.

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