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Turning something useless into good architecture

Budding architect Adrian Lo Yee Cheung from Hong Kong has clinched first place in the region’s first tropical architecture student design competition with his ideas for transforming Hong Kong’s functional but unattractive concrete slopes into stunning and sustainable architectural feats.

Selected from  among the 59 entries received from seven Asian countries, Adrian’s design replaces a neglected, sloped section of a Hong Kong park with an environmentally and community-friendly green building that houses a youth hostel and café.

“I think the jury quite liked the idea of turning something useless into good architecture,” Adrian said in a phone interview.

There was much to like about the project. With his prophetic design - he completed the project in 2007 - Adrian somehow forecasted one of the recurring themes of last week’s green building conference where the award was given: green buildings need to be about more than efficiency; they need to take a holistic approach that combines the economic, social and environmental requirements of the setting.

University of Hong Kong’s Adrian Lo’s award-winning tropical green building design. Image: Adrian Lo

Adrian’s multi-storey structure doesn’t have escalators or elevators - or even outer walls for that matter. Walls would just block natural airflow and light, prohibiting the extensive planted areas in the building and running up electricity costs for artificial lighting and ventilation. Escalators and elevators have also been rejected in hopes of keeping energy use to an absolute minimum. Instead, bicycle-friendly ramps run throughout the structure, and low speed wind turbines perch atop the highest level.  The hostel units, made from sustainable construction materials, can be moved according to need.

Adrian defines the overall effect as ‘a hybrid, loosely defined and flexible architecture’ designed to promote community interaction and meld with the natural environment.

Through his design philosophy, called “Archiotope” after the term biotope used for the elements that make up a contained living community, the 26 year old architect from the University of Hong Kong plans to promote the idea of viewing architecture as an extension of its natural setting.

The natural setting in this case, contains a number of picturesque tropical trees called banyan trees. In his project, Adrian has preserved as many of the banyan trees as possible, working them into the design. The reason, he said, was that he believes architecture should increase, rather than decrease, the overall green content of the park.

His approach seems to have worked.

Judges at last week’s inaugural International Green Building Conference Tropical Architecture Design Competition in Singapore sent him home with a S$3,000 prize and a prestigious award to add to his resume.

The award competition, organised by Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority, the Singapore Institute of Architects and the Singapore Green Building Council, was part of the International Green Building Conference 2011 held during Singapore Green Building Week. The competition was open to students from undergraduate or post-graduate architecture and building design programmes.

The other winning entries, judged by a panel of experts for a combination of creativity, environmental sustainability and feasibility, were from Singapore, Malaysia and India.’s coverage of the International Green Building Conference 2011 is brought to you by City Developments Limited (CDL).

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