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Old November 17th, 2007, 06:35 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Seeking Zero - Malaysia's Sustainable Architecture

Go with the flow
A landmark project aims to set the standard for sustainable architecture

16 November 2007
South China Morning Post

Imagine a home that works in harmony with the environment - one made totally from renewable materials that creates its own energy and recycles water.

This is the aim of Seeking Zero, a project that will construct six self-sufficient residences within a bird sanctuary in Kuala Lumpur's Sentul Park, in what is regarded as a ground-breaking test case for sustainable architecture.

Hong Kong architecture firm KplusK Associates and Beijing-based MAD studio have been selected to participate in the project dreamed up by Malaysian developers YTL, which has allocated a budget of US$250,000 for each of the dream green homes.

Eight leading design teams were shortlisted to submit two designs each, from which six winners were chosen. Joining KplusK and MAD in the project, which is awaiting a start date, are Britain's Atelier Ten and Grant Associates, Zoka Zola from the US and Germany's Graft.

KplusK managing director Johnny Kember describes zero net energy consumption as "the ultimate challenge of sustainable architecture", and Seeking Zero the "holy grail".

"This project will become as important a permanent exhibition for sustainable contemporary architecture as the Weissenhofsiedlung Exhibition of 1927 was for the modern movement in architecture last century," he says, referring to an estate of working-class housing built in Stuttgart. It was an international showcase of what became known as the international style of modern architecture.

KplusK routinely uses environmentally responsible materials in its designs, choosing managed-forest veneers instead of tropical hardwood, bamboo for flooring, LED lighting, and reconstituted materials such as leather from old shoes, or new-generation concrete made of waste products from heavy industry.

For many of its residential projects in Thailand, Hong Kong and Bali, the firm builds recyclable drainage systems to irrigate landscapes and creates alternatives to conventional air-conditioning systems using natural ventilation, desiccant cooling - a dehumidifier that uses renewable, non-energy-consuming materials - and "earth sheltering", where a building is partly buried in the ground, or given a grass roof, for insulation (as is traditional in Scandinavia).

"The cornerstone of the company's philosophy has always been to create stimulating, eccentric, individualistic architecture," says Kember. "Sustainability has come to us out of an overriding global necessity, and so we look to create funky, iconic architecture which is environmentally responsible, rather than prosaic, muesli-crunching eco-architecture, which, through its overriding concern with practical solutions to practical problems, tend to be a little dull."

The competition brief is to design three-bedroom residences that are innovative in form and space, fully integrating hi- and low-tech systems to achieve comfortable, inspirational environments with zero net energy usage. The buildings will be tested under rigorous scientific conditions to evaluate their efficiency.

KplusK's design is a compact villa constructed of pre-cast concrete panels and insulated plywood, sited to collect solar energy.

The building runs on "auto pilot", with large vertical solar fins moving every five minutes to track the sun's position. Water used to cool the rubber roof is funnelled into a waterfall in the interior, which includes a light well. In a climate of 98 per cent humidity, air is dehumidified by using large blocks of zeolite, a natural mineral desiccant. Filtered air is driven into the building using air-conditioning units that contain the eco-friendly refrigerant Puron.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof generate more than 21kW/h of electricity a day. This energy is produced in surplus during daylight and fed into the national grid under Malaysia's "buy back" system, in which householders gain energy credits for electricity they create. Enough hot water for six people is generated via two solar thermal-transfer panels. The building also collects its entire water requirement from the roof. Rainwater is purified using reverse osmosis to create potable water, and stored underground in plastic tanks. All kitchen and domestic appliances are low energy designs.

In an era of depleting natural resources, Kember says the Seeking Zero project will pave the way for future design. The developer, YTL, plans to use the buildings to measure zero energy compliance, and the houses will be used as show places for the public as a permanent exhibition for sustainable architecture.

"LED lighting technology will transform the way we all use light within five years because it makes economic and ecological sense to do so," he says. "Traditional fossil-based fuel companies such as Shell and BP are at the forefront of the photovoltaic technology because they understand the world is changing. Governments are embracing the need for change."
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