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Hong Kong interior design

Sustainable designs add a breath of fresh air to luxury apartments

Apartment-dwellers and homeowners are offering premiums for green, eco-friendly spaces

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 7:38pm

The builders of a residential development in Playa Vista, just outside Los Angeles, wanted to make sure that residents would not have to walk more than two to five minutes to get to a shop or restaurant. In New York, the toilets in a new building on the Hudson River will use recycled water from a neighbouring block of flats. In Singapore, an eco-chic building recently installed a wind turbine to generate power to residents. AIRE, in Santa Monica, California, is even throwing in a pair of bicycles with the purchase of every unit.

Those developments are all part of what developers are calling the new “eco-literacy” in property development, with apartment-dwellers and homeowners attaching a premium to being able to hang their hat in a “green” space; real estate insiders say that it’s becoming almost as important as having the trendiest amenities in a building.

“To build conventionally is just not relevant anymore,” said Alison Girard, director of marketing of Brookfield Residential, one of the largest home builders in North America, and the developer behind Playa Vista. “The market is saying ‘you need to build better.’ Developers don’t have a choice anymore. They have to build for the modern environment in which we live.”

That is showing up in numerous ways across the world – non-toxic paints, recycled building materials, solar panels, tree-filled spaces within properties, landscaping that needs little watering – and the more unusual the approach, the better. And while developers continue to strive for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, others are rethinking what it means to be truly green, instead of simply adhering to standard rules.

“Developers are moving away from rigid certification standards and are starting to break out on their own in creative ways,” said John Oppermann, executive director of Earth Day Initiative in New York, which runs year-round sustainability programmes. “Many feel that the green certification processes have drifted away from the spirit of the law in order to closely adhere to the letter of the law.”

An example of this might be the Via 57 West building in New York, designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, which incorporates elements such as cabinets made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) woods, ventilated fresh air to each unit, energy-efficient appliances, solar sunscreens on the floor-to-ceiling windows and a lush green courtyard on site.

“It uses innovative techniques that the building would not necessarily receive credit for under the LEED standard,” said Oppermann.

Treetops, a development of luxury serviced apartments in Singapore that has been around since 2000, continues to add to its roster of sustainable attributes: each unit comes equipped with high efficiency air filtration systems, 60 per cent of the property is covered with 200 types of different plants, and energy consumption has been slashed by half since 2009. Two years ago, Treetops installed a vertical wind turbine, which generates power.

In Houston, the new 2929 Weslayan, a 254-unit apartment building, has water-conserving landscaping, eco-friendly building materials, an on-site recycling programme and preferred parking for low-emission vehicles.

“People are choosing to live there, in large part, because of that sustainable character,” said Tom Brink, vice president of international architecture and design firm CallisonRTKL, who led the design on 2929 Weslayan. “It is atypical for a place like Houston, which is considered the energy capital of the world. But peoples’ wants and needs are changing, and they are responding to a more sustainable approach.”

For one of the company’s upcoming projects in Orlando, sensors on the windows will turn opaque depending on the time of day, conserving energy without the resident having to do very much.

“It is cost-effective and allows for a clean, simple interior environment,” said Brink.

Similarly, artificial grass – once looked down upon for looking obviously fake – is suddenly finding favour in high end developments with an inclination towards sustainability: it requires no watering and no upkeep or pesticides – and can look as good as the real thing.

“Artificial plants have become so realistic and functional that they are now being used on everything from privacy panels to ground cover in higher end homes and hotels,” said Braden Power, co-founder of Texas-based developer, Power Properties, which uses the faux turf in a number of its properties.

“Developers and the average homeowner are realising the drastic cost savings in maintenance...add the cost benefit that many cities are offering rebate money for water conservation, [and] it’s a no-brainer.”

Fundamentally, say real estate insiders, the strides being made by developers are being spurred by demands of the market: tenants and homeowners are voting for lower energy costs and healthier living spaces constructed in ways that take the environment into consideration.

“It has become a standard,” said Hans Galland, senior vice president of development for Pacific Eagle, which is developing the 68-unit Cavalleri in Malibu, California, slated for completion in early 2017. “To be eco-friendly is now expected in the marketplace.” Cavalleri reuses as much as possible of the former rental apartments on the site instead of carting the entire lot off to a landfill. The homes also open on to a 10-acre nature preserve – another strong selling point.

“In the luxury space, sustainability is becoming part of a more holistic way to live, a lifestyle statement rather than having yet another crystal chandelier.”