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Zero Carbon Building reveals how a typical Hong Kong flat can become a sustainable eco-home

Kowloon Bay project revamps unit comforts and conservation products available in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 10:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 4:59pm

It’s no coincidence that, during the long months of hot, sticky weather in Hong Kong, we feel far more comfortable in the countryside than in the city.

The combination of high-density, tropical climate and high-rise buildings means Hong Kong suffers considerably from the “urban heat island” effect, a phenomenon that climate-change scientists say can make the air up to 12 degrees Celsius warmer than neighbouring, less developed places.

Cranking up the air conditioning is not the most environmentally-friendly solution to coping with summer in the city. The answer is to build cooler, smarter cities in the first place.

Hong Kong architect William Lim, managing director of CL3, has a particular interest in sustainable design, and shows how it can be done through projects including the Eco-home component of the Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) in Kowloon Bay.

The first zero carbon building in Hong Kong was established to demonstrate how eco-design combined with active green technologies can greatly reduce the emissions of city buildings, and produce a more comfortable, healthier living environment for all. Given that in Hong Kong, buildings account for some 89 per cent of electricity use – and electricity in turn accounts for more than 60 per cent of the total local emissions – greener construction is pivotal to the government’s carbon reduction targets.

One of the problems with existing buildings, Lim says, is the glass curtain wall facade almost universally adopted for high-rise construction during the 1960 and 70s.

“You’d think the curtain wall is environmentally friendly as it lets in natural light, but those windows can’t be opened [and need constant air conditioning], and the glass also produces glare and reflects heat,” he explains. Buildings, Lim continues, “are meant to breathe”. That means allowing natural ventilation through opening windows and site orientation – features he was able to include in the Eco-home show flat.

Following its initial unveiling in 2012, the Eco-home at ZCB was subsequently revamped in line with the evolving technologies. It further demonstrates a holistic, sustainable way of living that can be easily adopted by the public, and how a smart design philosophy for a low carbon home can enhance quality of life.

Replicating a typical Hong Kong apartment, the Eco-home has a living room, an open kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Its design approach is one of stylish contemporary living, incorporating five fundamental elements of sustainable design – energy and water conservation, comfort level, materials selection and lifestyle decisions – to form a semi-self-sustained system.

“To meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria, all construction materials are sustainable – such as [cabinetry] veneers made from banana leaf, and bamboo flooring,” Lim explains. “In the bathroom, we used low-flow faucets [taps] with a hand drier built into the tap. We have a food-waste digester in the kitchen and a greenhouse on the terrace where people can hydroponically grow herbs and vegetables for the table.”

The show flat also has a piezo electricity generating floor (which harvests energy simply by being walked on), smart lighting systems and a water-efficient washing machine.

A comfortable indoor environment is achieved, even throughout summer, via a custom-designed passive cooling system.

“We have a lot of opening windows, and a bladeless ceiling fan,” Lim explains.  To make sleeping easier on the hottest of nights, “we designed a bed so that if you do need to turn on air conditioning, the cool air is confined to the bed instead of the whole room”, he says.

All of the products and technologies showcased at the Eco-home are available in Hong Kong now. Guided tours of the facility may be arranged by appointment.

Lim also notes that more developers in Hong Kong are aiming for LEED or BEAM (Building Environmental Assessment Method) certification.

An early mover, the CL3 imbued green elements into Hotel Icon, which was completed in 2011. The practice is also incorporating some of the latest environmental technologies into H Queen's, a new art hub in Central nearing completion for Henderson Land, which seeks gold certification in LEED and BEAM.

Lim sees it as an architect’s role to be environmentally conscious.

“We are at the forefront” of shaping the cities of the future, he says.

Reservations for guided tours of the Eco-home and other indoor exhibitions at ZCB can be made online at http://zcb.hkcic.org