Environmental designer Ken Yeang explains bioclimatic design to Architecture students from around the Philippines. These structures utilize and integrate nature into its architecture. Photo by Paul Allyson R. QuiambaoTHE REALITY is that a small part of nature is usually sacrificed to make way for man-made structures, as environment and infrastructure are locked in a constant tug-of-war for space. Thankfully, new innovations in architecture have made it possible for the two to co-exist and even complement each other.

These innovations were shown in the symposium “Asian Green Cities: Visions of the Modern World,” last January 30 at the Medicine Auditorium. Organized by Architecture Network (Archinet), a local student organization of the College of Architecture, the symposium stressed the crucial role of architects in creating “sustainable architecture” to address environmental concerns.

Sustainable architecture applies environmentally-conscious techniques in designing structures. Despite similar efforts of local organizations such as the Neo-Urban planner of Ayala and Rockefeller Foundations (spearheaded by Thomasian street artist Mark Salvatus himself), the Philippines is still indisposed to the growing trend of “environmental” urban planning.

“Our Asian neighbors have already espoused sustainable features in their designs,” said Archinet adviser John Nicholas Ramos in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “Our country, however, is lagging behind as we continue to embrace obsolete Western principles in architecture.”

Ramos added that with the pressing concern of global warming upon us, the future of life on earth depends in no small part to the ability of the architects, designers and planners in adapting this green mindset. Applying these eco-friendly designs in the local context is not at all impossible, according to environmental designers Ken Yeang and Darko Radovic, who both spoke in the forum.

Breathing skyscrapers

An aspiring architect since 15, Yeang has always envisioned a world where man-made structures do not pose as an environmental threat.

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“I fell in love with the idea of making the world a better place and simultaneously contributing to the field of architecture,” said Yeang, who is part of the London-based architecture firm Llewelyn Davies Yeang.

His extensive research on bioclimatic designs and principles have prompted the theory that man can utilize climate and integrate its effects into architecture, giving birth to eco-friendly and energy-sufficient buildings. Because of his contributions, he was given the title “father of bioclimatic skyscrapers.”

But contrary to popular belief, green buildings do not only make use of shrubs on the building’s windows and porches. Rather, the distinguishing mark of these eco-structures can be found in how it practices recycling of air and water or “energy cycling.”

“Everything in this planet is recycled,” he said. “These green buildings should also practice the cycle of energy, because our nature is all about this [cycle].”

Drafting eco-friendly blueprints is difficult. Areas where culture is varied and reflects on the façade of buildings would make these futuristic structures look out of place.

“We try to simplify culture without insulting the traditions, and this requires a lot of strategy,” Yeang said.

Still, he remains optimistic green buildings would grow in the decade to come. He added that the emergence of green cities is not far off in the next five to 10 years.

Capital over culture

“Sustainable architecture” is not entirely focused on environmental advocacies alone—it also touches on the preservation of cultural heritage.

Yugoslavian architect Radovic criticized Western architecture, describing it as a “takeover of capitalism in cities” rather than a move to urban progression. He said he believes that societies have both the technology and knowledge to produce sustainable architecture, but the culture of capitalism halted the production of such architectural feats.

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“Our world is very much governed by the small and selfish financial interests of those in power,” said Radovic, who teaches architecture and urban design in the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Growing up in Mostar, Radovic experienced first-hand the harsh climate of Mediterranean Europe, which piqued his interest in both architecture and urbanism. Indeed, his thesis focused on solving this problem through an architectural structure suited for the climate.

Radovic soon delved into bioclimatic designs, which center on the interaction between man and his environment. His research led to the publication of several books that presents the idea that sustainable architecture in cities goes hand in hand with an awareness of the local culture. He stressed that one cannot devise a single solution to every country’s environmental problems, since each country has its own culture and topography.

“Usually, it (the solution) is imposed by someone else, but the very fact that it is not their own, it cannot be proper,” said Radovic.

In the discussion during the symposium, Radovic used his books to prove his findings to young architecture students, hoping that they would consider this when they are already practicing their craft.

“If we appreciate, celebrate, respect and know our own cultures, and at the same time, if we appreciate and respect cutting edge technology which is long known, a new quality emerges.” said Radovic.

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