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27 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Green Building

By Bipul K Debnath
Green Building

Imagine a place surrounded by clear water and greenery, with cool breezes and natural lighting all around. Now, imagine such a place in a concrete apartment building in this congested city.

“When I became a popular actress, I bought land here. I always wanted to keep alive my childhood memories. So, I preferred a home where I could enjoy the sight of bamboo trees, the sound of wind and flowing water. Being an artist, I wanted my residence to be art-oriented where I could enjoy rain, moonlight and breeze sitting at my window. Thus, I went looking for such an architect who could create my dream building,” said Farida Akhter, owner of the green building that recreates the ambience of her childhood home in Jessore at Gulshan in Dhaka.

“I came to know about the famous Bangladeshi green architect, Rafiq Azam, from Indian film star Shabana Azmi. Then I contacted him. There is no need to use a fan in my house. It has proper ventilation system, so fresh air is circulated throughout. Even, we do not need to use extra lights during the day. That is why we named it ‘Serenity’,” said Akhter, who is better known by her screen name, Bobita.

About four percent of the 11-storey building’s energy needs is supplied by solar panels on the roof, while water used by the residents is partially recycled.

Now, a modern building in an urban area where you don’t need to use fans or daytime lights is no longer just a dream, but a possibility thanks to environment-friendly and energy-efficient building designs, popularly known as green architecture.

People construct high-rise buildings in urban areas that usually consume a huge amount of electricity and water, and pollute the environment in the process. On the other hand, the amount of greenhouse gases is increasing day by day and our country is the worst sufferer of this climate change phenomenon. To tackle these issues, green architecture has come up with the idea of using renewable energy, rainwater harvesting and other eco-friendly measures to mitigate the negative effects of global warming.

However, creating awareness among owners and builders about the concept of green building is a challenge as many people still do not know the benefits of such type of construction. According to the Green Building Information Gateway website, there are only 81 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified green buildings in this country.

“The concept of green building, which is also known as sustainable building, is not new for us. But the practice of creating structures and using processes (of green building) has become important for us as it is resource-efficient throughout the building’s life-cycle. It minimises the negative impact on the environment,” said Khandaker Shabbir Ahmed, head of Department of Architecture at BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology).

Normally, people think the green building concept is related to plants and vegetation on the walls and rooftops of the building, the professor said. “Green is an allegorical word here which relates to nature. A green building does not mean just planting lots of plants on the rooftop or in the garden,” he added. “There just has to be a connection with nature.”

According to Ahmed, property developers have to consider people’s health and wellbeing, the climate, energy resources, technology, and human behaviour, and of course, environmental issues, when constructing any green building.

Differentiating green building from mainstream architecture, Ahmed explained: “We see now many buildings are being built without properly utilizing the advancements in technology. Energy is needed to operate a building, just like a vehicle. If the architecture or design of the building depends on energy, then the question arises from which source the energy will come. The energy usually comes from non-renewable sources, which is called fossils fuels.”

“Through burning fossil fuels, we create greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which are responsible for the greenhouse effect. It results in global warming and affects climate patterns. That is why we, the architects, give importance to green architecture to minimise the use of fossil fuels and maximise the use of renewable energy, including solar power and natural light, and ensure healthy living,” Ahmed added.

In reality, the cost of green building is expensive, and thus, people face difficulty in following the concept. Green building is expensive because we have to use green technology imported from foreign countries, experts say.

But Ahmed believes the cost of green technology is coming down: “From the expenditure point of view, green building seems expensive. But from the operational point of view, it is cheaper in the long run. If the occupants use solar panels, the cost of electricity will be reduced.” Also, recycling used water or storing rainwater is cost-effective.  

On the other hand, as open spaces are limited in the city, people tend to use their rooftops for different activities. But the roof is preferred for setting up solar panels and they take up the open space. Addressing this problem, Ahmed said: “On a tin-roofed house, we can use solar panels easily. But it is a challenge to manage space on rooftops in the city. That can be solved in many ways. For example, there is a window glass available in the market that can be used as a solar panel.”

“Green architecture is a concept of sustainability without hampering the environment. Green architecture has many dimensions; it can address the problem of climate change. The sustainability of a green building is three times than that of a general building,” he added.

Besides, the use of harmful paints and lack of natural light in non-green buildings can be detrimental to public health.

“The use of certain paints in buildings can cause health hazards. The sad news is there is nobody to monitor this. We give importance on maintaining levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while making green buildings,” said Al-Emran Hossain, president of Bangladesh Green Building Academy (BGBA), which provides green building consulting services in the country and is approved by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). VOCs are gases emitted by certain solids or liquids that can be harmful to health.

“Daylight harvesting is another important point of green building. A baby who stays inside all day in artificial light may suffer from vitamin-D deficiency. So, natural sunlight is important. That is why our forefathers designed their houses making provision for such important things,” Hossain added.  

To overcome the challenges of green building in the contest of our country, the BGBA president simply said: “We have to involve young professionals in this sector.”

Khandaker Ahmed, the head of BUET’s architecture department, said they run workshops for architects and arrange international conferences on green architecture. “We also do consultancy with design wings that are working on building green factories. We also encourage our students to work with green architecture,” he said.

Young architects are conscious of the green building concept. “Now, new concepts of architecture are coming up and we are learning about them. To get proper benefit of green building, we need to emphasis on producing green materials at home first,” said Bellal Hossain, 22, a student of architecture at Stamford University.

No doubt, the cost of constructing a green building is expensive. If the materials used for green construction were manufactured in our country, then the cost would be greatly reduced, experts believe. The government, meanwhile, offers 10 to 12 percent tax reduction for those who go for green buildings, while Bangladesh Bank advocates ‘green finance’.

About giving importance to green building, M Helal Uddin, chairman of Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA), a state agency that is working with environment-friendly construction, said: “Energy efficiency and sustainability are important for living. So, the government has taken many initiatives to introduce eco-friendly architecture. Besides, Bangladesh Bank encourages financing for those who are involved in green building.”

Regarding availability of materials and equipment for green building in the local market, M Nafizur Rahman, deputy director of SREDA, said: “About 80 percent of building materials in our country is imported. If we talk about local building materials, we have to talk about (baked) bricks; manufacturing them also has a negative impact on the environment.”

Meanwhile, Rafiq Azam, principal architect of Shatotto, an architecture firm that focusses on green living, was somewhat critical of the green building concept imposed by western countries. The architect believes Bangladesh still has sufficient green areas and does not emit huge amounts of carbons like other developed countries.

“We are suffering now because of their activities. The green building concept is nothing but propaganda by the West. Now, we are buying certificates from them by paying a huge amount of money,” said Azam, who has designed many eco-friendly buildings, including Bobita’s dream house.

According to Azam, who is a main proponent of green architecture in this country, the day will come when tenants will no longer rent a house or office without a green certificate. “So, we have to think of that now. If a building has sufficient ventilation and has enough space for gardening, it does not require a green certification. Our concern is to ensure proper use of energy,” he added.

Azam also suggested formulating a local certification system with the help of experts who know the criteria of green building ratings.  

The certification system for green residential buildings is different to commercial or industrial units. Many countries have their own rating systems, including the USA, UK, Singapore and India. But there is no such system in our country, and that is why we need to get recognition from USGBC, officials said.

Helal Uddin, chairman of SREDA, told The Weekend Independent that they have met experts in green building and have drafted a green building rating system locally.

“Now, we have to apply to foreign countries for green ratings, and people have to pay a lot of money. That is why we have decided to develop our own rating system,” said Helal Uddin. “People can take certification under this rating system on a voluntary basis. The user-friendly rating system is not mandatory yet, as it requires further revision. Also, we need to amend the Bangladesh National Building Code 2006.”

Rahman, the deputy director of SREDA who is working on the green building policy, added: “We are updating the national building code for promoting green buildings in our country.”

Regarding the major challenges faced by those who want eco-friendly living space, architect Rafiq Azam admitted it is very expensive to meet the requirements of green certification, like installing solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system. “Rainwater harvesting is difficult to handle. Now, every solar panel has a battery to preserve the electricity produced. If solar power is added directly to the national grid, then customers will be more willing to go solar,” he said.

Photos: Courtesy

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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