Designing green buildings starts with ecology, says Malaysian architect Ken Yeang

  • Design
  • Wednesday, 06 Oct 2021

The Calvary Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur is a low-energy design by T.R. Hamzah and Yeang. Photos:

As an advanced species, humans make and build the most things in the world, but we are also the ones who contaminate Earth the most, says renowned eco-architect Datuk Dr Ken Yeang.

“We continue to throw things away, but there is no ‘away’. The ‘away’ is the biosphere itself, because the Earth is a closed system. So when we continue to make things, continue to generate emissions, throw plastics, we contaminate the world we live in, causing environmental degradation,” said Yeang during his online talk entitled “Designing For A Resilient Planet”.

The talk was part of the Archidex Fast Forward Webinar series held in conjunction with World Architecture Day on Oct 4.

Yeang said, however, if we combine everything we make and do with the environment in a seamless and benign way, there will not be any environmental issues.

“So the crux of ecological design is effective bio-integration (both physical and systemic). The built environment must become part of nature,” said Yeang, explaining that the built environment in this context refers not only to buildings but includes transportation systems, structures, artifacts and entire cities.

Yeang, 72, is well-known for his decades of research on ecological design and planning. In 2008, The Guardian named him as one of 50 people who could save the planet.'Everything in nature is connected. A green building has to start with ecology. We have to teach and learn ecology,' says eco-architect Yeang. 'Everything in nature is connected. A green building has to start with ecology. We have to teach and learn ecology,' says eco-architect Yeang.

Among the questions he often encounters is how to green a city.

“The first thing is to link all the green pockets of spaces together. We should start by making our infrastructure green, and anything we connect to that infrastructure, and that will make it easier to green the whole city,” said the executive director of T.R. Hamzah and Yeang.

Ecological design, he added, is not just about the design.

“Human society has to change, lifestyles have to change, the way we use the natural environment has to change,” he said.

Yeang challenges architects to rethink the way they design.

“Everything in nature is connected. A green building has to start with ecology. We have to teach and learn ecology, because it changes the way we look at the world, the way we design, and the curriculum of schools of architecture,” he said.

One of his biggest disappointments is the way architecture is still being taught today.

“Schools of architecture have to teach ecology in the first year itself and let that drive architecture. Then we will look at materials from source to site and, later, how to recycle materials. So the whole way of teaching has to change,” he urged.

Yeang also emphasised the importance of putting people first in design.

“What is very important is, while I focus on green design, we must remember that we are designing for people. The whole purpose of architecture is to make people happy, then we make it green at the same time because it’s an ethical thing to do for the environment.

“Architecture is an art – it has to be aesthetically beautiful, but not to the extent of wasting resources and materials.

“(To sum it up), architecture must do five things – it must work, meet (design) criteria, look immensely beautiful, be green, and make people happy,” he concluded.

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