Green architecture aims to create buildings that have minimal impact on human health and the natural environment. Green urbanism seeks to reduce carbon footprint in communities and destinations by making them more walkable and bikeable. It ensures that the community achieves a balanced lifestyle where there are places to work, play, live, shop, dine, learn, and worship with healthcare and wellness centers. One of our design principles at Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group is the 12 green and sustainable design development guidelines that include, among others: green architecture, green urbanism, green infrastructure, green transportation, green technology, green energy, and green interiors toward green sustainable development. Our professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design once told us that this century is a “Re-Century” to reimagine, re-plan, re-architecture, re-design, re-engineer, redevelop, renew, reuse, and recycle to hopefully achieve renaissance.
According to C40 — “a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change — 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the urban built environment. This is one of the main drivers of climate change. Based on data from the World Green Building Council, 39% of all carbon emissions in the world come from building and construction, and approximately 230 billion square meters of urban development will be constructed over the next 40 years. These figures highlight how much of an impact our built environments have on the planet’s health. As highly urbanized areas grow and populations rise, the rate of emissions will be much higher and more dangerous, and more natural resources will be consumed unless we reinvent how we plan, design, and build our cities and buildings.
Thankfully, in the past years, the fields of architecture, planning, urban design, and engineering have been more responsive to global environmental issues. The 2030 Challenge was formed to help accomplish the target that all new structures, developments, and major renovations should be carbon-neutral by 2030. It also aims to reduce the built environment’s greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption and accelerate the development of carbon-neutral, resilient, and sustainable buildings. It is widely adopted by individuals, professional organizations, and governments around the world and have become a standard practice in architecture, engineering, and construction firms.
Years ago, I signed up for the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2030 Challenge. I am glad, privileged, and honored to be an active member of associations that advocate green architecture and planning sustainable developments like the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat of which I am a fellow, regional leader, and country representative; the American Institute of Architects; the American Planning Association; the US Green Building Council; Urban Land Institute; International Council of Shopping Centers; and the Philippine Green Building Council of which I am a trustee. I am the Director and Chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Committee for Urban Development and Infrastructure, Governor of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and an active member of the European Chamber of Commerce. I also chair the Environment and Urban Development Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and was the former Chairman and President of FIABCI Philippines and a trustee of Business for Sustainable Development. As professionals in the built environment, we have the obligation to emphasize and prescribe the immense and long-term benefits of green and sustainable architecture and planning to our clients. I walk the talk by giving up $1 million of professional fees for the architecture, planning, and engineering of a proposed six-star hotel when instructed 366 70-year-old trees.
There are several ways to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. According to the AIA, construction and demolition result in massive carbon emissions. Therefore, retrofitting existing buildings to make them more energy-efficient and meet other high-performance standards is more ideal because this would require significantly less materials and energy. Second is choosing building materials that are locally and sustainably sourced, reusable, have recycled content, and are highly durably yet have low or zero carbon. Moreover, opt for materials that have environmental product declarations and health product declarations, which transparently indicate the products’ environmental impacts and the chemicals found in the materials. These serve as quality marks that can contribute to the structure’s green building certification.
Green buildings and green infrastructure have minimal impact on human health and the environment, utilize less resources, and preserve and incorporate green areas, among others. To reduce energy consumption, we at Palafox highly recommend investing in non-polluting, renewable energy sources like solar panels. To lower energy costs, we prescribe wind towers, solar shields, smart lighting, and designs that allow natural or cross-ventilation, among others. For water conservation, we suggest the global best practices of rainwater harvesting and the recycling and reuse of grey water for bathrooms and landscaping.
At Palafox, we are grateful for opportunities to design green buildings like the expansion of the Asian Development Bank Headquarters that complies with LEED Gold certification; the Development Bank of the Philippines’ Proposed Executive Office Building; the King Abdullah Financial District in Saudi Arabia; schools, universities, and hospitals in Nepal; and schools in Iran; among others. Green architecture components that were incorporated to the designs include solar panels, green walls as heat buffers, natural lighting, wind towers, pocket gardens, and green roofs, among others.
One of my favorite green buildings is the famous Bosco Verticale in Milan — two residential towers that house 20,000 trees and plants, which can transform approximately 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen each year. The green façade helps keep the building cool during summer and warm during winter, resulting to a significant reduction in energy consumption. Its greeneries also reduce the urban heat island effect caused by concrete streets, sidewalks, walls, and roofs.
Planning and urban design
Transportation accounts for approximately 20% of worldwide emissions. Vehicles that rely on fossil fuels are among the leading causes of air pollution. Urban planning for healthier and greener communities and cities promote walkability, bikeability, numerous efficient public transportation options, and plenty of trees and landscaping. Urban transportation systems include 20 modes: walking, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, paratransit, taxis, buses, bus rapid transit, monorails, heavy rail transit, commuter rail, and waterborne modes, among others. Ideally, walking must always be prioritized followed by cycling, high-occupancy public transport, and then privately owned vehicles. Unfortunately, our communities and cities were built for the automobile, which is the most inefficient mode.
In more progressive cities like Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Amsterdam, leaders in government and business and the more affluent members of society opt to walk or take their bikes or public transportation to reach their destinations. Moreover, the use of electric vehicles for public transportation has been a welcome development in other cities. Shenzhen is the first city in the world to have its entire bus network of 16,000 vehicles run on electricity. Other cities that have followed this trend include London, New York, Los Angeles, and other cities in the Netherlands.
In our plans and designs, we at Palafox always advocate and propose that the road transport corridor should have one-third for pedestrians and bicycle lanes, one-third for trees and landscaping, and one-third for vehicles. By adopting this standard, our communities and cities can enhance traffic safety, promote efficient movement for all modes of transport, and support environmental sustainability.
In 2019, the United Nations stated that we have 11 years left to stop “irreversible damage from climate change.” Faced with this global emergency, we must seize the opportunity we have now to design, plan, and create communities and cities that will simultaneously nurture people and the environment because “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” (words of Native American Chief Seattle).