Although global warming was still a largely unfamiliar concept in the 1990s, some forward-looking architecture and construction firms were already then designing award-winning, environmentally friendly buildings.
One of these companies is the P&T Group, established in 1868 and formerly known as Palmer and Turner Hong Kong. One of Southeast Asia's foremost architectural and engineering concerns, the group has 18 offices and more than 1,600 staff worldwide.
"No architects can nowadays afford to ignore environmental issues," notes Joel Chan, director, P&T Group, pointing out that newcomers to the industry are expected to possess relevant textbook knowledge, plus the ability to apply it in practice.
Mr Chan, who joined P&T in 1990 after graduated from the University of Hong Kong, witnessed first-hand how the building and construction industry changed over the past 20 years to accommodate green concepts and policies.
"P&T gained a competitive edge through its early participation in green projects and we continue to incorporate new ideas into our projects," he says.
Leading the way
In the 1990s, green building design focused mainly on achieving energy efficiency by incorporating natural lighting, ventilation or retaining existing trees in order to minimise the impact on the natural environment.
One of P&T's first institutional green projects was Hong Kong Technical College in Tsing Yi. It won the company a HKIA Certificate of Merit and an Energy Efficient Building Award in 1993 and 1994 respectively. Subsequent accolades included the 1996 HKIA Certificate of Merit and the 1997 Energy Efficient Building Award for the Lingnan University campus, which incorporated "environment responsive" design elements such as using buildings for screening out noise direct sunlight.
"Growing awareness about the environment is prompting a holistic approach to green design," Mr Chan says. "Architects now consider aspects such as achieving carbon neutral designs, which involves using renewable energy and other green measures to offset energy consumption."
To achieve carbon neutral design and offset greenhouse gasses, wood is being replaced by Green Label building materials, while motion sensors are being installed in restrooms and lifts to reduce electricity consumption. The Hong Kong Green Label Scheme (HKGLS), organised by the Green Council, is an independent scheme aiming to identify products that are environmentally preferable to similar products with the same function.
Other P&T projects, such as the Po Kong Village Road district park in Wong Tai Sin, also include facilities to generate renewable energy. This government project is another P&T landmark achievement. The district park features two 20-metre high windmills for generating power, with solar panels covering its stadium roof to provide hot water for showers. Set to open in 2010, the park will become Hong Kong's first carbon neutral building project.
With green issues becoming increasingly important, P&T Group has formulated a set of internal environmental guidelines. "In addition to incorporating applications for energy efficiency and renewable energy, we also advise our architects to opt for Green Label building materials. It is also their role to convince our clients to take environmental issues into account in their building projects," Mr Chan says.
Green building materials are more expensive than regular materials, and the installation of renewable power generation facilities is a long-term investment. "However, considering that many organisations now focus strongly on corporate social responsibilities, our clients are willing to invest in green buildings," he remarks.
One commercial building to embrace green elements is the new Liu Chong Hing Bank headquarters in Central, which has a secondary facade system with computer-controlled louvre screens to help to reduce noise while at the same time increasing energy efficiency.
Sense of balance
Environmental protection is important, but architects should adopt a balanced approach. Mr Chan emphasises: "Energy efficiency is not the only focal point in modern architecture. A building's outlook and the impact on the surroundings must also be considered."
He refers to the Tung Chung indoor and community hall cum library as an example where an adjacent school was integrated into the complex's design at the initial stage. "A 3D solar study model was constructed to conduct a daylight analysis. The disposition of the whole complex was modified to minimise the obstruction of daylight into the school," he explains.
Achieving green accreditation for new building projects has become an industry trend, Mr Chan says, adding that the Tung Chung project hopes to achieve platinum (the highest) classification under the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) certification programme. Aside from this, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation developed by the US Green Building Council is also widely recognised, particularly in mainland China.
Mr Chan expects more Green Label building materials to become available as it becomes less expensive to generate renewable energy. "Another environmentally friendly move is to refurbish old buildings instead of demolishing them," he adds.