Green: The under-appreciated design approach

Since Al Gore revealed the “inconvenient truth” of global warming, I have seen more enthusiasm and awareness on saving the environment than ever before.

I guess it takes a Hollywood movie to remind us all of this global threat to the existence of mankind. People seem to talk more and more about how we can play our part in saving the environment.

An environment-friendly way of life, popularly known as green living, is not associated with hippies anymore and has inspired changes in every aspect of life.

In the building construction industry, the reemergence of green concept building design has become widespread, since buildings account for 40 percent of global energy consumption.

Energy-efficient design here has regained its relevance after it was virtually abandoned from the early-1980s through the late-90s, coinciding with Indonesia’s economic prosperity, partly due to cheap energy.

During that period, most high-rise buildings in Jakarta were based on the assumption that energy would be consumed lavishly. Few applied energy conservation principles.
One was Wisma Dharmala Sakti on Jl. Sudirman. Completed in 1987, the building applied many energy-efficient design principles. Although many people underappreciated this extraordinary building, in my opinion, the building’s design makes it one of the “greenest” buildings in Jakarta.

The architect, the late Paul Rudolph, designed the building by utilizing a series of traditional pitched roof forms in order to provide sun shading for each window.
The overall image of the stacked pitched roofs creates the impression of a tropical skyscraper. Each pitched roof functions as a shading device that reduces a significant amount of solar heat that would otherwise enter the interior space.
The building management says this strategy has conserved energy in air conditioning by up to 30 percent in comparison with conventional window design without any shading device.

Regardless of the extra effort required for cleaning the windows and the sloping roofs (since they could not be accessed from a conventional, suspended maintenance cradle), the architect exploited the roofs for growing ivy on the lower part of the building.
The ivy quite literary turned Wisma Dharmala Sakti into the greenest high-rise building in Jakarta.

Green design is not just about greening a building with plants; besides, energy efficiency only plays a small part in it. There are a lot of other requirements to fulfill before a building deserves the label “green”. Waste management, rainwater harvesting and the utilization of environment-friendly building materials are among these.

Surprisingly, Wisma Dharmala Sakti adds something else to Jakarta’s urban experience.  At ground level, the architect designed an inner courtyard for the lower floor spaces to which to orient. The ivy turns the courtyard into an oasis in the middle of Jakarta’s concrete jungle.

The courtyard plays an important part in cooling some part of the building by encouraging the “stack effect”. This is the movement of air that occurs due to differences in air density resulting from temperature and moisture differences.
The effect provides natural ventilation both inside and outside the building. The courtyard also provides indirect natural light for the interior spaces.

Few people are aware of this courtyard, even though it can be accessed directly without entering the lobby. Even I could not find until my third visit to the building.
As I descended to the courtyard, it felt as though I was not in Jakarta anymore. This great space somehow seems alien in Jakarta; it is like a hidden pocket and feels like a luxury that is hard to find in other Jakarta high-rise buildings.

Another great space in this building is the mezzanine on the fourth floor. The space is a large terrace connected to the courtyard mentioned below, next to the building’s canteen. This large terrace has an incredible view of the surrounding buildings in the area; from here you can really examine how the ivy occupies the sloping roofs underneath the belly of the building.

I must share my admiration for the Wisma Dharmala Sakti’s design where great spaces can be generated from simple green design concepts. Unfortunately, the building is generally underappreciated and more people are in favor of sleek glass curtain walls.

I believe that instead of trying to achieve the tallest building, people should compete more to create the greenest one. They still assume this sustainable approach is a new paradigm and demand new solutions: We take for granted what is already around us.
Nowadays, it takes celebrities to promote green lifestyles to all of us.

Al Gore is not the only one: Leonardo Di Caprio, a long-time environmentalist, will soon release his documentary film on the environmental crisis. Brad Pitt staged a green design competition on new housing for Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. Even the notorious Paris Hilton bought a hybrid car. I sincerely hope being green does not become a temporary fad but a permanent way of life.

All images are by Zenin Adrian

Was published in the Jakarta Post – Sunday, August 26, 2007