Design

Modern Cities Will Need to Embrace Green Architecture After COVID-19

Urban environments, the prime hubs for disease outbreaks, must emphasize sustainability and decrease waste and pollution.
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“The coronavirus will change how cities function,” says Charmaine Chan, design editor of the South China Morning Post. “I hope it makes them more resilient places.”

Chan spoke with a panel of industry experts in a recent webinar moderated by Catherine Feliciano-Chon, founder of communications firm CatchOn, discussing how COVID-19 will impact the shape of our homes, offices, public and commercial buildings, and the very fabric of life in the urban sprawl. The buildings of modern Asian cities will need to embrace green architecture, a trendy eco-friendly direction in property development that will emphasize sustainability, decrease waste and pollution, and clean up our cities.

It’s exciting to live in the modern metropolis, but the density of urban environments makes them the prime hubs for disease outbreaks. And urbanization is showing no signs of slowing down. By 2050 they predict that over two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

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The COVID-19 crisis is not grinding urban development to a halt. Rather, it is motivating urban architects to strive for more sustainable biophilic designs. Hong Kong-based designer Rowena Gonzales grew up in a spacious suburban environment but prefers life in the big bustling city. She believes in the potential of green architecture to improve city dwelling. “When done well, I actually have better quality of life now,” she says.

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Filipino architect JJ Acuna expects clients to demand more green architecture in response to the crisis. “People are going to ask for more ventilation, more daylight, access to greenery, indoor-outdoor spaces in their home. That’s on the microscale. But on the macroscale, how can that blow up even further? How can a building that has hundreds of residents be able to design for each resident to have access to all that?” he says. “It’s so great to be part of the center of everything, but when a virus hits, all you want is greenery. All you want is sunlight, fresh air, space, skies, courtyards.”

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Urban structures will have to offer an escape from urbanism. Apartment complexes, offices, and malls can invest in indoor-outdoor gardens, allowing the building to breathe and providing more natural light and fresh air.

The courtyard is often the breathing room of a building and the structure epitomizes many of the new demands placed on urban buildings. Chan’s latest book examines the application of courtyards to modern homes. “Courtyard houses have existed for thousands of years and can be found worldwide, including in the Asia-Pacific region, where styles have evolved from traditional, vernacular designs,” she explains. “These types of dwellings continue to be desired for many of the reasons they were built in the past: Internal gardens and voids admit air and light; create social spaces; extend living areas by becoming protected outdoor 'rooms'; enhance privacy; and cater to indoor-outdoor living.”

The desirability of a courtyard setup entails more than just esthetic or psychological perks. It also presents an efficient solution to ease the congestion of rising urban populations. Chan highlights the family home of Taiwanese architect Tze-Chun Wei. Built around a central courtyard, the house uses space so efficiently that it comfortably accommodates three generations of his family. The communal space of the courtyard respects the personal space of the private rooms, making it easier for elder and younger relatives to live under the same roof.

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More urban buildings can enjoy well-ventilated garden sanctuaries if we can scale up the logic of the home courtyard. Indoor-outdoor space does not have to be limited to a square courtyard in a residential property. Applying the logic of the courtyard to an entire city, you can create green architecture in a linear and vertical direction. We can build gardens on rooftops, terraces, bridges, and elevated walkways. In densely populated cities, where there isn’t much land available to build large public gardens and parks, implementing green architecture to individual buildings can take on the responsibility of making the city greener.

Acuna takes Singapore as a model and sees hope for turning skyscrapers into masterpieces of green architecture. “The built environment of the city and the buildings really reflect what a government really cares about. It is a physical manifestation of an idea, or a theory, of how they want things to be,” he says. “When you go to Singapore, you know that the government cares about space, sunlight, greenery, and fresh air. Maybe there’s going to be a connection between private development, designers, and the government so that everyone may have direct access to all of those. Hopefully, that’s where we’re going.” 

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Ira Lee
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