By CHIN MUI YOON | email@example.com
IMAGINE living in a comfortable house without needing to pay an electricity bill for the rest of your life. That’s just how remarkable an environmentally perfect house could be.
Award-winning Singaporean eco-architect Jason Pomeroy’s Idea House, which he built in Shah Alam, Selangor, in 2011, epitomises the perfect home that leaves no carbon footprint on our resource-depleted planet. Contrary to being yet another energy-guzzling building, the house generates more energy than it consumes as South-East Asia’s first zero-carbon house.
Taking the idea on a macro scale, Pomeroy is designing Vision Valley Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, which at 32,000ha, will be built over a 30-year period. He is also behind the environmentally friendly Trump Tower in Manila, which will become the Philippines’ tallest residential complex once completed in 2016.
“Many individuals are taking the lead in sustainable projects, for instance, Windows on the Park (WOTP),” says Pomeroy, 38, of the condominium project in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur by Selangor Dredging Bhd, of which he is an independent consultant to gauge its sustainability. “Most high-rise projects have heavy environmental footprints. WOTP is going back to the basics of what design should be, which is environmentally responsive. By splitting apartment blocks, the design is orientated to minimise heat gain and provide enhancement of daylight penetration when compared with ‘business as usual’ developments, so it reduces the need for artificial lighting.
“In the tropics, some 45% of our energy consumption is for cooling. An efficient ventilation and airflow with bigger window openings reduces the need for air-conditioning or fans while abundant greenery outside improves air quality and further helps reduce outside ambient temperatures.”
Pomeroy believes that adherence to a specific set of rating tools may not necessarily be the best idea for all projects. “Space and society are intrinsically linked. We have researched 15 different rating systems and they focus primarily on the socio, economic and environmental aspects but ignore the spatial, cultural and technological aspects, which form just as important a set of parameters. For example, why do we design for a particular demographic when it’s not specific to the place they are living in? What are the needs of individuals, or the experience of families? Rating tools are ideal for individuals who need a prompt for thinking, but many others are already designing with sustainability principles.”
Graduating with distinction from the Canterbury School of Architecture and Cambridge University, Pomeroy is currently adjunct professor at the University of Nottingham and Mapua Institute of Technology.
His second book Skycourts and Skygardens: Greening The Urban Habitat will be out later this year.
Pomeroy is an ardent advocate of vertical urbanism, a concept of taking the various facets of a city and applying them vertically. With a continued trend towards migration into cities and architecture heading skywards, alternative above-ground social spaces are becoming the norm, especially in densely populated cities like Tokyo and Singapore.
“Once upon a time, we lived in cities that were created with the streets and squares being social hubs, but with urbanism and population increase, we now see these spaces so intrinsic to our social interaction vanishing. So we end up in retail malls, cinemas and hotel lobbies to foster alternative social spaces. With urban density, sky courts and sky gardens become those alternatives. Marina Bay Sands’ 1.2ha park is one example although it is not truly ‘public’ as it is privatised.”
When it comes to good sustainable design, we do not need to look further than our own kampung houses for tropical wisdom in architecture, with its naturally ventilated spaces created with high ceilings, wide overhangs, large windows and open floor plan. While Pomeroy believes that change is the mark of a developing country, reinterpretation of past traditions is more crucial for the future.
“In Asia, we almost want to shrug off remnants of our colonial past, which means beautiful historic buildings have been demolished. I am an advocate of ‘top up architecture’ with the idea of extending above existing buildings, and trying to preserve as much of the historic grain as possible. This is a very feasible idea using existing structures that have a structurally sound frame whereas in Asia, the tendency is to destroy and rebuild.
“I also believe in collaborative design where the entire design team including the engineers, landscape architects, M&E team, the client and the municipal authorities engage with one another to work out the best sustainable design. But here, there is still a hierarchy where each group wants to handle their ‘areas’ only.
“Ideally, everyone should very much be a part of collaboration to generate passive design solutions to help drive the green agenda forward. Sustainability is not for the elite but it is the study and understanding of the day and life of individuals. The crux of sustainable design should be about preservation.”
Architects are mostly late bloomers, as it is a profession that integrates a broad range of acquired knowledge that stretches far beyond what is taught in architecture school. Yet, Pomeroy has already acquired a name for himself as an authority in eco-architecture, master planner, lecturer and author – all before 40.
Pomeroy had wanted to become an architect when he was eight. His father had taken him to visit St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and Pomeroy had been instantly awestruck with the iconic 1,400-year-old architecture.
“I think growing up in multi-cultural environments have inspired a curiosity about life. Having a broad outlook is important as it’s easy for designers to be locked in a particular culture.
“As a child, I travelled extensively with my father. Having this kind of exposure from young helps me to foster an understanding and curiosity about how people live, work and play. It made me more creative and open to ideas and people having different opinions. Architects can be incredibly egoistic. I think it’s important to understand we are not ‘gods’ or ‘kings’!”
Last year marked several milestones for Pomeroy with the opening of Pomeroy Studios where its award-winning design is founded on its Evidence-Based Interdisciplinary Sustainable Design (E-BISD) approach.
As for Pomeroy’s own home, it has gone through eight or nine designs. “It’s climatically responsive with quality daylight and ventilation and based on passive design. It has also become much simpler with a certain compactness. My needs have changed especially as I have a baby daughter now, so my home is no longer a bachelor pad. Underpinning all that is that we must design according to the day and life of an individual. Just like the clothes we wear on various occasions, a building too, should be tailor-made to suit each individual.”