Priya Daniel is an award-winning architect, artist, urbanist and green building professional. She is the founding principal of Five Scale Design, an architectural practice based in Singapore that designs and delivers projects at various scales and sectors, across Asia and beyond. Driven by design excellence and the betterment of communities, a LEED Accredited Professional with a passion for environmentally conscious architecture, she leads her practice with a focus on sustainability. Since buildings consume a full half of all the energy we generate and also cause half of the world’s carbon emissions, she feels that architects have a responsibility to help change these numbers. According to Priya, buildings don’t have to sport a certain look or meet very specific standards to be considered green. Instead, it’s good to look more at a building’s long-term environmental performance when deciding whether it’s sustainable or not.
Priya shares that in her profession as an architect, she has always thought of sustainability as an opportunity for creativity. It involves a unique response to a site context, studying it in-depth and finding the best solution to the issues it faces and finding its true potential – all this to the benefit of the environment that it sits in.
Today, the word sustainability gets tossed around quite generously. Products, processes and business practices are being labelled ‘Green’ whereas beneath the surface it’s anything but. Take, for example, a new product that is labelled as Sustainably harvested wood but is flown in from thousands of miles away. Superficially, it checks the green boxes, but the supply chain is a big issue.
Let’s contrast this to demolishing existing unwanted/ unused materials and repurposing them to make furniture. The harvesting and recycling of them become the act of sustainability. The sustainability practice is important in the sense of how one frames it given it gets pretty amorphous very quickly.
People often consider a paper bag more sustainable than plastic. But is using twenty paper bags once better than using one plastic bag twenty times? Priya applies this line of thought to the built environment through the following points
- Green awareness and education
Can a green building be built affordably?
Any new thing that is introduced in the market initially costs more. But as volume builds in the market, it becomes more economical. Take the case of LED bulbs. We have gone from buying them based on the rationale of the lifetime usage cost to actually buying them since they have become inexpensive. Similarly, in this case too, as and when demand increase, once you and I start asking for more efficient material in the market, it will certainly bring down the prices.
When LEED and other rating systems came along, green design become a more mainstream topic. While we began to see more green buildings, I was restless and anxious that the progress wasn’t fast enough; that sustainability wasn’t deep and authentic enough. That we were minimising damage but we were falling behind in all the real indicators and issues.
Anyone who constructs a house should keep in mind that the house is going to be there for say 60 years or so. And even if for a moment we agree that the cost of the house has increased a little bit, it doesn’t matter if you invest a little additional amount because year on year, you will keep enjoying benefits such as reduced electricity bills, better comfort, and better health. And the payback period is hardly a couple of years.
In the case of commercial buildings, air-conditioning and lighting are a major cost. A lot of money also goes towards setting up the large air-conditioning units and power backup systems, which also consume real estate. But if we design the building envelope (basic structure) in a way that reduces dependence on air-conditioning and artificial lighting, then it will bring down the initial construction cost of the building as well as its operating costs.
- Keeping abreast and updated
As Architects, we need to science up, and have a knowledge of technology and processes that can be used to create a real impact and cost savings with data. Based on actual performance with onsite audits, significant energy use reduction can be achieved, the usage of red list chemicals minimised and take us closer towards net-zero energy.
We first analyse and simulate a project with energy modelling software and show clients figures and numbers of how a particular solution can cost them a lot less. This helps us pre value engineer the project right from the design phase which crucially improves efficiency and cost control during the construction phase. At the end of the day, it’s also more about value than simply the price. We attempt to achieve this by advising our clients to write a wish list and then start making comparisons.
Post occupancy data is also very important. Making an office building green is no longer a good to have anymore, it’s a necessity for the benefit of all the stakeholders.
- Green building construction practices
How can we determine whether a material is green or not? Broadly, materials that are locally available and sourced, or recyclable, and/or have recycled content. We also look into their durability, their manufacturing process and the supply chain.
Crucially when it comes to designing buildings, we apply the circular building philosophy which lays emphasis on improving the lifetime of the structure. Each stage of the lifecycle is considered to create a continuous, closed-loop of resources where each resource is not lost or wasted.
- Learning From nature
Flowers are literally and figuratively rooted to place. In comparison, home or office buildings are also rooted to place. But unfortunately, that’s where the comparison stops. A flower has to get all of its energy from the sun, and all water from the root system below it. It has to be adapted very specifically to a place depending on the soil and earth. And when it dies, it becomes nutrients for the next cycle. And while it is alive, it responds actively to humidity and temperature, it opens and closes, and attracts the sun while also being a habitat for lots of critters. And they are just so beautiful. Why cant this be a criterion for our buildings? – the guiding principle for the way we design.
As Architects, we are taught to appreciate large buildings of glass and steel but as my career advanced I looked to nature for inspiration.
Biophilic and biomimetic architecture have shown various facets of Nature that have stimulated the creative process in architectural design in functional as well as stylistic ways. Our innate sense of Nature is termed biophilia.
Bioimicry architecture is a discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems in the built environment.
Integration and optimisation in Nature appear as completely natural processes and we can learn from them.
- Human-centric and community-driven designs
The design focus is to allow people to come together, spend time with their families and have a conversation. Integrating these social places with greenery has the wonderful benefit of improving morale, health, productivity and efficiency while reducing temperatures and absorbing excess rainwater. Preserving the environment and culture while still creating iconic architecture – that is a true metric of value.
The built environment is a huge contributor to our carbon footprint thus important for us to take action. As an architect, I really want to make an impact. It isn’t only about the pretty pictures and iconic structures but also the process of design that we can go through to ensure that the essence of the city, the building and the landscape is truly green.
- The future of green building
I do believe that being a code minimum or more is already a step in the right direction. Rating systems provide a good guide and checklist for energy and environmental requirements. However we cannot just be adding elements and the green bling- for e.g. simply more solar panels, more green roofs etc. We need to design to see the actual positive change those elements create in their environment while considering factors like regeneration, recovery, resilience etc. It’s a move from only thinking about energy-efficient buildings to designing buildings that generate more energy than they consume.