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Beijing's eco-friendly architecture

Alex Pasternack

Readinch

Developers in the Chinese capital are building more eco-friendly projects, says Alex Pasternack. But sustainable architecture still faces an uphill struggle in a city better-known for its breakneck, resource-heavy growth.
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Years before China completed its first certified green building, a team from Beijing went to meet with engineers in the US to discuss environmentally-friendly design. But when the Chinese team showed some early sketches to their American colleagues, the response was not what they were expecting.

The American engineers said the plans were completely unworkable – the lighting design, water systems, ventilation and so on would all to be redone. This setback left Gao Lin, the lead Chinese architect on the project, “looking completely shell shocked,” recalls Robert Watson, a senior scientist with the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, who advises the Chinese government on green construction. “He blinked and looked at me and said, ‘It’s like I’m seeing architecture for the first time.’”

Though it may lack the flair of much of Beijing’s newer designs, the resulting building, completed in 2004, is a wonder of environmental design and the first structure in China to receive a gold rating under the US Green Building Council’s coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, or LEED (a certification established by Robert Watson). Sitting just south of Yuyuantan Park in western Beijing, the ten-storey ACCORD21 office building uses 70% less energy than similar structures and saves 10,000 tons of water a year through rainwater collection. All this translates into enough savings to build a similar building seven years down the road.


ACCORD21 office building

In a city known as much for its construction fever as its pollution, the measured and painstaking practice of good, sustainable design seems unlikely. But against a backdrop of environmental concerns, rising energy costs and a highly competitive real estate market, “green” is fast turning from a buzzword into Beijing’s other favourite colour.

“For years, the Ministry of Construction did not like the word ‘green’ – they wouldn’t even use it,” says Jin Ruidong, a sustainability expert who advises the government. The stigma, he says, came in part from the age-old practice of “green washing” – private developers falsely claiming sustainability in an attempt to give their properties a more sophisticated edge. But with the city's "Green Olympics" approaching, Jin explains that the China's Ministry of Construction is starting to get serious: just this past March, officials decided to issue a set of building regulations demanding new buildings be 50% more energy efficient than previously required.

Hao Dong of the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design and Research explains that some have their sights set on even loftier green goals: “Green is about energy savings, but it is also more than that – people are increasingly paying attention to that fact.” Progressive architects are taking cues from stringent standards like LEED, which rates a building based on factors like pedestrian access, reduction of air and noise pollution, smart water usage, and its impact on the surrounding environment. “If every new non-residential building were to be built like ACCORD21,” explains Watson, “the electricity savings would equal the amount of energy provided by the Three Gorges Dam, and the water savings would satisfy the needs of Shanghai’s households.”

Aside from ACCORD21, China boasts three other LEED-certified developments – Plantronics’ brand new factory in Suzhou, the Le Sang Shopping Mall in Harbin and the Taige Apartments in Shenzhen. In Beijing, meanwhile, there are a number of developments currently under construction with LEED ambitions, including the Modern MOMA (also called Linked Hybrid) residential development, the Xingfu Ercun (XF2C) commercial building, the Silo City mixed-use complex, a new Carrefour supermarket and the Century Prosper Commercial Center, both in Chaoyang district.

Set to open late next year just north of Dongzhimen, Modern MOMA (Linked Hybrid), for example, is a self-contained complex complete with apartments, offices, shops, and a movie theater. The building’s sustainable features include geothermal heating, a wastewater recycling plant (to partially feed the site’s sprawling garden), and an elaborate indoor ventilation system that pipes in clean air. The developer, Modern Group, has made the building’s environmental-friendliness a top selling point for its luxury apartments, which go for around RMB 23,000 per square meter – considerably higher than comparable apartments. Buyers, thus far, are in no short supply: two of the eight towers have already sold out.


Linked Hybrid building

“The environment is definitely a factor,” says Sarina Tang, an art curator who recently purchased a 272-square-metre top floor apartment with an overhead roof garden. “I don’t like the idea of being removed from the city,” she says of the building’s self-contained design, “but during the worst polluted days, it’s very appealing.”

But despite the interest and the increasing availability of green materials in China, Beijing architecture remains wedded to decidedly un-green techniques. Brash and material-heavy commercial towers designed by big-name foreign and domestic firms continue to rise around the Second Ring Road, while traditional education still preaches “the Russian system,” so named for its gargantuan structures assembled quickly, without extensive consultation, and often at dirt-cheap prices.

Spreading knowledge about sustainable architecture in China presents another challenge: how to improve collaboration between architects, engineers, developers, and clients, sometimes across cultural and language barriers. “Old-time architects don’t often think much of consultants,” says Frederick Wong, a consultant at Arup in Beijing. “When you do green architecture you have to have more consultants involved. And then the cost of that makes the question [of whether or not to construct a green building] even more complicated for the developer and the client.”

The familiar counter-argument is that the higher costs of “greening” a building – considered to be 2-5% higher than original building costs – are outweighed by savings that come with energy efficiency. In China, however, that case can quickly wear thin. Green design is still seen by developers not as smart and economical, but as a mark of luxury. “It’s a way to sell real estate in a competitive market,” says Wang Hong, who runs the Beijing branch of green consultant EMSI, which helped design China’s first LEED-certified apartment building in Shenzhen, the Taige Complex, and is advising the developers of a LEED-designed hotel and condominium project in Shanghai. Because knowledge about the benefits of green architecture remains scarce, “developers can sell their properties at a higher price, even without passing savings on to the end users.”


The government has been trying to develop a national green building standard along the lines of LEED, partly to expand incentives for potential investors, but also to crack down on “green-washed” designs. “In the marketing field, there’s a cynical or ignorant stance that says, if it’s got trees then it’s green,” says Robert Watson. He narrows his eyes at flashy new developments with names like "Eco-Town" and "Garden Villa" that in reality have few actual green features. In one case last year, a Beijing developer claimed to have a LEED award before any construction had even begun. "People are a little surprised that you can't just buy a LEED rating."

There’s also a concern that developers, used to cheaper building practices and wary of rising costs, will promise “green” but not deliver. Watson says that many of the best green designs he’s seen will never be built. When Li, the Modern MOMA architect, recently moved into a new apartment off the Second Ring Road, he discovered that a crucial green system meant to recycle wastewater had been left out. “They just didn’t put it in, probably because it was too expensive,” he surmises.

“There are a lot of fly-by-night developers out there, but the bad actors are going to get weeded out, fined, or simply lose to the market,” says Watson, who has watched green design spread across the world. To those who insist the costs and obstacles remain too high here, Watson emphasises that Beijing is still riding a steep learning curve: “Green doesn’t cost more; ‘new’ costs more, and this is still very new here. Consider it tuition [fees for] ‘Green Building University.’”

 
Alex Pasternack, a freelance writer based in Beijing, is a correspondent for green lifestyle website treehugger.com. This article originally appeared in that's Beijing magazine.

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绿色建筑的初期代价和后期的高能效?

可想而知,环保建筑的初期投资是很大的,文章中提到 “把一座建筑“变绿”,可能会比原有成本高出2到5个百分点”。我想这个比例还是保守了一点,应该比这个高一些。

很想知道更多绿色建筑的初期投资的情况。

我想在现今的中国,如何去逐步普及绿色建筑的概念是一个很大的挑战。

我想只有生活水平提高了,绿色建筑才能得到发展,至少在中国是这样的。但我们不应该把环保建筑当作是小康生活水平的一种体现,而应该把它作为一种普遍的社会意识来推广。

Green buildings: Costs initially vs. high energy efficiency thereafter?

It goes without saying that eco-friendly buildings require huge initial investment, just as mentioned in the article, "the costs of “greening” a building are considered to be 2-5% higher than the original costs". I think it is a bit of moderate, and the true figure could be even higher.

I'd like to know more about the initial investment of the green buildings.

In my opinion, how to gradually increase the publicity of green building concepts in today's China is a big challenge.

I think green buildings can only have further development when people enjoy higher living standards. At least, it is the case in China. However, we should not regard this green concept as a symbol of a well-off society. Instead, we should promote it and have it accepted as a commonsense way of living for ordinary people.


绿色建筑的低成品和高效,以及推广

根据常提到的两个美国的研究,2%和5%的比列是很正确的。2003年的对同一建筑的传统建设预算估计和实际的绿色建造方式的预算比较发现额外的费用少于2%。另外,一2004年的报告指出,环保的LEED建筑成本和典型建筑的完全一样。

降低初期成分的一个重要因素那就是从一开始而不是后期或者项目的进展部分中把可持续发展的理念融入到设计中,否则研究表明,将定会造成成本的增加。

同时,别忘了,这些研究都是在几年前进行的。此后,绿色建筑的成本已经降低。这些还没有把节能建筑带来的运作成本的节省考虑在内,这可高达40%。同时,建筑的使用期分析已越来越成为预算考虑的因素之一。

我想上述数字难让人相信的主要原因是绿色建筑现在还很少。所以,绿色建筑的初期成本在建筑界还是一个想象和虚幻的状况,业内人士说它成本高,它也就因成本高而出名。但是随着绿色建筑的增加,人们就更认识到它的低成本和高效。

从技术,政治和经济方面来说,中国有机遇,至少在亚洲,可成为发展绿色建筑的领导者。

尽管初期成本高一些,但年复一年的绿色建筑的高效将是不可否认的。你说得对,绿色建筑的推广是一个挑战。在中国谈到“绿色”的项目时,大众抱有高的怀疑态度,相关的信息也还很少。

绿色建筑的推广不仅需要更多政府的支持,它更需要大量的来自公司,地方政府和媒体的行动。我想一个简单的做法就是提醒大众绿色建筑不是只有大开发商可实现的。可持续的和低成本的设计可在小规模的建筑中实现,从一个家庭的使用太阳能取暖和节水龙头,到好的窗户的密封都可达到环保的目的。

我很希望看到其它有关如何在中国推广绿色建筑的评论以及对中国当前形势的看法。

亚历山大•帕斯特纳克

Green building's tiny costs, great benefits; but how to mainstream?

According to two oft-cited studies conducted in the U.S., the 2-5% figure is generally accurate. One 2003 study in California looked at 33 LEED-certified buildings (at various levels of efficiency, ranging from Bronze to Platinum) for which solid data existed on both conventional construction estimates and the actual “green” budget for the same building. It concluded that the average premium for the buildings was slightly less than 2 percent ($3 to $5 per square foot). Another report in ’04 http://davislangdon-usa.com/Attachment%20Files/Research/costinggreen.pdf says that the costs of achieving a bare-bones LEED certification are virtually the same as a typical building.

One of the major factors in keeping initial costs down—and providing the best efficiency—is ensuring that sustainable elements are incorporated in the design from the beginning; adding them on later or in a piecemeal fashion, as the studies demonstrate, is a surefire way to raise costs. Also, keep in mind that these studies were conducted a few years ago: since then, the costs of green design have decreased. And these numbers don’t take into account the savings in operating costs offered by an energy-efficient building, which can be as high as 40 percent per year. Increasingly, analysis of a building’s life-cycle is becoming part of budgetary considerations.

I think the above figures can be hard to believe (I for one was surprised at first) largely because actual green buildings are still rare. Thus the initial costs of green building have attained a sort of mythic status in building circles, and it’s a reputation that feeds on itself. But the more that people pursue this kind of construction, the greater awareness there will be about the potential costs and benefits—and the lower the costs will be.

For technological, political and economic (and of course environmental) reasons, China has an opportunity to lead the way in green construction, at least in Asia. Even with higher initial costs, the year-on-year benefit of green buildings is undeniable—if only people were better informed about it. You’re right that promoting it is a big challenge. As with much that is “green” in China, skepticism is high and information is still scarce. It will take not just more government support but considerable initiative on the part of corporations, local governors and the media to make green construction mainstream in China.

I think one simple way to do this is to remind people that green building need not be the province of big developers. Sustainable and low-cost design choices can be made on a small scale—from solar heaters to high-efficiency faucets to the sealing of window leaks in one's home.

I'd be very curious to hear comments on how to mainstream green building in China, or thoughts on the current situation.

-Alex


环保型发展

EMSI已经在中国投资建设了超过20个绿色建筑项目,其中包括几个社区的建设(如MOMA)。以我们的经验来看(经验来自本文中提到的多数工程),对绿色投入的资金从未超过3.5%,而投资回收期也保持在3年半左右。对于投机性房产开发商来说,他们出售工程所以长期的年营业额就不会有利润可赚,再有任何额外成本往往都被用在开发商的人事或市场预算中了。再则,中国的投机房产商也开始意识到把工程和绿色建筑评估体系(LEED)证书一起出售价格会更高。--Ken Langer President, EMSI

Green development 

EMSI has worked on more than 20 large new green building projects in China, as well as several community developments (including MOMA). In our experience (which includes most of the projects mentioned in the article) the incremental capital cost has never exceeded 3.5%, and the simple payback period has been kept within 3.5 years. And for "spec" developers who will sell their projects (and thus not benefit from the long-term annual operating savings), the added cost can often be covered by the developer's PR/marketing budget. Further, spec developers in China are beginning to realize a price premium associated with the sale of LEED certified projects.

Ken Langer
President, EMSI


too expensive

beautiful, beautiful, nice story, but very expensive and no solution for the ordinary man.

Frankensteim

太贵

好,好,说得真好,但太贵,而且不能解决老百姓的问题。
Frankensteim


北海项目

我在广西北海市开发一万平米的LEED建设项目。低层房。适合农村。通过太阳能,地热资源,风能,生物能,雨水和废水利用达到目的。是轻钢结构建筑。

A project in Beihai

I work on a project in Beihai city, Guangxi. It is a 10,000 ㎡ LEED construction project. We build low storied dwellings suitable for rural residents, making use of solar power, geothermal energy, wind power, bio-energy, rain water and waste water. The buildings are made with lightweight steel.


观念决定绿色建筑的未来

以目前的能源价格来讲,消费者并不太在意“能源效率”,尤其是当“高能源效率”与“高价格”被人为联合在一起时。

住“绿色住宅”带来的面子,以及更好的室内空气质量,是许多开发商在宣传时,不得不选择的途径。尽管,这与可持续建筑的初衷并不相符。

一种正确的环境教育,从小学生就开始,是非常重要的。当消费者和政府的观念提高时,“绿色建筑”的黄金时代就到来了。

People’s mindset will determine the future of Green Building

Due to current low energy prices, consumers do not really care about “energy efficiency”, particularly when “high energy efficiency” is fictitiously associated with “higher cost”.
Prestige from living in a “sustainable house”, as well as better interior air quality, are the points the developers need to emphasize when promoting their buildings, even though this is against the original intention of sustainable building.
It is important that proper environmental education starts from primary school. A golden era of “green building” will arrive when the mindset of consumers and government improves.

-translated by Xuan Luo


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