The Passive and Low Energy Architecture Conference held on December in Hong Kong congregated over 300 practitioners, researchers and students of the built environment sector from around the world.
This time, the research topic was about how to make cities smarter and healthier within the context of Climate Change.
The ex-deputy director of housing from Hong Kong highlighted the importance of finding equilibrium between nature, science and the built environment. This relationship obligates re-directing our actions in key aspects such as urbanisation, transport, energy (consumption, storage and distribution). Moreover, this requires thinking outside the box in order to achieve limiting the global warming below 2°C. Therefore, it is necessary to ask ourselves: are our buildings and cities prepared for climate change? According to a research conducted at the University of Nottingham by PhD candidate May Zune current practices for natural ventilation in cities of Myanmar are not sufficient to cope with global warming and climate change predictions. Moreover, if we translate these conclusions to other scenarios, we are building cities that will demand retrofit in the future and more energy to power unexpected circumstances. More worryingly, this means that the health of people will be compromised due to the exposure to extreme conditions.
Professor Edna Shaviv from the Israel Institute of Technology said that “correct decisions must be made at the early design stage”. Her work detailed the energy consumption per square meter of the building, and the integration of different passive strategies to reduce the use of energy. The rigour to understand the current environment in order to be able to predict the coming conditions must be addressed in the planning process of the cities. Furthermore, empowering users to transform the way they interact with the built environment by contributing with projects aiming to reduce carbon emissions can help us to unlock a more sustainable future. I had the opportunity to present the strategies proposed to engage residents of Project SCENe funded by Innovate UK and the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), which is a community energy scheme in Nottingham generating energy with photovoltaic panels, storing the energy in a community battery and supplying the energy to the grid when demanded by the system. The tools proposed were created to allow users to understand the way they produce, consume and distribute energy as a community and as individuals. This type of strategies support behaviour change and allow us (as academics!) to do a faster application of the knowledge to real life scenarios.
Professor Lam Khee Poh from the National University of Singapore said that “when you give people control, they increase their positive perception”. In the same way, Alexander Eriksson Furunes + Sudarsha V. Khadka presented the power of integrating communities in the design process by understanding some principles: Common goals, collective goals, social event, reciprocity and time constrain. It was also pointed out by Ying Chao Kuo that the synergies found in thinking the communities as circular futures (leisure, renewable energy and passive strategies) are part of a dynamic model that is self-sustained. In the same way, several talks highlighted the value of the ‘sharing economy’ proposed by new schemes aiming to generate a more sustainable business model; for instance: bike-sharing, where people rent a bike for a few hours and leave it parked anywhere; or house sharing in which people share communal areas in order to maximise the space in communities with insufficient housing. These strategies also start raising questions about ownership of objects, spaces and infrastructure as we can be more efficient by creating business models based on collective efforts.
Now it is time to think about our future for the ‘Post-carbon cities’ (PLEA 2020), according to which topics such as clean technologies, zero emissions, sustainable development goals, behavioural changes and human health, should be taken into consideration in the next talks.
Blog by Dr Julie Waldron, Research Fellow from the Buildings, Energy and Environment Research Group, University of Nottingham