In Search of Timeless Paradigm in Green Architecture

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In Search of Timeless Paradigm in Green Architecture:
An Essence to be Questioned

This writting serves by no means to criticize any building design from past to present, but a compilation of critical thoughts on the way of green buildings to achieve timeless in order to serve the world better from a holistic view. As building demolition has been a serious matter which is often overlooked by designers as well as developers, this paper argues the need of holistic view in terms of ecological, sociological, as well as psychological senses on design thinking and approach of green building in order to be timeless, subjected to the goal of sustainable development.


 'Green building’ is a term used widely in books, internet and media to promote ideas and creativity of designing a building in order to achieve a sustainable development and gives welfare to human being. It has been perceived as a good building in a sense that, it passes through two major tests, which is the building itself minimizes or gives no negative environmental impact to the earth during its life cycle (sitting, designing, constructing, operating and demolition), and to produce an excellent indoor as well as immediate outdoor environment for the occupant.[5] From this point, it serves the society in two roles, preserves the essence of the world for future generation, and to bring well being and good health to the present generation. It is one of a strategy to achieve sustainable development. As the context changes always, it is crucial to question the essence of being green, and what is meant by green building for the current context. If a green building gives good health to the occupant, what then is health?

1.1.1 On Health

We may talk about health in a biological sense and physiological sense that we need solar energy, clean water and fresh air, but also in psychological sense which is equally important. Health evolves human physical condition, thermal comfort, and psychological well-being where it is strongly related to feelings, emotion, mood, stress etc. Green building does less impact to the earth throughout its life cycle which is during the state of sitting, designing, constructing, operating and demolition. Building demolition should be one of an essential part to be concerned because the process of destructing a building creates waste, consumes energy and produces pollution.

1.1.2 On Tropical Hot and Humid Climate

Architecture often speaks of mass, plane and volume. But for architecture in tropical hot and humid climate, Malaysia for instance, design discourse and vocabulary should be reconsidered where line, edge and shades would be an essential ingredient for generating architecture for this particular region. Shades are always important as it is the container of human activities in this climate. Moisture often decreases the rate of evaporation from skin of human body, this means that the rate for body to release heat will be also decreased.
Principles such as building orientation, building shape, shading devices and roof design, indoor and outdoor openness, vegetation and pilotis may provide a sense of well being for occupants in terms of thermal comfort. With the revolution of technology, indoor temperature may be reduced by putting green roof and living walls which decrease the rate of solar heat gain from sun. Double skin design too serves as a good design principle, for instance, timber louvers and perforated metal skin might reduce some amount of direct heat from the sun. A wise use of water in building interior may cool the building as well. An extensive use of water at the outdoor environment may lead to the contribution of urban heat island effect. Water which exposed to the sun during daytime would releases heat during night time to the surrounding. This phenomena can be observed in the park of KLCC.


Green building performs in two senses, both in micro environment where it provide excellent environment to the occupant, and macro environment where it gives less or no harm to the global nature and human being during its life cycle. So what makes a value to a particular building? Climate, topography and culture, these three would make manifest a character of a place of its time. It is important to look at how the ancient architecture of the world such as the Great Greek Temple, Roman architecture and so on which has been sustained for more than 500 years. They are well served as great buildings during their periods, while being a good place of tourism for now. The ancient architect, Vitruvius speaked of the fundamental criteria of a building has to meet convenience or utility, durable and beauty. By then, it is these three principles which sustained the architecture for a long period.


One example of a healthy breakfast consists of two slices of breads with cheese, an egg as well as a fried hotdog, and a cup of fruit juice. But, when one decides to have six slices of breads with cheeses, four eggs, three fried hotdog and five cup of fruit juice for breakfast, what will happens? This analogy may be applied to buildings. Green building should speak of its quality of being green, instead of the quantity of “greenness” that it possessed. I would like to give an example which is a project of sustainable city in Huangbaiyu, China, designed by Architect William McDonough[11], the founder of the design concept of “Cradle to Cradle”. The project was the first model of sustainable city bearing the principle of cradle to cradle, and it was intended to gives welfare to the community and the world. A “waste equal to food” concept was introduced to the community, where waste will be collected to generate gas for cooking. But surprisingly, this project failed in the sense that, community of China cannot accept what is designed as what was intended to be given [12].
Obviously, green design should speak of its quality from the first priority, rather than quantity. But what then is the quality of being green?


A timeless way of building speaks of its ability to provide liberty to human being. Human well-being comes from cultural perception, other than just physical thermal comfort. Diversity in cultural perception from different group of human being may results in a different state of self satisfactory or well-being in both physical and mental. Human from different category may suits in different environmental settings, for instance, elder people and babies are sensitive to lights and glare more than adults, young group of adult from Malaysia especially girls may not want to be exposed to the hot sun unlike people in western country. Public squares which are opened to sky may work well in country like United Kingdom but it will definitely not going to work in hot tropical region like Malaysia. From this point, we might argue that there should not be any assumption of absolute comfort for various human-being, but a relative state of comfort is much preferably concerned and it is strongly dependent on an individual’s liberty to choose.


An architect designs with consciousness base on the past, for the present, and the future of unknown. What does it takes to make a building shows respect or grateful of the past, responds to the present and serves the future well? Does a timeless building exist? We look at the architecture of five hundred years old, what really sustained them for so long? And yet most of them are like a good book, from every page it opens us into a new source of wonder, bringing us into another world of time with the consciousness of our time, it is that sacred that it enlightens us and gives us knowledge to enjoy the fullest of life.


But where do all these come from? There should be essence, and value which make a building a good building. Contexts are always important. It is understood as circumstances and issues which surround a site a place or even the world, both "concrete", and "abstract" data. Concrete here can be interpreted as a site condition, topography and climate, while abstract is referring to the history, memory, culture and event which is most of the time I found them could be hardly figured out from surface.
We often found interpretation of building as an engine, or a machine to be living in. But an engine works no different from place to place. We then found architecture which grows itself, repairs itself, assemble-dissemble able. Self-sustaining building, container and recycled buildings, and perhaps Native American architecture which is portable for instance. To be significant, a building has to make manifest its place. Back to the fundamental principle of architecture which is to provide human shelter. How do we want to be occupied in space and access to the nature? Climate, weather, and topography should be made manifest, and culture, event and memory should be celebrated. No one really knows whether a timeless building exists and it is impossible to be experimented.


From all the points mentioned above, I have come to a conclusion where, there is no absolute, exact or correct way in producing a timeless green building. Here I would like to summarize my thoughts in a form of laws.

1. Design process is timeless and evolutionary. It is essential to look back in the history of architecture to understand the essence of science and art of designing a building, reapply design methodology base on context from time to time.
2. Building should be in a form of enlightenment, and education. It dictates human to lives naturally in the state of joy, and well being.
3. Building should speak of its ability to inform human’s participation in space by taking responsibility, a freedom for the occupant to choose, with good intention.
4. Context, climate, culture served as a key element in forming a historical value, character as well as identity of a particular place.

And yet good design process and design methodology should be timeless and precise, should be questioned always, and it should be shared as a common language.


[1] Adolf K. Placzek. 1965. Andrea Palladio: The Four Books of Architecture. Translated from The Four Books of Architecture by Isaac Ware. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. (Originally published in 1738).
[1] Aminatuzuhariah Megat Abdullah. 2007. Introduction to Environmental Management System. Malaysia: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
[2] Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel. 1977. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford University Press.
[3] Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi. 2009. Thoughts on Malaysian Architecture. Malaysia: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
[4] M. H. Morgan.1960. Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture. Translated from The Ten Books On Architecture by M.H. Morgan. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. (Originally published in 1914)
[5] Tom Porter. 2004. Archispeak: An Illustrated Guide to Architectural Terms. London: Spoon Press 11 New Fetter Lane.
[6] William McDonough. 1992 The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability. Prepared for EXPO 2000, The World’s Fair Hannover, Germany.
[7] e² Series. Podcasts. Available at http://www.e2-series.com.
[8] Greenbuildingindex Sdn Bhd 2009. What & Why Green Buildings? Retrieved Dec. 20, 2009. Available from http://www.greenbuildingindex.org/why-green-buildings.html.
[9] ] RIAS 2008. Eisenman's six point plan. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32aaRDyLPxo&feature=related.
[10 TED Conferences, LLC. Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales. Available from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/bjarke_ingels_3_warp_speed_architecture_tales.html.
[11] TED Conferences, LLC. William McDonough on Cradle to Cradle design. Available from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_mcdonough_on_cradle_to_cradle_design.html.
[12] The Age. China's first eco-village proves a hard sell. Available from http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/chinas-first-ecovillage-proves-a-hard-sell/2006/08/25/1156012740582.html?page=fullpage
[13] U.S Green Building Council. What LEED Measures. Available from http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1989.