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Change The Way You Think and Approach Projects



Kuala Lumpur: It was a curious thing to find out who “environmental engineers” were.


By the time Professor Patrick Bellew took to the stage during the International Construction Transformation Conference (ICTC) held in Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre in conjunction with ICW 2019, participants had been informed of his long pedigree in the industry, mainly as an expert in green building.


Founding director of Atelier Ten, Patrick is one of the UK’s Royal Designers and is a Chartered Building Services Engineer with more than 30 years’ experience in the design of high-performance buildings and systems. With extensive experience in the integration of environmental and building systems with architecture, Patrick has particular expertise in thermal mass energy storage technologies, environmental building design and high efficiency building conditioning systems.


“Even our short-term future is getting terrifying,” began Bellew, referencing Davis Wallace-Wells book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, where the author begins his bestseller by describing the scale and impact of environmental degradation as “worse, much worse, than you think”.


Bellew set the tone along the author’s book. “It’s really a today issue instead of a future issue. This is a problem of an epic scale that we’re all facing.” He also referenced “the first guy who really talked about sustainability in a meaningful way”- Buckminster Fuller in his book ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’.


Bellew gave detailed information on a range of iconic buildings, some which Atelier Ten had worked on.  


The Flatiron [distinctive triangular steel-framed skyscraper built in 1902 by architect Daniel Burnham, which infamously did not have ladies’ restrooms]. “In the early days the building had shades but now they have carrier air-conditioning units so that’s progress - to take away defensive measures on buildings to replace it with horse-power.”


SR Crown Hall by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1956 (Time magazine calls in “one the world’s most influential, inspiring and astonishing structures). “We worked on the renovations here. Absolutely iconic building where architecture was taught for generations. It’s a crucible design that was all about minimalism, glass, transparency…It was one of the most uncomfortable buildings on the planet to be in. There’s an incredible irony about this -you put the students in the hot-house and make them understand about green architecture!”  


He moved on to Brutalism - a style which emerged in the mid-20th century and gained popularity in the 1970s - characterised by simple, block-like forms and raw concrete construction. “Nothing environmental here. We have fixed the School of Architecture of Yale University. Students tried to burn the building down when it was first opened because it was so uncomfortable!”  


“So where do we find our inspiration?”


Bellew answered his own question by showing his audience stills of termite hills (environment protecting builders without architecture degrees or the benefit of sight who are pros at building self-regulating structures that maintain oxygen levels, temperature, and humidity).


He explained that, guided by nature, Atelier Ten set out to build the Earth Centre Environmental Theme Park, the largest Photovoltaic Canopy in the UK. The Solar Canopy [largest at the time] supports the centre’s power supply. A labyrinth of tunnels like termites were built into the earth to keep it cool in the summer time without air-conditioning.


With that, labyrinth fell into their new vocabulary for sustainable buildings.


The concept was used prominently in their following projects including the Federation Square, Melbourne, where the system has worked quite successfully. It has also proven successful in other climates with more unpredictable temperatures such as in Ankara, Turkey.


The TMB Headquarters in Ankara provides a mechanical system as well as a labyrinth underneath providing thermal mass (the ability to absorb, store and release heat naturally enabling buildings to respond naturally to changing conditions, helping to stabilise the internal temperature and provide a largely self-regulating environment).


Atelier Ten was also involved in the building of “the greenest building in the UK” the WWF Living Planet Centre in Woking, a showcase headquarters for the World Wildlife Fund. This project has been awarded BREEAM Bespoke ‘Outstanding’, the highest accreditation.


“It’s a very highly integrated design in terms of environmental sustainability. The daylight and artificial lighting has been carefully conceived with the architect to provide a highly integrated lighting scheme that compliments the stunning architecture. A mixed mode ventilation strategy was designed for the whole building. This includes mechanical ventilation with heat recovery in winter and natural ventilation assisted by earth ducts for passive cooling in the summer.”


Closer to home Atelier Ten (with Grant Associates and Wilkinson Eyre) have worked on Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, a huge construction project that took almost six years to launch from the point of submitting the designs.


The gardens are a national and international exemplar of sustainable practice (winning the ‘World Building of the Year 2012' at the World Architecture Festival). It includes the iconic “Durian Building” (The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay) as well as the “Super Trees”, and a casino- modest one.


“Unfortunately, we did not have any Intellectual Proper rights on the designs-the logo, jewellery- everything else sold in the shops now-we don’t get any commission on that but that’s life as a designer!” quipped Bellew.


Atelier Ten provided mechanical and electrical engineering design to completion and masterplan sustainability consultancy. They developed innovative strategies for controlling the naturally humid environment of Singapore while minimising energy demand. External super tree structures coupled with liquid desiccant systems provide cool air to the two biomes in the main gardens. The Super Trees house photovoltaic panels that generate enough annual power to light the Super Trees.


Waste generated by Singapore’s National Parks is diverted from landfill and used as a source of biomass to generate energy for use throughout the gardens.


“It’s important to know that from the beginning the story was about the interaction of nature - with natural cooling, natural systems, recognising that we couldn’t make a building for nature that wasn’t somehow regenerative and more than just sustainable, it was sustaining. This was the original concept of the Super Trees.”  


As part of the masterplan development and implementation process of Gardens by the Bay, Atelier Ten developed and utilised a range of sustainability implementation plans that covered all areas of environmental sustainability potentially affected by the development, with the aim of weaving holistic ideas of sustainability into the project.


An ongoing environmental construction project for Atelier Ten is also in Singapore - the Jewel at Changi Airport, where Bellew and team are tasked to provide strategic environmental design and analytical consultancy on this unusual and challenging project.


In conclusion, Bellew spoke about how one can do more with less in projects.


“It’s all about the thinking and it doesn’t necessarily cost money. Changing the way you think about projects, the way you approach projects, particularly drawing together the skills that you need from an architect, construction engineering, environmental engineering… at the right time so that you don’t just draw a building and then try to shoe-horn all the ideas into a planning consent or a budget. This is about high-level coordination.”


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[March 25, 2019)


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