Economic growth in the developing world is now outpacing that of the developed world. Africa and Asia, in particular, are home to several of the world's fastest growing economies, with growth in Asia averaging 6 percent in 2011 and growth in Africa averaging 5 percent the same year. Some notable countries in these development zones include Mongolia, who is averaging 17 percent growth; Ethiopia at 8 percent; the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda both at 7 percent; and Hong Kong at 5 percent.
In these developing countries, sustainable development can improve the quality of human life, while at the same time ensuring that people live within the carrying capacity of the world’s supporting ecosystems. Consider these two metrics: the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI), which measures development by examining life expectancy, educational attainment and income; and the Ecological Footprint Calculation, which measures resource demand in terms of global hectares per person. Sustainable development would enable a minimum HDI of 0.8 (on a scale of 0 to 1) and a maximum Ecological Footprint of 1.8 global hectares per person (which is roughly the world’s average biocapacity available per person). The chart below illustrates the existing relationship between these key factors on each continent. As you can see, Asia and Africa use less than the world average per person biocapacity, while the European Union and North America use more.
To balance thehigher scores in the E.U. and North America, we can export some of their high-performance developments to the developing world. For example, take our project, the recently completed Energy Lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA). In 2010, it became the third building to meet the Living Building Challenge. Our firm has found that the sustainable approach of the Energy Lab can be applied to structures throughout the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia. Ongoing projects for international schools in five African countries—the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and South Africa—and four Asian countries—Lebanon, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and Nepal—are embracing techniques used in the Hawaii project. The most common features include rainwater collection and purification, solar hot water, natural ventilation, use of local materials and daylight control—all key components of the Energy Lab. Once occupants are educated on the interplay of these features and the environment, we've found a greater willingness to to widen one's thermal comfort range, further reducing a person's global footprint. These new facilities will minimize impact on the environment and also serve as examples of how local building traditions can be combined with modern technology to create simple, sustainable buildings.
Local culture can provide great insight into climate-appropriate solutions. Traditional buildings in developing countries are typically built of local materials and reflect cultural traditions of the nativepeople. For example, the Mongolian Ger (or yurt), the Hawaiian Hale, and the South African Lapa all embody simple sustainable design principles. The Ger is portable, seasonably adjustable, and uses animal products in its construction. It reflects the Mongolian’s nomadic lifestyle driven by its strong reliance on grazing livestock in an environment with wide temperature fluctuations. The Hale is permanently fixed in lava rock, anchored to its place, open-air, and constructed of wood and thatch. It reflects the native Hawaiian’s strong connection to place, availability of construction materials, an inherent respect for the land, and nearly uniform temperatures. These traditional structures suggest a simple, time-tested response to the environment. However, they now demand a greater comfort range from the inhabitants.
With this in mind, a balance between old and new is necessary. The successful design of modern, sustainable buildings requires an intimate knowledge of local building traditions, the local climate, and a history of the area. Successful designs also use modern design tools to study the interaction of buildings and the environment. Computer fluid dynamic modeling, for example, can shape a naturally ventilated building with hard physics (instead of relying on hunches and intuition). The computational analyses can also address carbon-dioxide emissions, water consumption, waste generation, lighting levels as influenced by daylight, wind speed, and the impact of the microclimate.
Some of our recently completed buildings in Africa and Asia employ the strategies of traditional structures with modern design tools to create simple, self-sufficient and sustainable buildings. These include:
New Classroom Building, International College, Beirut
Municipal infrastructure in the developing world tends to be insufficient and unreliable. Rolling power outages are common, and water must be purified on-site to be potable. For this reason, building owners seek to reduce their dependence on municipal infrastructures. The new 18,000-square-meter classroom building at International College (IC), is the first LEED Gold-certified building in Lebanon and minimizes its demand on Beirut’s struggling infrastructure. Sun shading is used to reduce solar gain while providing ample views of IC’s lush campus and daylighting for the classrooms. Water collection and a graywater system reduce dependence on the cities water supply. The roof structure is designed to accept photovoltaic panels, should subsidies for electrical power end or costs for fuel for emergency generators rise. The design team used computer modeling to study the benefits of sun shading, daylighting, water collection, and energy consumption.
The project was partially funded through the Central Bank of Lebanon’s Green Financing Mechanism, a subsidized loan program that is designed to encourage sustainable development. The project has been recognized as a pioneering step toward energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green buildings from Lebanon’s National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Action program.
New Aquatic Center, American International School of Johannesburg, Johannesburg
This new aquatic center at the American International School of Johannesburg celebrates South Africa's optimistic spirit while being true to the country’s building traditions. The project includes a state-of-the-art, solar-heated, infinity overflow, six-lane, 25-meter competition pool and 12.5-meter-by-12.5-meter teaching pool. The crisscross pattern of the structural steel recalls the native Lapa structures while demonstrating South Africa's new found technical skill in fabricating and erecting complicated steel shapes. The naturally ventilated, naturally lit, solar-heated pool takes advantage of the local climate and reflects the simple pragmatism that pervades the continent. It epitomizes Africa’s growing recognition that the natural environment is as valuable an African resource as the mineral resources beneath it.
Classroom Revitalization Project, the American School of Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
A remade “Forest Classroom” at the American School of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo transforms a simple, loadbearing missionary building into a self-sufficient prototype for future development at the school. The project replaces an existing structural asbestos roof with an insulated metal roof to reduce solar gain, serve as a substrate for photovoltaic panels and collect rainwater. It enlarges existing openings in the exterior wall to bring in more daylight. Exterior operable louvers control the daylight. It creates an open, insulated air plenum between the roof and classroom to cool the building. De-stratification fans enhance cooling and foster natural ventilation. This approach will allow each classroom building to be self-sufficient and not dependent on a campus infrastructure, or unreliable municipal water and power.
Smart, sustainable development in the fastest growing economies will ensure lasting human development. Thoughtful projects, like the ones described above, are good examples of how to proceed.
David Croteau, AIA, is a principal at Flansburgh Architects in Boston. The firm's work for the Hawaii Preparatory Academy's Energy Lab was profiled by ECOSTRUCTURE in 2010 .