SUSTAINABLE architecture may be a growing trend in Asia, but few proponents are as committed to active sustainable design as Saeed Zaki, regional managing director of DWP — an architecture and interior design firm with offices in Australia, Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East and Vietnam.
"I am the one who started the eco-initiative for DWP. I'm a so-called eco-champion for the company," he tells City & Country in a recent interview.
Zaki, who has a background in architecture and urban planning, spent 20 years working in Thailand before moving to Malaysia to take charge of DWP's Asean operations. He managed the firm's Thailand office from 2007.
"DWP's eco-initiative started in 2009 after we had a global strategy meeting in 2008. I worked on the initiative for two years before passing it on to someone else," he says.
However, the handover did not mean that he was no longer involved in promoting green design and sustainable features, instead he can now introduce the concept on a much larger platform.
"DWP has an in-house programme to train our designers and staff in getting a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED is a third-party certification programme created by the US' Green Building Council, which DWP is a member of," he says.
The idea, says Zaki, is to invest in the firm's staff so that they can create sustainable designs. They should also believe in sustainability, and that everything they do henceforth should be done out of their commitment to sustainability.
DWP made a policy decision about three years ago that every product it does will be designed to at least the minimum LEED standard.
"It doesn't matter whether the client wants to certify the building or not, we will not design anything that falls below the minimum LEED requirements. If a client comes in and rejects these requirements, I will walk away from the project," Zaki says, adding that the firm has walked away from projects in the past.
As a design firm, DWP is involved in the interior design of offices and hotels as well as retail and residential projects. "We want to promote designs that bring about a carbon neutral space — a space that has minimal carbon footprint."
With this concept in mind, he is strongly promoting the carbon neutral office (CNO) in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. "The whole idea of the CNO is to design a working environment that has literally zero carbon," he says.
"It's not just about sustainability; it also brings about a reduction in operational cost as well as a healthy and higher productivity space."
Zaki explains that when you design something sustainable, it will reduce operational cost since less energy is consumed and fewer materials are used.
"The cost of energy is constantly increasing. Even if you do not do anything, your cost will keep going up, so you need to do something to reduce the cost," says Zaki, adding that what he needs now is to get the message out and for clients to believe in this idea.
"We want commitment from our clients, and Sime Darby is one that is committed to sustainable developments," he says. DWP has done three projects for Sime Darby — Sime Darby Medical Centre and Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Ara Damansara, as well as Sime Darby headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
"We hope that in the future, we get clients that are also equally committed," says Zaki.
Sime Darby's contribution to sustainability is not limited to the design of its buildings. In fact, Mecomb Malaysia Sdn Bhd, the energy and utility division of Sime Darby, is DWP's partner for Sime Darby Plantation's main office, and it was during discussions with Mecomb's general manager that the idea for carbon-monitoring tools came about.
DWP believes that one day, buildings everywhere will install carbon-monitoring tools that collect data for the building management system, recording how much energy, carbon and water is generated for management review and future mitigation.
"I think our idea is that the buildings of the future should have real-time data on each building. It should become a trend — something that every office should have," Zaki says. "Everybody should be forced to adopt sustainable buildings."
Nothing has been implemented so far on this scale, but DWP Thailand has come far in promoting sustainable features for the office. "We even installed a bioclimatic façade in our Thailand office," says Zaki.
A bioclimatic façade is basically a screen outside the office made from a special material that is linked to a computer which uses software that collects data on sunlight and heat. When it gets too hot, the screen comes up, shielding the occupants of the office from the glaring sun.
DWP has gone one step further by integrating the office's lighting system with the screen. When the screen is down and there is little natural light in the room, the artificial lights come on. This system was jointly undertaken with a French company called Somfy — a world leader in the automatic control of openings and closures in homes and buildings.
"We partnered them and collected data on the cost of energy, health and the staff's happiness. We found that after we installed this, we had a significant reduction in the cost of energy. We were using less light and air-conditioning. We also had a significant drop in people taking sick leave," Zaki says.
On the cost of using sustainable features in a development, Zaki says, "If you want to analyse the cost, you can always say that implementing something sustainable can be more expensive — but isn't using marble or granite, or other fancy materials, expensive too? And these materials aren't necessarily sustainable, are they?" he says.
It is true that sustainable features can increase your cost by 5% to 15%, but according to Zaki, they also reduce operating costs significantly. "If you can have a payback period of three to five years, it makes good economic sense to adopt sustainable designs,"
Zaki says that regionally, Singapore and Malaysia have shown the most commitment in terms of sustainability, followed closely by Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The challenge is to increase awareness, and Zaki believes more and more people are becoming aware about sustainability, especially the younger generation.
"They are becoming more aware about the importance of climate change and the need for sustainable design. They may not say it loudly, but when they make a choice, sustainability is one of the options considered," he says.
This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of July 8-14, 2013.