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Building a More Environmentally-friendly Future

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It may not be the tallest building in the Pearl River Delta region, but it could be one of the few that aims for a lofty goal: zero net impact on energy consumption.

Construction of the Pearl River Tower, located in the booming new central business district of Guangzhou, which began in 2006, is due to be completed by the end of this year, said Jaime Velez, a principal designer from the United States-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM).

It is expected to become the coastal city's first commercial building with zero-energy consumption.

The tower is designed by SOM, one of the world's leading architecture, urban design, engineering and interior architecture firms.

"Is it quite an ambitious goal? It is something we should be striving to achieve," Velez said.

The designer said making a building green is more challenging than making it tall.

"Height doesn't seem to be a problem. Pushing the building from a sustainability and green perspective is more difficult," he said.

However, Velez, who has participated in a large number of architectural and interior projects in the US, Europe and Asia, has many reasons for achieving this goal.

"We attached great importance to using natural resources such as wind and sun to generate electricity for the building from the very beginning of the design process," he said.

For example, gill-like gaps in the facade of the building will inhale wind that will propel turbines to produce electricity.

The building will harvest wind and solar energy, directing and managing prevailing winds so that they become "invisible braces" that help stiffen the tower, Velez said.

Energy consumption is reduced by maximizing natural day lighting, reducing solar gain in air-conditioned spaces, retaining rainwater for gray-water usage, and using the sun to heat the hot water supply in the building.

SOM's sophistication in building technology applications and its commitment to design quality has resulted in a portfolio that features some of the most important architectural accomplishments, including the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center in Chicago, Jinmao Tower in Shanghai and the world's highest building, Dubai Tower in the United Arab Emirates.

In China, the company has helped design more than 50 buildings, over 15 of which are skyscrapers. The Pearl River Town is the first energy-saving building that SOM has designed.

Velez said the Pearl River Tower would help emit less carbon dioxide by approximately 3,000 tons and achieve an overall energy saving of 30.4 percent a year.

"This is an iconic, high-performance building that is designed in harmony with its environment," Velez said. "It is a skyscraper for a new age."

Baiju Woo, another chief engineer of the tower, said the 309-meter building was the first one on the Chinese mainland to integrate a high level of advanced sustainable technologies into its construction, including wind power, solar power, cooling radiation displacement, a ventilation system and a dual-layer curtain wall.

The tower, with a gross floor area of 210,000 square meters, will become a landmark office building in the Pearl River Delta region, said Ye Zhiming, general manager of the Pearl River Tower Real Estate.

"It is of great significance to develop sustainable green office buildings in Chinese cities," he added.

Amenities in the building include exclusive VIP clubs, fine restaurants, banks and convention and exhibition facilities. They meet top office requirements, according to Ye.

Colliers International, one of the leading advocates of the green office environment among real estate agencies, has been appointed as the marketing and leasing agent for the building, Ye said.

"The tower, with its high level of environmental protection, will help demonstrate that office buildings in China are on a par with international standards," said Jamie Horne, president of Asia Pacific at Colliers International.

Eco-friendly buildings

Chinese experts are calling for more construction of eco-friendly building such as the Pearl River Tower to help save energy.

Late last year, China set a goal of slashing carbon emission per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level.

"Worldwide, buildings consume about 40 percent of energy, so it is very urgent to develop environmentally friendly buildings to reduce energy consumption," said Meng Qinglin, a professor with the Architecture and Design Institute at South China University of Technology.

Meng suggested more energy-saving technologies be adopted in buildings, including residential houses and sports facilities.

"They should be designed in harmony with the environment," Meng said, citing technologies used in the building of the Guangzhou Asian Games Town.

The town, which is situated in Panyu district, is equipped with a renewable energy system that could generate electricity through collecting sunlight to help provide water heating and air conditioning if there was a power cut during the games. It would also help reduce energy costs for the town's residents after the games.

Various renewable energy resources will be employed, such as solar energy and hydropower - produced in nearby rivers - while solar energy will be collected through systems placed on the top of each building in the town.

"Such buildings will help reduce carbon emissions," Meng said, citing that China has become the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter.

According to the Chinese Academy of Engineering, China produced as much as 5.96 billion tons of carbon in 2007, 140 million tons more than the United States.

The country faces a very difficult challenge in saving energy, with the per capita carbon emission surpassing the world's average of 4.18 tons to reach nearly five tons in 2008, said Meng.

Buildings in China will likely consume 2.6 billion tons of standard coal by 2030 if the country does not introduce stricter controls on projects with high-energy uses, Meng said.

(China Daily January 25, 2010)

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