Ecology, Design, Synergy

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In a city where plumes of concrete dust and construction cranes abound, a very different picture of development is on display at the Goethe Institute.

An architectural exhibition entitled Ecology, Design, Synergy showcases dozens of green designs created by the renown German architecture firm, Behnisch Architekten.

As you enter the building, you come into contact with dozens of backlit models and blueprints of the company's international projects. Panels explain the different eco-friendly features of each project.

"In Vietnam, investors are always aiming to benefit, but they're not really thinking about the long-term effects their projects might have on human populations," said Mr. Tran Quang Hung, Business Development Manager for ABB's Low Voltage Products Division in HCMC who was visiting the show. "All of these projects have been built or tested, so young architects could learn a lot from them."

Axel Korn, Director of Korn Architects company, another visitor, said most of the materials and techniques at the exhibition are very expensive to implement (especially in Vietnam). But, in the future, people have to be aware of natural resources and how to manage them.

"Now in the south of Saigon (Phu My Hung) there is not enough water," he said. "It is especially important for young Vietnamese architects to come (to this exhibition) to learn how other countries manage to save on water and air- conditioning expenses (by using alternative cooling solutions)," Korn said.

"These projects look at what people need," said Lutz Birkholz, the representative of IFA.

Birkholz said that all of the projects in the exhibit focus on the human scale that is, each project considers the individual user's experience of noise, temperature and materials within the sphere of the building.

One good example is the model of Genzyme Corporate Headquarters (a biotechnology company) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The design of the company's head office is considered a pioneer example of green design and "human scale" concept.

The facility is designed to provide external and internal views which facilitate constant contact with natural spaces. The building envelope, atrium, decentralized mechanical system, daylight system, and gardens serve to decrease reliance on fossil fuels while enhancing the day-to-day experience of each occupant.

Genzyme's floor plates are situated around a central, open atrium with stairs and circulation bridges that connect numerous interior gardens. These indoor green spaces create opportunities for building staffs to interact and communicate more instead of meeting up at the cafes outside the building.

In a city like Saigon, where green space is at a premium, the Genzyme building seemed like a dreamy place to call an office.

"[In the Genzyme project] we tried to explain how ecology and sustainable development combine in architecture," said Mr. Birkholz.

Hot, hot, hot

According to Mr. Conrad Cappell, the German General Consul in HCMC, aside from presenting ideal, energy-efficient living and working spaces, this exhibition is about coping with global warming.

A model of the Bangkok Airport, for example, shows how the design firm cleverly ran water pipes (at a temperature from 24 to 25OC) through the building's concrete pylons. This solution adds to human comfort while cutting down on cooling costs.

Senscity Paradise in Acropolis Universe Dubai is another fascinating project on display at the exhibition.

The theme park plan illustrates how, even in a forbidding climate (with fierce sun, wind and extreme temperature ranges) a progressively designed structure can offer an oasis.

At the center of the park is an enormous glass tower in the shape of a palm tree. The design naturally creates shade in the theme park below. A stream cuts through the artificial valley bellow creating a cool environment.

The Vietnamese approach

Eco house, by Le Truc Duy, is the only project in the German show to have been designed by an independent Vietnamese architect.

Duy's unique approach to the traditional one-floor northern home was constructed entirely out of bead tree wood, bamboo, laterite and a mixture of soil and straw all of which are renewable, low-impact materials.

Le Truc Duy's Eco House revives a traditional Vietnamese approach to energy conservation and life, in general.

According to northern rural customs, once a couple gives birth to its first child, they plant bead trees and bamboo with which to construct their child's future home. After 20 to 25 years, bead trees grow about six or seven meters tall. Then the family digs a pond and uses the excavated soil to make bricks.

All of the natural materials provide a cooler, airier environment than the concrete, electrically cooled box homes of Vietnam's modern cities.

According to Mr. Conrad Cappell, eco-friendly materials and techniques seem more expensive up front. But, in the long run, the projects save energy and money.

In Germany, construction projects which do not protect the environment are not permitted.

The Ecology, Design, Synergy exhibition will run from October 13 to 19 at the Ho Chi Minh City exhibition hall, 92 Le Thanh Ton, District 1. The show is the result of collaboration between Behnisch Architekten and Transsolar Climate Engineering. It is presented, locally by the Goethe Institute Vietnam and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (IFA). The exhibition is one of several events that have been planned to celebrate 35 years of official bilateral relations between Germany and Vietnam.

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