By Michael Tatarski

As the effects of climate change become more evident by the day, companies around the world are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the planet. A firm’s office – whether one floor of a building or an entire dedicated structure – is one of the most visible ways to make a change.

Sharma Springs in Indonesia

IN RECENT YEARS, CERTIFICATIONS such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the US Green Building Council but used globally, have gained prominence among architects and green building advocates.

Here in Vietnam, an endemic tree could provide an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional, energy-intensive building materials such as steel and concrete.

“To create those materials involves creating an enormous amount of pollution,” said James Wolf of Bamboo Master. “But to make bamboo, only water and sunlight is required. And it also creates oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide, and the byproduct is you get a building material, whereas steel and cement just consume energy.”

Wolf has been working with bamboo in Vietnam since 1995 and has used it to build everything from furniture and bicycles to flooring and prefabricated houses. He also worked extensively in Bali with IBUKU, one of the world’s leading nature-driven architectural and design firms and the team behind the renowned Green School.

“I think Vietnam is ready for this kind of bamboo architecture, and there is some already,” he added. “There’s a national association between Vietnam and bamboo; there’s folklore and history. There should be – and there will be – some really impressive stuff.”

Vo Trong Nghia, founder of the architecture studio that bears his name, is arguably the most famous Vietnamese architect working with bamboo, and his designs have received international recognition for their incorporation of materials such as bamboo and brick, as well as trees and other greenery.

Vedana Restaurant by Vo Trong Nghia

“Human beings are destroying the planet, in reality,” Vo said in a call. “So as an architect, as a being on our planet, we have the responsibility to protect it through our activities. Architecture and construction activities are very damaging, but we try to reduce the impact on the environment.”

His studio focuses on using natural ventilation and designs that reduce the need for energy-hungry systems like air conditioning.

“The main reward is designs that are in harmony with nature,” Vo explained. “Putting up a concrete frame and glass around it is the easiest way to make a building, but it’s like leaving a car out in the sun, it becomes crazy hot. So I would say that is not a suitable solution for Vietnam’s climate.”

However, while the environmental benefits of bamboo, when grown sustainably, are hard to dispute, it does present challenges.

“It’s difficult to work with, and it requires a lot of skilled labor,” Wolf said. “People expect it to be quite cheap, but in reality, because labor is no longer cheap, the skilled labor you need is hard to come by.”

“But it’s not out of the question that there will be a market and a desire for green construction,” he added. “If a company really wants to make a statement that it is environmentally responsible, it would probably choose to not work with the common carbon-emitting materials of steel and cement. You’d want to put your money where your mouth is and show that you do care, and as a public example, look at what we’re building with.”

Bamboo is not the only alternative when it comes to green architecture either, as there are options at every step of the design process. Andrew Currie, a co-founder of OUT-2 Design Group, has been working to help companies in Asia design more environmentally-minded workspaces for years.

“Now, more than ever, everything we do has a goal of being environmentally more responsible and greener,” he said. “We talk to clients about how to do it, and try to make sure that it’s embedded in every project we do.”

Currie explained that any company looking to be more sustainable has to take that approach across its entire system, beyond just architecture and design.

“The question of being green and responsible is quite ubiquitous and complex across a whole lot of different levels, from the buildings we build right down to our daily habits and practices,” he said. “So from an architectural point of view, we try to create buildings and spaces that are the most responsible and highest-performing from an environmental point of view. That’s the foundation for people to be able to contribute even further in the way they work and the things they do.”

Utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar power, as well as aiming for passive systems that improve air circulation, for example, are some of the ways that OUT-2 strives to create more sustainable spaces.

And, while Currie believes companies in Vietnam have gone a long way in improving their understanding of being green, shortcomings remain.

“I think there’s still a big gap between wanting to be green and understanding what it takes to be green,” he said. “It’s not easy, and it does take more effort to have a very multi-layered approach to being green throughout an organization.” [C]

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