Tuesday July 5, 2011
Diamond Building: A shining example of energy efficiency
By ALLAN KOAY
The Energy Commission’s Diamond Building is a standout among the sea of government offices in Putrajaya, in more ways than one.
LOOK! That must be it!” I said excitedly to the taxi driver as we were driving down a road in the middle of Putrajaya’s central hub of government buildings. Anyone who has been to the country’s administrative capital knows the wide expanse of roads and buildings there, mostly brown concrete ones that all look almost similar.
In the middle of these is a building with greenish glass. We thought this was the Energy Commission’s Diamond Building. But lo and behold, at the junction before we came to that building, right across from the Immigration Department, was the true standout among more of the same.
It looked like an upside-down pyramid with the top buried in the ground. And with its greenish glass facade, it was a shining, shimmering diamond in a sea of concrete. This was the Diamond Building for which the taxi driver and I had been searching for on that scorching afternoon.
When I walked into the seven-storey building, there was none of the usual shock of cold air you get when you enter an air-conditioned building.
There is a short glass corridor with water running over it that you walk through before you get to the first glass door, after which there is a second glass door that leads into the atrium.
The air in the atrium was cool, despite the bright sunlight from the skylight which was partially covered by automatic blinds. The sensors placed under the glazing detect how much light is to be allowed and activate the blinds appropriately.
Gregers Reimann of IEN Consultants, the sustainability consultant for the building, then took me on a tour of this green building, the wonders of which never cease to amaze.
Bright and airy
One feature on the seventh floor might just make you catch your breath once you realise the truth. The offices and worktables are all placed near the glass windows either looking towards the outside of the building or into the atrium. This is to make best use of available daylight. But somewhere on the seventh floor is the lounge area, located in an area where there are no windows. Yet, the colourful area with its sofas and paintings on the wall are brightly illuminated.
“It’s all natural light,” said architect Nafisah Radin, whose firm NR Architect was involved in the design of the building, to my utter surprise. The light comes from the roof through a light trough.
“We designed it to reflect light from the roof down to the lounge,” she said.
The Diamond Building is the first office building in Malaysia to obtain the Green Building Index platinum rating, and the first outside of Singapore to obtain the Green Mark platinum rating. (The Green Mark is Singapore’s certification scheme for green buildings.)
“It’s meant to be a landmark building in terms of sustainability,” said Reimann. “This building is what I would call a textbook example of integrated design.”
At the start of the project, the consulting team went on a series of study trips, which included trips to Singapore in 2005 to study the green buildings there. In Thailand, they were impressed with the work of architect Dr Soontom Boonyatikam, who eventually became the principal architect for the Diamond Building.
“One of the things we decided on was that this building should be energy-efficient and should be heavily reliant on the use of daylight,” said Reimann.
Two sides of the building face north and south. While the sun’s path is from east to west, it will sometimes tilt to the north or to the south. The tilt angle is about 25°, so the building’s facade is also tilted at 25°.
“The north and south facades are self-shading,” said Reimann. “Of course you will still have the morning sun and afternoon sun in the east and west. But the time of exposure to direct sunlight would also be lessened because of the inclination.”
The solar exposure on the east and west sides is reduced by about 40%, thus there is only diffused sunlight which is softer.
We were fortunate enough to visit the building on a sunny day, and the interiors were bright enough that no artificial lighting was needed. It was brightly lit everywhere but there was no glare. Even in the very bright atrium, the temperature was cool, not cold or warm.
“Forty per cent of the cooling comes from chilled water slabs,” Reimann explained. “We have pipes embedded in the concrete floor and water runs through them at night to cool down the whole building structure to about 21°C. In the morning they are turned off. But the concrete releases cooling throughout the day.”
The windows that face the atrium gradually increase in size from the upper floors down to the lower floors where there is less sunlight. Reflective panels (which resemble half a Christmas tree) on the fourth and fifth floors, tilted at 10 degrees, help to reflect light across to the first and second floors.
The interiors are also naturally lit through the use of mirror light shelves. Installed above the windows, these deflect daylight onto the white ceiling to illuminate the entire room. And yes, there is a reason why everything is painted white.
Staff are advised not to put too many items on window sills, so as not to affect daylight performance. Everyting is designed so that the amount of light is always at a comfortable level, and computer screens do not fade out in the glare.
Even on an overcast day, lights are not needed as the automatic blinds will be fully open. “When the blinds are fully closed (during bright sunshine), they still let 30% of the light through, so daylight can be used throughout the day.” Reimann said it is only during a heavy rainstorm, when it gets really dark, that lights have to be turned on. “The electric lights are off 50% of the time. This building’s energy consumption is only about one-third that of a normal building,” said Reimann.
Green all the way
Everything, and absolutely everything, in the building, is made from sustainable and energy-saving materials, from energy-efficient computers and lighting systems to non-toxic organic cleaning materials. Open staircases, sited next to lifts and windows, are bright and inviting to encourage the staff to use them. Rainwater is harvested for toilets and gardens while grey water is recycled to irrigate the wetlands outside, thus saving 70% to 80% on water usage.
The shape of the building allows for a bigger area on the ground for greenery, while the larger roof area provides space for solar panels. Solar power supplies about 10% of the energy used in the building. Thin-film photovoltaics, the most efficient solar cells for our climate because they are good at absorbing diffused light, are used.
The inverted pyramid shape also directs wind into the basement where there is a cross-ventilation system. A sunken garden there allows natural air and light into the basement and the car park there almost never has the ventilation fans turned on.
You can still find window blinds in the building even though there is no harsh light. This is because daylight changes, and the blinds are needed for those periods when the light is glaring. In the future, task lights or table lamps will be distributed to everyone. That will ensure lights are only switched on for individual needs.
“When you are more than 50 years old, your eyes need 30% more light,” said Reimann. “Right now, that person would switch on the light and everyone else also gets the light. That is of course a waste of energy. Once we distribute the task lights, only that person would switch on his or her task light.”
The design of the building calls for a large void in its middle to allow daylight to filter in. Some might see that as space wastage but not Reimann. “Well, many buildings have central atriums, so I don’t think you can consider it wasted space. Just think of shopping malls. They also have atriums even though in principle, it could have been expensive rental space. But buildings (or shopping malls) with a very deep floor plate lose their attractiveness, hence, the common use of a central atrium.
“In Denmark it is illegal to build work spaces without a certain amount of daylight. This means that most Malaysian buildings would be illegal in Denmark and would not get their building permit. I know that Malaysia does not yet have such a regulation, but perhaps it will be coming. People simply feel much better when they are in visual contact with the outside.”
But even with all these energy-saving and green features, one thing is still needed to ensure optimum performance – people’s habits and attitudes. Malaysians in general seem averse to any sunlight and would pull down the blinds in a second.
Md Yuha Ismail, head of promotion and communication in the Energy Commission, said the staff had been prepared for their new experience even before they moved to the building in June last year.
“We had a series of talks and we even brought them to this building just to have them experience it beforehand. Even now, we encourage them to not use the lifts but the stairs instead. It is an ongoing process. And it’s been good, because we achieved an energy index of 72kWh/m2 per year, when our initial target was 85.”
There are regular talks on sustainability by experts for the staff.
“We want our staff to be proud of this building, so that they can become our little ambassadors and share their experiences with others,” said Md Yuha.
View the Diamond Building at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H_sXCtDayc
> Savings of RM1mil annually in operating costs – about RM950,000 from energy efficiency and RM45,000 from solar power generation.
> Reduced carbon dioxide emissions of 1,400 tonnes per year, akin to taking 700 cars off the road. (Assuming each car has travelled 12,000km.)
> Building energy index of 65kWh/m2 per year (without photovoltaics) and 56kWh/m2 per year (with photovoltaics). The index is the annual amount of electricity used per square metre of a building.
> Photovoltaic cells installed: 71.4kWp, which yields about 1,400kWh/m2 a year.
> Energy savings of 53% to 61% in overall electricity usage, including lighting and computers, and 34% in cooling.
> Lighting savings of 77% compared to the Green Mark base, but is expected to increase once task lights are distributed. The Green Mark base uses a reference building which is representative of buildings in the country.
> The eco-friendly measures cost RM3.4mil – about 6% of the total construction cost. The estimated payback time is three-and-a-half years.