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Cool and comfy: Design strategies that promote thermal comfort in commercial buildings

Passive design, Thermal comfort, Office buildings, Makati Commerce Tower

Building design strategies can be used to improve modern buildings’ indoor comfort, enhance their energy efficiency, and minimize energy use. More importantly, incorporating these strategies in the construction of buildings can directly and indirectly benefit the environment.

 

It goes without saying that energy use in commercial buildings, especially in tropical climates, is of great concern to many office landlords and occupiers because of the energy-intensive mechanical systems used to moderate humidity and temperature within these facilities. At the same time, many buildings’ designs restrict natural light, necessitating the use of artificial lights, which further increases energy consumption.

Sustainable architecture for hot-climate areas, at least those involving modern buildings, remains a relatively unexplored area. Plenty of commercial buildings do not employ sustainable design, for instance, to take advantage of natural energy resources, such as daylight, wind, and thermal buoyancy, to regulate temperature, humidity, and natural lighting inside these facilities. This is unfortunate, as the rich indigenous cultures of tropical Asia-Pacific over many centuries have adopted designs well suited to their climate. According to a paper published by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), tropical architecture is not a new concept as many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have adopted vernacular building designs adapting to their climatic needs over many centuries.

Sustainable design strategies can also be utilized to improve modern buildings’ indoor comfort, enhance their energy efficiency, and minimize energy use, according to a paper published in the Journal of Architectural/Planning Research and Studies. More importantly, incorporating these design strategies in the construction of buildings can have a significant impact on the environment, both directly and indirectly.

In this article, we put together a list of strategies that can be used to incorporate sustainable design in commercial buildings that can help improve natural ventilation and thermal comfort, and in the process reduce energy consumption. This list has been adopted from a research paper authored by Richenel Bulbaai and Johannes I. M. Halman published in a special issue of Sustainability and Energy-Saving in Construction and Building Materials.

Building orientation

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Direct solar radiation causes a building’s indoor temperature to rise. Therefore, the orientation of a building in the tropics is crucial because it can improve access to natural light, increase protection from excessive solar radiation, and can influence the extent of the prevailing winds on the façades of the building.

Natural ventilation

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Ventilation is the process of removing stale air and replacing it with fresh air, either through mechanical systems or by natural methods. When no mechanical systems are employed, it is referred to as natural ventilation or passive ventilation.

Natural ventilation is important because it is an effective passive cooling design technique that reduces the need for electricity. Two advantages of natural ventilation are that it reduces the energy use while increasing thermal comfort. For example, stack ventilation, which is based on temperature differences, can improve a building’s natural ventilation. Openings on the upper level let the warm air inside the building escape, while the cooler fresh air infiltrates through openings at a lower level in the building.

Indirect natural light

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The use of indirect natural light to illuminate a building’s interior is an effective way of reducing energy use and interior thermal gains from artificial lighting. The orientation, shape, and surface openings of a building can influence the penetration of natural light, but apart from windows and doors, indirect natural light can be acquired through skylights, light reflectors, atria, and similar installations. Skylights and atria can provide plenty of natural light, but they must be glazed in tropical climates to limit excessive heat penetration. Skylights and atria can also have openings at the top, which further promote stack ventilation.

Roof ventilation

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The roof is the part of a building that receives the most solar radiation that is then transmitted to the interior of the building. This causes the indoor spaces to heat up. There are several ways to minimize solar heat penetration from the roof, such as encouraging natural ventilation of the space between the roof and ceiling insulation. Another is by introducing natural vegetation on a building’s roof (also called a green roof or living roof). The latter is a particularly effective way of reducing temperatures especially in cities and other built environments with limited trees.

Thermal mass materials

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Building materials with high thermal mass take a long time to heat up and also to cool down; therefore, lightweight, low-thermal-mass materials are recommended in hot climates, such as low thermal conductivity wood, cork, straw bales, vermiculite concrete, vacuum insulated panels, and hollow clay tiles.

External walls

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The use of light colors or reflective paints for external surfaces reduces the temperature at the surface of a building and, hence, the building’s incidental heating. Solar shading can also be used, such as simple overhangs, vegetation on the outside of a building that does not hinder natural ventilation, and vertical louvers that not only provide shade but are also aesthetically pleasing.

Outdoor and transition spaces

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The intermediate space between the inside and outside of a building, also called transition spaces, can provide a shaded space for a building that has a cooling effect on the incoming air. There are many types of transition spaces that can be used in building design, such as balconies, terraces, atria, and corridors. Natural vegetation can also be added to these transition spaces, which provide an added cooling effect.

Humans’ perception of comfort is affected by their prolonged exposure and conditioning to high temperatures and humidity. But even those who are so used to hot and humid climates can only tolerate so much, especially if they spend extended periods inside buildings. Such is the case of office workers. While thermal comfort is related to different environmental conditions, such as air movement, ambient temperature, and humidity, a well-thought-out building design definitely can make an important contribution to indoor comfort.

A building like to no other

One of the upcoming commercial buildings to exemplify commitment to promoting workers’ health and well-being through good design is the Makati Commerce Tower (www.makaticommercetower.com). Having been certified LEED Gold (aspiring for Platinum on completion), this next-generation Grade A office tower along Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue is 80% completed and will be available to welcome its first tenants in the third quarter of 2022. The building will become a landmark for innovation and sustainability.

Makati Commerce Tower, Sustainable office development, Green office tower, LEED Gold certified, Makati CBD, Office space for lease in Makati

More companies in the Philippines are now looking for sustainable and healthy work environments that will provide confidence for their employees to return to workplaces, said Joey Roi Bondoc, Colliers Associate Director and Head of Research. Indeed, as companies start to welcome their workers back to the office, they might as well do so on the promise that workers’ health and well-being will be ensured.

 


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