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What Green Architecture in Vietnam is Really About

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

The practice of Green Architecture can be a universal win: for developers, inhabitants and the environment. Green buildings are designed to efficiently use energy, utilizing passive design to enhance airflow and buffer the sun. They are said to improve the quality of human life while maintaining the ecosystem’s capacity at local and global levels. They look pretty, often with splashes of green vegetation spilling over their edges. They also attract premium prices. There is something in it for everyone.

Green Architecture - FPT University HCMC

What is Green Architecture?

Green or sustainable architecture is architecture that seeks to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, energy, and development space and the ecosystem at large. Sustainable architecture uses a conscious approach to energy and ecological conservation in the design of the built environment.

The idea of sustainability, or ecological design, is to ensure that our use of presently available resources does not end up having detrimental effects to our collective well-being or making it impossible to obtain resources for other applications in the long run.

Energy Use

Energy efficiency over the entire life cycle of a building is the most important goal of sustainable architecture. Architects use many different passive and active techniques to reduce the energy needs of buildings and increase their ability to capture or generate their own energy. To minimize cost and complexity, sustainable architecture prioritizes passive systems to take advantage of building location with incorporated architectural elements, supplementing with renewable energy sources and then fossil fuel resources only as needed. Site analysis can be employed to optimize use of exploit local environmental resources such as daylight and ambient wind for heating and ventilation.

Heating, Ventilation and Cooling System Efficiency

Numerous passive architectural strategies have been developed over time. Examples of such strategies include the arrangement of rooms or the sizing and orientation of windows in a building, and the orientation of facades and streets or the ratio between building heights and street widths for urban planning.

An important and cost-effective element of an efficient heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is a well-insulated building. A more efficient building requires less air conditioning, heat generating or dissipating power -- but may require more ventilation capacity to expel polluted indoor air.

Renewable Energy Generation: Solar Panels

Hydroelectric power generation has long been, and continues to be, Vietnam’s primary renewable energy resource, but most of the nation’s hydro-power resource potential has been exploited.

As is the case in many countries around the world, whether developed, developing or lesser developed, Vietnam’s government-run utility and its ownership of fossil-fuel power plants, poses one of, if not the biggest barriers to fostering development and growth of solar, wind and other emissions-free renewable energy resources in the country.

There are 73 power plants—hydro, thermal, gas and renewables—up and running in Vietnam at present, according to VietnamNet’s February 2019 report. Forty-eight have a power generation capacity greater than 30MW. Nearly all were built, and are owned and operated, by State-owned utility Electricity of Vietnam (EVN).

Moving to realize those goals, the introduction of a solar feed-in tariff (FiT) in April 2017 has led to a large-scale solar power project across Vietnam. But there is a problem. Vietnam is inviting more investments in its solar sector with feed-in tariffs that are attractive on the surface. But the result is this increased capacity cannot be handled by the current transmission infrastructure and therefore is guaranteed to lose investors a lot of money.

For now, large-scale solar power in Vietnam is still a long way off from being a viable, go-to solution for energy efficiency.

Sustainable Building Materials

Some examples of sustainable building materials include recycled denim or blown-in fiber glass insulation, sustainably harvested wood, Trass, Linoleum,[15] sheep wool, concrete (high and ultra high performance[16] roman self-healing concrete[17]), panels made from paper flakes, baked earth, rammed earth, clay, vermiculite, flax linnen, sisal, seagrass, expanded clay grains, coconut, wood fiber plates, calcium sandstone, locally obtained stone and rock, and bamboo, which is one of the strongest and fastest growing woody plants, and non-toxic low-VOC glues and paints. Vegetative cover or shield over building envelopes also helps in the same. Paper which is fabricated or manufactured out of forest wood is supposedly hundred percent recyclable .thus it regenerates and saves almost all the forest wood that it takes during its manufacturing process.

Green Building Standards in Vietnam

Established in 2007, and officially endorsed by the government since 2008, Vietnam Green Building Council (VGBC) is a member of the World Green Building Council – which aims to “raise awareness and build capacity for the development of green building”. VGBC is beginning to influence the attitudes of budding architects via training modules at major Vietnamese universities and by offering internships to worthy students.

Green Architecture | Farming Kindergarten
Farming Kindergarten

VTN Architects’ Farming Kindergarten in Dong Nai features a horticultural roof, water recycling system and solar power.

LOTUS is a set of voluntary green building rating systems developed by VGBC, a project of the non-profit Green Cities Fund, based in California, USA. In Vietnam, VGBC has registered the Vietnam Green Building Social Enterprise Co. Ltd. to manage the LOTUS assessment and training programs.

Similar to LEED (USA), Green Star (Australia) and other established green building rating systems, LOTUS is developed based on established building physics science to evaluate the environmental performance from a whole building perspective, over a building’s life cycle.

However, the council’s biggest contribution thus far is Lotus, a set of rating tools for green buildings similar to Singapore’s Green Mark or the US’s prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed). Vietnam required bespoke benchmarks: Its market-driven economy run by a communist government makes for a unique regulatory environment, while its climatic mixed bag – from the muggy Mekong Delta to the chilly mountains of Dalat – adds further confusion.

Green Architecture | Stone House
Stone House

The spiraling Stone House, made of stone and timber and near Hanoi, was designed by VTN Architects.

In Summary

The green buildings market in Vietnam is still at the early stages of development, primarily as a result of cost sensitivities, lack of solar electricity options, short-term thinking and misaligned incentives between building developers and users, an underdeveloped regulatory market, and a limited supply of skilled employees with green building awareness. However, with the advent of the locally-tailored green building standards known as LOTUS, moves towards market-based electricity pricing, and global corporate guidelines requiring green practices, the market is seeing tentative signs of awakening.

Also see Bamboo Architecture.

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