Chinthaka Dayarathne is a Chartered Architect and is the Managing Director of C Plus Design Ltd. C Plus Design is a specialised Architecture and Interior Designing company with experience of more than nine years in the industry, with a portfolio ranging from small-scale residential projects to large-scale commercial projects. Some key clients include AIA, Janashakthi, Dialog and CDB
Q: What is the importance of vertical living from the design perspective?
With the rapid utilisation of land as a resource, more and more focus has fallen on vertical space, be it for living or commercial purposes. As such, new areas of focus like Vertical Urbanism, Vertical public realm, City Vitality, and Sustainable Tall buildings have become keywords in the Architect’s vocabulary- especially in Urban Architecture.
Every city must tackle the ever-increasing demand of living and commercial space, for the population (rural migrants) naturally gravitates toward the city. The first generation that makes its way to urban cities always go through hardships, but they do it for the sake of their future children, as they believe they will have better education and employment opportunities and the relative safety when working and living in the city.
Q: What is the history of vertical living?
The Romans first built mixed use apartment buildings with shops and workshops along with stables (now treated as parking space), and living spaces above. These formed into urban blocks with shared stairways and light sources. This pattern of vertical urbanism can still be found in major cultures around the world.
Q: What can we state as the modern history of vertical living?
Driven by the demands of urban transportation, functions of living and working have been organised into zones. With the invention of the metal frame, the elevator, the water sprinkler, it became possible to rise above the historic urban height of five to seven stories. The Home Insurance building in Chicago became the first Modern Tall Building in 1884. Other buildings came up around it, becoming a ‘Central Business District’.
Q: How did vertical living take a new face in the 21st century?
Fast forward to the 21st century and we have acknowledged the mixed-use or vertical urban development as an essential and important part of increasing space in urban areas to cope with the increasing population inflow.
If the many uses of urban space are to share land space, then a new consciousness has to be developed about the opportunities in vertical urbanisation, stacking functions (living, working, storage etc.) one on top of the other on the same land plot instead of sprawling outwards (horizontal).
Q: What is the perspective on vertical living of the public vis-à-vis the urban designers?
People like to think of cities, they imagine the mixed-use developments to be vibrant and dynamic places and not tall buildings soaring above us, inaccessible to all but their occupants.
However, we urban designers use our critical analysis skills to view our cities as multidimensional places, envisioning how people spend time on different levels starting from the basement car parks to the topmost levels of tall buildings, and we can make expert judgments about the most suited design for the building to become a part of the city economically, socially and environmentally.
Q: How much land is lost due to horizontal living?
Urban encroachment into arable land is a growing problem. A small nation such as ours needs to preserve arable land in order to feed its people. Already heavily dependent on imports, we cannot afford to increase our currency outflow for sourcing food as well.
With the Government under pressure to provide increased infrastructure such as highways, roads and public utility facilities, farmers are fearful that their agricultural land will have to be sacrificed for the sake of development. This cannot be avoided, since the increase of infrastructure facilities in and around cities are vital for efficient functioning of the urban areas.
Q: What is the environmental impact of horizontal living?
The extent of land lost due to horizontal urbanisation and housing, and spatial expansion can be directly measured by the extent of the space occupied, minus an extent of 15%-35% to be unbuilt (depending on area and purpose) according to present regulations. But, the effect of such land usage reverberates throughout the eco-system around it, and ultimately the environment.
We share the land with flora and fauna. Trees provide life-giving oxygen. Animals help maintain the biodiversity and the natural balance of its population. We can see thousands of migratory birds nesting even around the heart of Colombo.
The Beira Lake area and the strip along McCullum Road in Colombo are clear examples. These heavily-wooded areas are a safe haven for such animals. In considering the loss of land due to horizontal expansion, it is the opportunity cost of erecting a structure versus leaving the land untouched.
Q: How would vertical living support energy saving?
Energy or rather the cost of energy is one of the most crucial factors in economic growth and social development. This holds true to every country globally. Buildings consume a significant share in total energy and therefore have a profound effect on the environment. There are some key elements that affect the amount of energy used in a building’s lifecycle.
According to studies, buildings use around 40% of the world’s energy. Energy consumption of buildings can be reduced significantly in every stage of a building’s life cycle. Around 50% of the world’s non-renewable energy (water, energy and raw materials) humans consume are used in construction.
Although society depends on buildings and what they represent for its continued survival and development, our planet cannot support the consumption of resources that go with it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there is the impact on the environment due to the magnitude of this consumption of energy. These are the challenges we architects around the world have to tackle.
Q: What would be the wise approach?
A conscious approach needs to be developed in order to reach the right solution at the stage of architectural design through enabling necessary data. The final product to be obtained must be aimed to have the quality of being more efficient, or rather expending lesser amount of resources within a longer period of time to complete it.
In this respect, we need to know the lifecycle of the building. A building lifecycle consists of three main phases such as the prebuilding phase, building phase, and post-building phase. These phases have some processes.
The prebuilding phase includes the appropriate site selection, site planning, building form, building plan, and appropriate space organisation, building envelope design, choosing energy-efficient building materials, energy-efficient landscape design, obtaining raw materials for building material, manufacturing, and transporting them.
The building phase includes the construction and usage processes of the building. The post-building phase is the phase following the completion of building usage. In this phase, we have the demolition, recycling, and wipe-out of the building.
Q: What are vertical greening systems?
Contemporary architecture has begun employing various applications that help energy consumption in the post-construction phase. One of the main and relatively inexpensive method is vertical greening systems. This contributes to the thermal behaviour on the building in its entirety and if done right, can have a positive impact on the cost of air conditioning primarily, and add to the oxygen output around the area secondarily.
In a climate such as ours, vertical greening can help buildings save up to 43% of energy consumed for cooling. This is where a high-rise building can use its structure to use this effectively through façade greening. It is worthy using the building’s rooftop to install solar panels, which can also help reduce the carbon footprint of the building.
Q: What would be the ideal design strategy for vertical living for sustainability in Sri Lanka?
I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to design. Designs will vary based on locality, geographical location, terrain and purpose. It is the architect’s challenge to employ the right tools based on the client’s requirements. The Vertical City concept is being pursued aggressively in overly crowded cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, etc.
Technology to support this concept is being developed in terms of raw materials and building technology, and creative designs are evolving at a rapid rate. Finally, design aside, we need to have the building owner’s commitment to continue to practice the applications recommended by the architect in order to sustain the existence of the building.
Q: What are your solutions for this?
Besides the considerations made by the architect to employ the most suited design based on the building’s purpose, building owners can apply for the Green Certification. Obtaining a Green Certification involves many criteria being fulfilled in terms of energy consumption and building materials used.
Q: How would vertical living support to reduce air pollution?
Vertical living does not necessarily help to reduce air pollution, regardless of the purpose of the building. What it can do is to allow the usage of Vertical Greening, given the significantly larger façade compared to horizontal living.
Q: How would vertical living support waste management?
Centralised and directed disposal, the comparatively larger concentration of waste producing functions, the sorting, collection and disposal of waste can be carried out at a much lower cost that it would be when doing the same for horizontal living, given the larger area of spread. Drainage of waste water and sewage can be sites with relative ease.
Q: How would vertical living facilitate sustainable development?
Over 50% of the world’s population (3.5 billion) live in cities worldwide. This trend doesn’t seem to change any time soon. This is more prevalent in developing countries as governments there do not have the resources to decentralise economic hubs. The country’s workforce needs to be in the near vicinity of the cities where they can commute to work easily and inexpensively.
Therefore, as I see it, vertical living and its sustainability go hand in hand. As architects, we have to take into consideration the use of diligence in designing structures that will consume minimum resources during all three stages of the building’s lifecycle.