From the swarm of journalists, local celebrities and jubilant politicians that gathered for the ceremony in Taipei 101’s gargantuan atrium, it was clear that the tower’s new tag of LEED Platinum is a big deal for Taiwan. Yet pride in the world’s second tallest tower – now the world’s tallest ‘green building’ – was not just limited to the natives.
During the ceremony, the chairman of the US Green Building Council, Mark MacCracken, declared: “The impact that this building is going to have on the existing building market, I honestly feel this is a monumental event.”
Completed in 2004, the 509-metre tower utterly dominates the mid-rise skyline of Taipei, a flat city surrounded by lush green mountains. Resembling a giant Chinese pagoda, the quirky design by C.Y. Lee architects is steeped in superstition.
Due to the fact the number eight is considered to be lucky while four is unlucky, the building is divided into eight segments and there is no fourth floor. The blue-green glass resembles jade, a stone of royalty, while the interior is plastered with a swirly motif which stands for ‘dreams coming true’.
In addition to this fastidious symbolism, the building was designed with the environment in mind. Cathy Yang, vice president, Tower Division, Taipei 101, explains: “In the very early stages of our development, we had already put environment as one of our characteristics.
The curtain wall was built with Low-E glass to save energy – we always knew the importance of having a good building envelope. We also had a water harvesting system in place to collect the rain water. The reason we hadn’t applied for LEED was because we didn’t know about it.”
The decision to apply for LEED in 2009 was prompted by a direct approach from a team comprising electronics giant Siemens, green consultant EcoTech and interior design firm Steven Leach, who had all previous worked for the client.
LEED Gold was the initial target set by Taipei 101 chairman Harace Hong-Min Lin, yet during an evaluation in 2010 it was clear that Platinum status was in reach. Determined to excel, the client invested more money to attain the highest rank.
Peter Halliday, vice president, Building Technologies Division, Siemens Taiwan, adds: “The partnership helped to sell the idea to the owner and it also gave us an excellent platform to work as engineers and consultants. I honestly believe that without this team approach we wouldn’t have achieved Platinum status.”
The building achieved the maximum number of points in the categories ‘Indoor Environmental Quality’ and ‘Energy & Atmosphere’. Siemens’ Energy Monitoring and Control System was instrumental in fine-tuning the building’s energy performance, as was a series of energy audits and the installation of additional sensors.
Yang elaborated on additional measures that helped to reduce energy usage. “Lighting accounts for around 15% of the energy consumption, so we literally walked through all of the areas – including the back of house, machine rooms, corridors – to see where we could take out tubes. We also changed the lights from halogen to T5 tubes. I think that the architects put too many lights in the space.”
Another large component of the retrofit was recycling. “Before we applied for LEED we had a recycled rate of 55% and now it’s 65%. There are several cutting stations and a compactor to further reduce the size of the waste,” added Yang.
At US$2 million, the total cost of the retrofit may not seem cheap. Yet Yang states that this cost has already been recouped in energy savings. “Our energy bill was about US$7 million a year. Every year from now, we will be saving US$1.2 million a year. This is a very good payback period.”
The client also believes that the tower is more marketable, even though the rent levels are not directly affected by LEED. Chairman Lin adds: “The rent is down to supply and demand, so we don’t think it’s directly linked to our LEED certification.
But as we can provide a very good indoor environment quality, where people’s work efficiency will be increased, we believe that the boss of each organisation will be happy to move their company into our building.”
In order to avoid causing disruption to the 10,000 occupants of the tower, the retrofitting measures were mainly undertaken at night. Lin continues: “There was not really any disruption from the tenants – they are all very happy to cooperate with us. For the work we had to do, I don’t think there were any interruptions.”
Rather than causing friction, the tenant relationship has in fact been improved by the retrofit, according to Rob Watson, CEO of EcoTech and founder of LEED.
“The building now has a better indoor air quality and a better temperature control through the Siemens technology. The fact that the relationships between the tenants and the management has also strengthened during this process will pay back many times over the savings in the operations.”
Yang adds: “I think it will be hard for tenants to move out because they will find all the other buildings inferior.”
The rating process also required that tenants were educated about green operations. Yang explains: “We have posters and stickers next to the AC switch and washroom, as well as a green corner in the lobby with a touchscreen to show how we made the building green. We held green lectures for our tenants so they understand what we are doing.”
According to Siemens’ Halliday, the LEED retrofit has also inspired other developers in Taiwan to ‘go green’. “Since 101 has applied for LEED certification there has been a groundswell of developers saying ‘what’s LEED all about?’ With our partners EcoTech and Steven Leach, we are now working on several projects including Taipei American School.”
As well as having a local impact, Watson believes that the retrofit will garner attention in other regions. “Taipei 101 is forcing us to think about what we mean by sustainable. In terms of material density per square foot of land, high rise buildings are very intensive. But I’m hoping that this project can help people understand the innate resources in a tall building, whether it’s daylight or efficient use of land. 85% of the people in this tower don’t use a vehicle.”
Yet he notes that there is still room for improvement. “Next steps will be integrating gardens and expanding the ability to capture and re-use rainwater. I think 101 is interested in taking its successes and then making improvements. I expect we’ll see some very interesting ideas in the years to come.”
USGBC’s MacCracken agrees that the tower will have an impact on high rises throughout the world. “I think this building takes the excuses away, especially in the Middle East. Many of those countries have money and want to do the right thing. If we look at Masdar it’s clear that people are focused on new construction, but we’ve got to go after the existing buildings. Taipei 101 is a stake in the sand that shows it can be done.”
But is it possible to retrofit an average tower that was not designed with sustainability in mind? Siemens’ Halliday offers some words of caution for would-be retrofitters. “We were very lucky that Taipei 101 actually had environmental aspects in the initial design and build stage. It would have made things a lot harder if it was just an average building.”
Yet MacCracken believes it is possible, although the higher ranks may be out of reach. “In the case of an average tower on, say, Sheikh Zayed Road, I think you could get it LEED certified. You might even be able to get to Silver level.
A lot of it has to do with what you are bringing into the building, how you deal with reconstruction and what do you do with your waste. You need a certain amount of energy performance but it’s not a spectacularly high level. I think that LEED retrofits in the UAE are definitely doable.”