Reducing energy consumption through architecture and urban planning



THE demand for power in the Philippines is increasing; and the cost of electricity continues to rise. Many reasons have been given for the upsurge in energy cost; one of these is our archipelagic geography. Distributing power supply from one island to another is costly.

The increased demand could also mean that the country’s industries are growing in number and in size, or that more provinces are developing as urban growth centers. Therefore, the cost of electricity is an important issue to address to be able to sustain these emerging developments.

There are two ways to look at this challenge: continue to increase supply by developing more sources and a balanced energy mix, and take a look at the way electricity is currently consumed. As an architect and urban planner, I think I can give more recommendations on the latter through designing sustainable and energy-efficient houses, buildings and cities.

It is interesting to note that the Philippines is No. 2 in the world in geothermal energy. In Mindanao, the Maria Cristina falls has been extensively utilized as a hydroelectric plant, and is one of main sources of power in the entire island. But there is a certain caution in relying on hydroelectric power alone. According to the Philippine National Framework Strategy on Climate Change 2010-2022, certain areas in Mindanao may experience less rainfall and more droughts. And whenever rain comes, it may pour twice the amount in a few days. This certainly affects the consistency of the amount of power that the plant generates.

Energy-efficient homes and buildings
Around 50 percent to 60 percent of total electricity supply is used by buildings. And the two biggest contributors are lighting and cooling. In a building, more than one thousand lightbulbs are used; super regional malls use twice as much. If these establishments use compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, the energy consumption is 25 to 35 percent less compared to incandescent bulbs. If LED bulbs are used, energy consumption would be even lower and last 20 times longer. I think for large establishments, incandescent bulbs should no longer be allowed, since they consume too much energy. On the other hand, properly designed sky ceilings, lightwells, and windows can maximize natural light. During daytime, maybe only around 50 percent of the lightbulbs will need to be switched on because of ample natural lighting. Poorly designed windows and lightwells can also significantly increase heat inside the building and cause the air-conditioning units to use twice the energy.

New air-conditioning technologies use about 30 to 35 percent less power, provide cleaner air through filtering, and better temperature control. Imagine if all tall buildings and super regional malls will be required to change their air-conditioning units, there will be a collective significant drop in energy consumption.

Temperature and lighting in an office also significantly affect productivity. If the place is too cold or too hot the tendency is to feel sleepy. If there is no ample amount of light, especially natural light through the windows, there is a decrease of alertness in the workforce.

For homes, always study the orientation of sunlight and locate rooms where there is sufficient sunlight during the day. Ask the architect designing your house to provide you with a microclimate analysis so that you can see which direction the wind passes through your house and the orientation of the sun in specific times of the day.

After an earthquake devastated the city of Bam in Iran, we helped in designing new schools that featured wind towers. These act as air catchments to cool the building structures during hot days while the walls were oriented towards the winter sun to provide warmth within the structures during the colder months. Numbering about eight, each building is climatically oriented where classrooms are generally flooded with the winter sun, while the harsh summer light is blocked during the summer months. These buildings can resist earthquakes of magnitudes more than what is required from the city code.

Energy-efficient urban planning
Here in the Philippines, there are three aspects of planning that significantly reduce energy consumption. These are pedestrian-oriented streets, mass transportation, and planting of trees and/or developing more parks to mitigate urban heat effect.

Only around 5 to 10 percent of Filipinos can afford to buy or own a car, yet 80 percent of road space are used by cars. More than 5 million Filipinos travel each day through Edsa between Makati and Quezon City. Around 400,000 cars are taking up space in this major thoroughfare. If more lanes are dedicated to mass transportation, the need for cars will decrease and consumption of fuel will be significantly reduced by hundreds of thousands of liters.

“An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.” If there are less trees in the area, urban heat increases, and the amount of energy that air-conditioning units need to consume also significantly increases. Parks and open spaces are breathing spaces that act as the lungs of the city. If you walk along Rockwell Drive or Paseo de Roxas, you will immediately notice that it is much cooler than any other place in Makati.

There is so much that architecture and planning can offer to the cities in the Philippines. For the longest time, architecture and planning have been driven too much by business interests. It is not wrong to develop more economic opportunities, but it shouldn’t be lopsided where there are more sufferers than beneficiaries. The unbalanced development of many urban cities in the country is certainly not positively contributing to mitigate the increasing energy demand and energy cost in the country.

I believe that visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good architecture, and good governance are the ingredients in developing healthy and sustainable cities. The issue of energy is intertwined in many sectors of society.


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