Does your office or home feel cool to you but seem like a freezer to others? Have you ever shivered in your work place or sleep because your blanket fell off, or woken up with a stuffy nose because the air in your room was too dry?
In warm and humid Singapore, where we rely on air-conditioning to stay cool, setting the perfect temperature for your office and home — and with enough ventilation to allow ample movement of fresh air — can be elusive.
Tricky, inefficient air-conditioning is just one of the many urban living challenges the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment is looking to solve with its futuristic SDE4 Net-Zero Energy Building, which will be launched today.
A living laboratory to promote research collaboration in sustainable building design, the six-storey SDE4 is climate-responsive with net-zero energy consumption. It features a range of green building concepts, such as the harnessing of solar energy, a hybrid cooling approach, and natural ventilation and lighting.
Human > technology
SDE Dean Professor Lam Khee Poh points out that the term “smart building” is at times misunderstood by many to simply mean a high-tech building that has everything computerised.
He clarifies that in the ideal smart building, technology and science must work in tandem to create an indoor environment that is not only comfortable, but also human-centric — equipped with features that work for the comfort, health, wellness and convenience of its dwellers.
SDE4 was built to fulfil these requirements. SDE4’s design is permeable and open to light, wind and community. It reconnects occupants to the local tropical climate, to the outdoors and comfort is radically reimagined.
For example, to prevent overly-cooled rooms, SDE4 adopts the Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) in which 100 per cent outdoor air is used. The conditioned air is supplied to rooms at a higher temperature and humidity condition than conventional air-conditioning designs. This system is augmented with elevated air speeds from ceiling fans.
Professor Chandra Sekhar, Programme Director MSc (Building Performance and Sustainability), explains that DOAS leads to enhanced indoor air quality as the supplied air to the room is fresh and not recirculated. Coupled with SDE4’s tropical architecture design, this creates a comfortable environment that is energy-efficient.
SDE4 has proven to the industry that buildings can combine high environmental quality with high-energy performance.
Associate Professor Erik L'Heureux, SDE Vice Dean (Special Projects) says: “Through these varied strategies, SDE4 not only envisions how we teach today but also serves as a foundation for the way we will teach in the future. This flexibility will truly allow for the building's long-term durability and serve the school in a positive way.”
“It also suggests that a building need not deliver the same conditions all day to everyone. Giving occupants the option to control comfort such as by adjusting fan speed or switching to natural ventilation, would be viable ways to achieve comfort,” Prof Lam says.
Also high on the agenda at SDE4 is sustainability, a delicate balancing act that ensures the survival of humans and the environment in the long run. As explained by Prof Lam: “Sustainability is not only about technology, but how people interact with it.”
With Singapore’s land scarcity and absence of natural resources, sustainability is crucial. At SDE4, sustainability goes beyond optimising energy use — it is also about creating a home that a family can live in for generations.
Prof Lam highlights: “Within the SDE4 there is a 'NUS-CDL Smart Green Home' facility with a re-configurable ‘plug-and-play’ structure to enable comparative research of smart technologies through flexible experimental set-up, testing, monitoring and data analytics.
“When you can customise your home or add features that are friendly to home-dwellers of all ages, you create sustainability.”
To heighten the sense of “home”, one example project that researchers will be undertaking at SDE4 is the development of a system capable of improving indoor aural comfort by picking ideal sound profiles to mask undesirable ambient noises.
Serie Architects principal Christopher Lee, an SDE alumnus involved in the design of SDE4, has big hopes for the facility. “If our ambitions and hopes are cast in the wider context of today's climate change, then the approach of a SDE4, or at least a super low-energy building, becomes more urgent and necessary.
“We have proven here that such an approach is possible — spatially, technically and financially. So there is no reason why the building industry will not follow suit soon.”