A Summer in Green Myanmar

I have been back home for some days now and I can not still forget this last summer in Myanmar. It has been an unique experience. I was not prepared for the different way of travelling I encountered, but after the initial shock I have had the time of my life. Experienced people said me that for a first-timer traveller in Asia, Myanmar is probably the most difficult country to cope with. Tourism and infrastructure are just beginning and a lot of patience and energy are necessary. However, it is worth it because we saw a beautiful and very much untouched country. Getting to know how local people live has been a very rewarding experience. I know it will sound like a cliché, but it is true: It has been a very rewarding experience specially for a person who is aware of the importance of adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Here, I have seen the value of going sometimes back to the basics. I am of course not saying that they need to be at a standhill. They have the right to develop, be more productive and have a better quality of life. However, not ignoring their own green daily lifestyle and own efforts is basic to achieve a balanced and sustainable development.

After this little opening about my Myanmar impression, I would like to remark the great use of a material, so called sustainable, in this country and Asia, in general. Yes, you have probably guessed it: bamboo. bamboo plantationsI have to admit that I have a weakness for bamboo, and I have written sometimes about it (Bamboo bicycles>>Riding towards Sustainability). Bamboo is defined as a Rapidly Renewable Material. These materials are those which can be self-regenerated by the end of their product life and from here comes one of the reasons for it being called green and sustainable. And better if it is removed from plantations responsibly managed.

In Myanmar, bamboo is the top construction material. It has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Therefore, in this country, bamboo offers excellent earthquake resistant structures.bamboo houses

On the other hand, it is also the top utensils material. I love all craft, artisan and DIY stuff so looking at all the beautiful things they create with bamboo was truly amazing.bamboo baskets
Specially, I fall in love with the baskets they use to work in the country fields. We bought some in a village from a Shan family we spent one night with. Looking them making the baskets was beautiful. And looking them looking at us so happy after we decided to buy some, has no price. They are truly kind people and they value the things nature provide them, they are not selfish and they try their best to be happy with what they have. It is vital, and I hope that in their development journey they will carry on knowing that it’s hip to be green!

A Summer in Green Myanmar

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

Nowadays, with the climate change and sustainable development being at the spotlight, I would like to write about the adaptive reuse. You may quickly grasp the concept only reading these words but, just in case, I will answer the following question for you: What does adaptive reuse is? In general, we understand that it “is a process that changes a disused or ineffective item into a new item that can be used for a different purpose”. Here the concept of circular economy is now being heard. The main point in this economic sustainable view is the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycling). We can get off it to find new life in everything from bottles, clothes, boxes, vehicles, buildings and so on. I can see that this can be greatly translated to the “adaptive reuse” concept. As I said, we can try to adapt almost everything, but today I would like to focus in the last that comes to mind here: the building sector1635eb21dcdbf11dd81c38193a7c1080

We live and spend the majority of our time inside, so without sustainable buildings it is difficult to achieve a sustainable development. Buildings will have to be adaptable to the changing needs of the users. Flexibility in design, materials and thorough planning is the key. However, what happens if it is a building that already exists and was not planned according to these new needs? Then it is necessary to pursue a way which is sympathetic to give it a new purpose. All over the world, we find buildings which are abandoned, left unattended and unmaintained, causing a rapid deterioration and space misuse. Therefore, when a building can no longer function with its original use, a new use through adaptation may be the only way to take advantage and preserve it. We could say that the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle concept is applied here, because we consider that we preserve the building and there is no need for demolition and to build a new one. As a result, bypassing the wasteful process of demolition and deconstruction we alone see the benefits that this adaptation has for the environment. However, we could go further and prove that adaptive reuse is an essential component of sustainable development because it provides social and economic benefits as well. Let’s present it: In the social side, the recycling and adaptation of a building can restore the heritage significance of it as well as new housing or commercial or cultural opportunities to the community. Finally, in the economic side we have obvious savings for not having to acquire all the resources, materials and machinery to build a complete new building along with the embodied energy savings from not demolishing it. Is it good, isn’t it? It is like reinventing recycling.

To end, one great example (and a favourite of mine!) of adaptive reuse in buildings could be the transformation of the former Bankside Power Station in London to the art gallery Tate Modern. In a short span of time, Tate Modern has changed London and revitalised a previously underdeveloped area helping give the city a new image. It has become a key landmark for London skyline, while its concept and architecture have won international acclaim.

tate modern

As Viollet-Le-Duc said, “the best of all ways of preserving a building is to find a use for it, and then to”.

Too good to throw away: The adaptive reuse.

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.

“It is not logical that in a Mediterranean city the majority of roofs are closed and do not have any kind of use”. This was remarked a few months ago by Barcelona’s city Mayor, Xavier Trias. I have to say that I totally agree with it.

If you have a look to an aerial photography of Barcelona, apart from acknowledging the imposing Sagrada Família and the perfect grid of the Eixample neighbourhood, you will probably see the lifeless, colourless roofs of the buildings. Roofs full of grey air conditioning systems and abandoned ropes for spreading clothes.

barcelona aerial This is a pity. A vibrant and warm city like Barcelona could do it much better. Who does not like to spend summer nights in a green roof with a gentle breeze and the lights of the city at your feet? Or winter middays under the sun that warms us up a bit? These communities’ rooftops could provide a neutral space within which people and neighbours come together and social interactions could occur. A sense of connectedness could arise and foster trust and cooperation among these individuals. Besides, these social dynamics help promote community wellness and social cohesion, provide individual benefits, improved public health, and social resilience. All of these are critical components of a sustainable and well-functioning society. I believe it is very important nowadays when more of half of world’s population are living in urban areas. Therefore, Barcelona is starting to launch an aid plan for the roofs of the city to have environmental, energy-efficiency and community gathering uses. This measure will be based on economic aids and incentives to communities of neighbours who decide to transform their roof. The Deputy Mayor for Urban Habitat, Antoni Vives, said that “if we recover all the roofs we could gain a surface area of 1,700 hectares, equivalent to two districts of the Eixample.” Actually, the present building standard commands that all the new municipal buildings including offices or social protected apartment blocks, must have community’ roofs. It is being done, for example, in the new Barcelona municipal library in the neighbourhood of Vallbona, which will have a green rooftop. A green roof is now widely recognised, for example, as a means of improving air quality and for providing greater thermal performance and roof insulation for the buildings they are laid on.social rooftop So, it is a very good idea to promote this kind of roof and also made it accessible to neighbours to promote the benefits of these community’s social strengths. This Barcelona plan is very interesting and it should be done in more urban areas. A more sustainable and resilient city is always a good idea. Come on, it’s hip to be green!

Towards Sustainable Cities. Strenghtening social bonds in Barcelona.

Keep in touch, Twitter. About the new Apple green headquarters.

Navigating through Twitter I came across with a tweet by @iambiente that said “Nuevo campus de #Apple será el edificio más verde del mundo” ( The new Apple campus will be the greenest building in the world). So, knowing that I’m pretty hooked on this topic and Apple is a well-known brand I started to explore.climate week nyc

I’m sure that everyone interested in all the environment and climate change issues knows that today the Climate Week 2014 in NYC concludes. During this event, activites, conferences and workshops had taken place across NY city in support of the UN Climate Summit. Tim Cook, actual Apple’s CEO, participated in one of the events and announced that, as we all know, Apple is working on reducing its carbon footprint.apple carbonfootprintNot only in the installations but in its manufacturing and chain supply, and adopting more ecofriendly measures such as not using dangerous chemical substances in its products. However, the new Apple campus in Cupertino, CA, was the bigger disclosure. He didn’t give a lot of details so I tried to investigate by myself. Actually, the Apple website has a very good section about its Environmental Responsability and a good video about the new center so, I haven’t had a lot of work.

The new building is being designed by Norman Foster+Partners (as you know if you’ve been reading  the blog, this man and his team has me fascinated) and the goal is to built an innovative center that “has no net increase in greenhouse gas emissions”. The building will be ring-shaped and Sir Foster spilled one of his characteristic speeches: “It didn’t start as a circular building it really grow into that”. Seriously, I appreciate him, but man, architects can be a bit a pompous sometimes (wink).

Apple_Campus_2_renderingThe new campus is being built to meet the highest standards set by LEED. It will be powered by 100% of renewable energy sources, concretly solar power, and there will be no need to use air-conditioning for 75% of the year because of natural ventilation. Furthermore, 80% of the site will be open space and drought-tolerant plants and other resilient species will be used. In addition, they are planning the transportation to and from the campus to be greener too. I always welcome these kind of initiatives, commutate alternatives. Recycling programs also seems in good place in this company. They claim that their recycling programs collect a rate of 70% worldwide, when most of the companies only achieve a 20%.

Nevertheless, Apple has to start thinking more about ‘reuse’. The i·ambiente portal reminds us that, for instance, Apple buys gold to business without RSC. We all know that they can obtain it from recycling smartphones and other products. It’s a very good plan to built a greener building of course, but in a company like that they should also focus in that kind of issues and their carbon footprint. Specially, in the aluminium account. They already know it and we can congratulate them on trying to improve its life cycle and I’m wishing them good luck in their findings for new methodologies.

It’s hip to be green!

Keep in touch, Twitter. About the new Apple green headquarters.