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Seminar Theme: Building Structures for the Future (KL 25-26 Nov 2008)

Title of Paper: Building Structures for the Future the Green Way?

Ir. Chen Thiam Leong MACEM, MIFireE, FASHRAE, FIEM, PEng


The need and urgency of sustainable development for the built industry is beyond the
deliberation stage (or at least we hope so). Energy Efficiency can be deemed to be the
prelude to Sustainability, and locally we did not fare too tardily having developed our
MS1525 in 2001. It is only unfortunate that the incorporation of MS1525 into our UBBL
has been delayed since 2003.

However, of more significant concern (and damage) is our local modus operandi where
Energy Efficiency (and now Sustainability) issues are more than often regarded as the
sole responsibility of M&E Engineers. The sad reality is that not many Architects in
Malaysia are conversant or have taken the lead role on sustainable design. Hence, it is
not at all surprising that most Structural (Civil) Engineers have hardly heard of or have
participated in the need for sustainable structural designs.

This paper will serve to highlight the role Structural (Civil) Engineers can and should play
to realize the Sustainable (Green) agenda and the need for a holistic design approach
by all relevant players. An introduction to the proposed Malaysian Green Building Rating
tool will be included.

1.0 Introduction

It is no more a matter of WHY we need to build green but rather HOW we can
build green and it should be starting NOW.

Unless we remain closeted (somehow), the effects of Global Warming (GW) cannot
be unknown. GW has been attributed to the Ozone Hole; given gradual rise in the
earths temperature; and leading to the Greenhouse Effect. The frightening statistic is
temperatures in the far north have increased 5-70C in the last 50 years, and as the
temperatures get warmer, the sea level rises causing a difference in the amount of
precipitation. This in turn causes extreme weather conditions to develop resulting in
excessive storms with heavier rainfall. The ecosystem is then affected with difference
in agricultural growth and harvest, leading to extinction of certain animal and plant

The main Green House Gases (GHG) is CO2, methane and water vapor. While water
vapor and methane are not present for very long in the earths atmosphere, CO2 can
remain in the atmosphere for many years and when combined with the water vapor
can escalate the rate at which GW takes place. Therein lies the need to stop GW by
removing CO2 present in the atmosphere or at least not add more to it. The Montreal
Protocol and Kyoto Protocol are aimed at arresting or at least mitigating this man-
made disaster.
So what can we do about GW? Plenty! We can reduce consumption of energy to
decrease GHG, starting with reducing use of electricity. It is amazing to know that
about 11% of electricity is consumed by phantom loads alone. We are ready and
have the capacity to use more efficient light bulbs. For instance, in USA alone, if
every household were to apply a compact florescent bulb instead of a glowing light
bulb, we can realize a staggering reduction of 90 billion pounds of CO2 emission!

In terms of Climate Change, apart from the great financial impacts, the human
impact is already being felt. Millions are starving throughout the globe, and with the
Worlds population increasing steadily, the situation will only continue to deteriorate if
temperature and climate is allowed to continue unimpeded. It will take years if not
decades to put an end to the emission of GHG. This can only be achieved through a
gradual transition to cleaner energy. In the meantime, mankind will have to live with
the catastrophic effects that these temperature and climate changes are bringing
upon us.

Global GHG emissions have increased by 70% between 1970 and 2004 and the
largest growth of this emission has come from the energy supply sector.

So where do we stand locally? Malaysias population grew at a rate of about 2.8%

from 23 million in 2000 to 27 million today. Rising population and changes in life style
have accelerated the demand for energy. The Malaysian energy sector is still heavily
dependant on non renewable fuels. These non renewable fuels are finite, gradually
depleting and contributing significantly to the emission of GHG.

2.0 What is meant by building Green?

A Green or Sustainable building is one which is designed:

To save energy and resources, recycle materials and minimise the emission of
toxic substances throughout its life cycle,
To harmonise with the local climate, traditions, culture and the surrounding
environment, and
To be able to sustain and improve the quality of human life while maintaining the
capacity of the ecosystem at the local and global levels

Building Green in the future is a necessity and not an option as the following
statistics will attest;
Buildings consume 40% of our planet's materials and 30% of its energy
Their construction uses up to three million tonnes of raw materials a year and
generates 20% of the solid waste stream

Therefore, if we want to survive our urban future, there is no option but to build in
ways which improve the health of ecosystems.

Understanding the concept of ecological sustainability and translating it into practice

as sustainable development is a key challenge for today's built environment

To quote Peter Graham;

The skill and vision of those who shape our cities and homes is vital to achieving
sustainable solutions to the many environmental, economic and social problems we
face on a local, national and global scale

3.0 How to build Green?

The term Green building is a loosely defined collection of land-use, building design,
and construction strategies that reduce the environmental impacts that buildings
have on their surroundings. Traditional building practices often overlook the
interrelationships among a building, its components, its surroundings, and its
occupants. Typical buildings consume more of our resources than necessary and
generate large amounts of waste. Green buildings have many benefits, such as
better use of building resources, significant operational savings, and increased
workplace productivity. Building green sends the right message about a company or
organization - that its well run, responsible, and committed to the future.

Elements of a Green Building

There is not any one single technique for designing and building a green building, but
green buildings often:
Preserve natural vegetation
Contain non-toxic or recycled-content building materials
Maintain good indoor air-quality
Use water and energy efficiently
Conserve natural resources
Feature natural lighting
Include recycling facilities throughout
Include access to public transportation
Feature flexible interiors; and
Recycle construction and demolition waste.

4.0 Who are involved in Green Buildings?

A truly green building can only materialize and thereafter sustain itself when all
parties involved with its birth are involved. Notice the choice of word birth and not
construction. If involvement by all commence only at the construction stage then the
end result would definitely be a tainted green at most.

Obviously the starting point is the particular piece of land on which the building will
stand. Hence, it starts with the owner/developer who will probably consult the advice
of the relevant experts which includes the professional architect or engineer (as the
case maybe). It is at this stage that issues such as developing on a protected green
lung, brown field and green field are relevant and decisive on achieving a green

After the initial hurdle (which includes the social impact assessment) is successfully
(and greenly) navigated, the design team will be next to play their full role. From
there on, the need to strike a balance between companys green policy, value
engineering, life cycle cost et al will determine the success or otherwise of the
Nowadays when we talk about green buildings, the project team (helmed by the
owner) will have to determine which Green Building Rating system to adopt. There is
no right or wrong tool but rather the most appropriate tool to choose from.

All green rating tools incorporate basically similar criteria of assessments (albeit with
differing weightings) and these criteria require the entire teams participation. For
instance, the owner will have to agree to pay to save the environment and commit
that the end users will procure energy efficient appliances. The designers will need to
write into the contract conditions for the builder to undertake the protection of the
environment (in terms of air and waste pollution) at commencement of construction.
Vendors have to supply products that are environmentally friendly and so on. The
simple chart below summarizes this integrated approach to achieving green.

5.0 Local Design Consultants/Professionals

The notorious modus operandi of the local consultant team needs to be highlighted
at this juncture. We have to admit that it is an exception rather than the rule to
experience a fully integrated design team working together in Malaysia (for a green

With the advent of green buildings, the design team leader (architect for majority of
the building types and civil engineer for industrial type buildings) must take the lead
role to lead the whole team, failing which they can only blame themselves if they are
subsequently made irrelevant in green matters by other allied professionals. A simple
case in point would be architects not interested (or not conversant) in dictating the
design development and calculations for OTTV (Overall Thermal Transfer Value) of
building envelopes.
Local Civil (and Structural) engineers are similarly notorious in not venturing beyond
their self-defined field, with many not being aware of their role in green building
designs in the fields of construction process, material selection, innovation and so

Local Mechanical & Electrical engineers are also not spared this criticism with more
than a handful of them contented to merely churn out basic fundamental designs and
not bothering to catch up with technological advances.

It is Authors fervent hope that such a critical comment will elicit reaction from the
local professional fraternity to practice an integrated design approach to realize
achieving beyond green buildings.

6.0 Green Building Rating Tools

6.1 Advent of Green Tools

In 1990, the Building Research Establishment of UK came out with the first Green
Building Rating Tool or Assessment Method called BREEAM. This was quickly
followed by other countries, and in the past year or so, this awareness has finally
come to Malaysias shore. The following table depicts a comparison of selected
established assessment methods.

Comparison of Selected Green Rating Tools


Ctry UK USA Australia Singapore
Bldg Research Leadership in
Establishment Energy and
Environmental Environmental
Assessmt Method Design
Year 1990 1996 2003 2005
1. Management 1. Sustainable site 1. Management 1. Energy
2. Health & Comfort 2. Water Efficiency 2. Transport Efficiency
3. Energy 3. Energy & 3. Ecology 2. Water Efficiency
Assessment Criteria

4. Transportation Atmosphere 4. Emissions 3. Environmental

5. Water 4. Materials & 5. Water Protection
Consumption Resources 6. Energy 4. Indoor
6. Materials 5. Indoor 7. Materials Environmental
7. Land Use Environmental 8. Indoor Quality
8. Ecology Quality Environmental 5. Other Green
9. Pollution 6. Innovation & Quality Features
Design / 9. Innovation

6.2 Proposed Malaysia Green Building Index

It is inevitable that some passionate and concerned individuals will eventually band
together to initiate our own local Green Building Rating tool. Hence, after a few
years of false start, the Malaysian Green Building Council will soon be up and
running and together with a parallel group from PAM and ACEM, the target of
getting our tool ready should hopefully be realized by the 2nd quarter of 2009.

Comparison of Malaysia Green Building Index with other selected Tools


Ctry USA Australia Singapore Malaysia
Year 1996 2003 2005 2008
1. Sustainable 1. Management 1. Energy 1. Energy
site 2. Transport Efficiency Efficiency
2. Water 3. Ecology 2. Water Efficiency 2. Indoor
Efficiency 4. Emissions 3. Environmental Environmental
Assessment Criteria

3. Energy & 5. Water Protection Quality

Atmosphere 6. Energy 4. Indoor 3. Sustainable
4. Materials & 7. Materials Environmental Site &
Resources 8. Indoor Quality Management
5. Indoor Environmental 5. Other Green 4. Materials &
Environmental Quality Features Resources
Quality 9. Innovation 5. Water
6. Innovation & Efficiency
Design / 6. Innovation

As highlighted at the onset, meeting the assessment criteria for any green building rating
tool will involve all members of the building team. For the Green Building Index, the
structural engineers input likewise will cover all the 6 criteria, but probably with more
emphasis on;
3. Sustainable Site & Management; and
4. Materials & Resources;

7.0 Role of Structural Engineers in Building Green

This section is extracted/re-produced from various website articles by eminent green

professionals/organizations (See Reference).

7.1 Structural Engineering Best Green Practice

Structural engineering best practices incorporates strategies that embrace the
tenets of sustainable design. Sustainable design is not a novelty; it is a mainstream
approach that reflects good design.

The necessity and importance of design integration, in general, is not a new idea.
For decades, structural engineers have seen how close collaboration with other
project team members has led to the creation of some very unique buildings.
Unfortunately, design integration is often overlooked when teams collaborate on
more typical structures. Structural engineers have traditionally been limited to
providing input only after the core building concepts have been decided. However,
structural engineers should not limit themselves to the perceived boundaries of their
expertise. Sustainable design integration is a call to action for structural engineers to
become more involved with the early conceptualization of a building project.

Structural engineers need to be reminded of the significance of sustainable design

with increased awareness of considerations associated with it. The following issues
are presented in cursory form as is appropriate to generate interest: materials,
resource conservation in design and construction, structural systems and
performance based engineering, and collaboration opportunities with other design

7.2 Materials
Structural materials provide the structural engineer with real opportunities to
contribute to a projects sustainability. The structural engineer, in using the traditional
criteria for material selection such as economy and appropriateness to project
structural requirements, has already been an active participant in sustainable design.
The structural engineer can further contribute to the overall sustainability of a project
by considering and exploiting the efficiency, availability, recycled content, reuse, and
impact a material has on the environment. Consideration of benefits and
disadvantages of some of the major building materials such as concrete, masonry,
steel, and timber, are briefly outlined.

Concrete consists primarily of cement paste binder and aggregate. While concrete is
an essential and structural material, cement production contributes approximately
1.5% of annual (U.S.) carbon dioxide emissions, and as much as 7% of world wide
annual emissions. Cement production produces approximately one pound of CO2 for
each pound of cement. Reducing the amount of cement used in concrete will reduce
carbon dioxide emissions.

The amount of cement in concrete can be reduced by substituting fly ash or ground
granulated blast furnace slag, or slag for short, for cement. Fly ash is a byproduct of
the combustion of coal in electric power generating plants, and slag is made from
iron blast-furnace slag. Fly ash has less embodied energy than Portland cement.
Typically, fly ash replaces cement at 15% to 25% by weight, and slag replaces
cement at 15% to 40% by weight, with little effect on concrete mix design,
placement, curing, and finishing. However, the following considerations are
- Minimal cost impact
- Improved workability
- Less bleeding
- Improved finishability
- Improved pumpability
- No change in plastic shrinkage
- No change in abrasion resistance

High Volume Fly Ash (HVFA) concrete mixes replace cement binder with fly ash at
rates of 50% to 55% by weight. These mixes have been developed in recent years
and have the advantage of reducing cement requirements while producing concrete
with low permeability and lower heat of hydration.

The use of concrete masonry has many sustainable benefits throughout the life of
the structure. It is often obtained from local suppliers, and its thermal mass can be
used for night time heat purge. Unlike light framed construction, masonry remains
cool long after the air-conditioning has shut off, reducing cooling loads. Masonry also
offers improved indoor environmental quality by eliminating plaster or paint if an
architectural finish is desired. The use of masonry construction also reduces the
potential for mold growth because masonry does not provide a ready food source for
mould. Additional benefits are gained by specifying lightweight or aerated concrete
masonry units whenever feasible. These units decrease resource depletion, reduce
transportation energy impact, and increase concrete unit masonry wall insulation

Masonry construction also benefits from the specification of recycled content

including fly ash, slag cement, silica fume and recycled or salvaged aggregates, for
all the same reasons cited for concrete [].

In addition to traditional concrete and clay masonry units, there are many alternative
forms of masonry available today. Adobe is an especially environmentally friendly
masonry product, using less than one-sixth the production energy of concrete block.
Interlocking concrete masonry units for landscape retaining walls do not require
mortar and are easy to disassemble and reuse or recycle. Use of salvaged marble
reduces demand on non-renewable virgin resources. Other salvaged materials such
as brick and stone are readily available.

Steel is the most recycled material used in modern building construction. In 2005
alone, almost 76 million tons of steel were recycled which corresponds to a recycling
rate of 75.7% []. Steel in all forms including cans, automobile
parts and structural shapes is continually salvaged by various mills throughout the
globe and can be made into new steel products of any form through one of two new
technologies: the electric arc furnace (EAF) and the basic oxygen furnace (BOF).
The primary method used in the production of structural shapes and bars is the EAF
which uses 95-100% [] old steel to make new. With this process,
producers of structural steel are able to achieve up to 97.5% recycled content for
beams and plates, 65% [] for reinforcing bars and 66%
[] for steel deck. Total recycled content varies from mill to mill.
Steel for products such as soup cans, pails, drums and automotive fenders is
produced using the BOF process which uses 25-35% [] old steel to
make new.

In addition to the recyclability and percent recycled content of the materials used in
building construction, the deconstructability of a building can be considered when
evaluating its sustainability. For instance, using all-bolted connections in the
structural framing system is one method for facilitating ease of deconstruction. As
another example, the use of butted steel deck under concrete fill as opposed to
lapped and welded metal deck also aids in deconstruction.
Of the many material choices designers have at their disposal, timber at first glance
may appear the least sustainable. Discussions of timber harvesting conjure images
of clear cutting and global de-forestation. However, timber holds the distinction of
being the only conventional building material that is renewable. Additionally, it is
biodegradable, non-toxic, energy efficient, recyclable, and reusable. With more than
one quarter of the world's consumption of wood used in building products such as
lumber, plywood, veneer, and particleboard, a shift in the way structural engineers
utilize timber could have far reaching ecological effects. The three primary areas the
structural engineer can promote the sustainable use of wood are: efficient framing,
alternative products, and sustainable material suppliers. Conventional wood framing
practice can be re-examined so that it is more efficient and less wasteful. Rethinking
the way we detail light framed wood construction can significantly reduce a projects
wood waste.

7.3 Resource Conservation

Resource conservation can be considered in all stages of a project. These

considerations include, but are not limited to material use, material source,
construction process, and the end of a buildings useful life. Material, design and
construction decisions have an enormous impact on the sustainability of buildings.
The structural engineer has the opportunity to weigh these decisions with respect to
the beauty, efficiency, function, constructability and budget of a building project.

During the design phase of a project, the structural engineer can affect the
sustainability of a project through
1) the choice of locally available resources,
2) the recyclability and reusability of materials and systems,
3) the efficiency of structural systems, and
4) informed choices about demolition and preservation.

Resource location is a determining factor in material choice. Local resources

minimize the use of fossil fuels in truck transportation and potentially increase the
efficiency of the building process. The structural engineer should be aware of locally
available materials, and make efforts to design using these materials. These
materials would ideally be both harvested and manufactured in the local area. During
construction, using local materials can result in shorter lead times, which can simplify
logistics and speed up the construction process. Choices concerning labor resources
should be made similarly, though in fact the structural engineer often has little
influence in contractor selection. For many of the same reasons as with material
selection, a projects overall sustainability will benefit when contractors and labour
pools are in close proximity to the project location.

In order to fully consider sustainability in the building design process, options other
than demolition at the end of a buildings useful life should be considered in design.
Though an owner or architect would primarily make this decision, the engineer can
facilitate this process by providing options for adaptability of the structure for other
uses or reconstruction. The condition of the structure is often not the determining
factor for when a building is no longer useful. Adapting a building for other uses will
conserve resources associated with demolition and reconstruction and also eliminate
construction waste. Examples of adaptability include the conversion of warehouses
to residential lofts and industrial buildings to recreational facilities. To ensure that a
structure can last into future building uses, it must to be designed for durability in a
seismic environment or any other natural hazards to which it may be subjected.

The structural engineers choice of structural systems during the design phase also
affects how a building can be adapted for a future use. Buildings often change use
over their lifetime, and therefore require reconfiguration of partition walls, openings,
etc. For example, designing a building with exterior perimeter structure, such as a
perimeter moment frame, and interior partitions allows the building to easily change
configuration. Deliberate placement of structure can integrate with the mechanical
systems, openings for light and natural ventilation, all which allow for an energy
efficient building even with changes of occupants and uses over time. When
adaptability is not an option, deconstruction is the next best alternative to demolition.
The goals of deconstruction are not only to design for ease of disassembling the
structure but also for the members to be reused in other structures. Generally, the
principles are similar to those for constructability of a structure. Design practices that
lend themselves to disassembly include the use of bolted connections in steel
structures, pre-cast members in concrete construction, and prefabricated shear walls
and metal fasteners in wood construction. Some of these principles may not be
appropriate in high seismic areas, but may be appropriate to implement in low to
moderate seismic environments.

Modifying and reusing members consumes less energy than recycling. Lastly,
recycling is still an option if the building or member cannot be reused. Recycled steel
only consumes one quarter the energy it takes to produce virgin steel.

Decisions that the structural engineer makes during the design phase affect resource
conservation during the construction process and the end of a buildings useful life.
In order to be better informed about the decisions affecting sustainability, the
structural engineer and the entire design team can benefit from a contractors input
and owner involvement during the design process. The contractor is often more
informed of material availability and recyclability than the rest of the design team.
The contractor can inform the design team of typical dimensions and size of
materials that can affect design decisions. This may add an additional upfront cost,
but over the duration of the project can provide a more streamlined process and end
result, and therefore minimize cost. Another factor that affects the construction
process is the use of prefabricated elements, and the efficiency is even greater if a
single unit type can be used repetitively in a project. Because prefabrication is
typically done offsite in a shop under controlled conditions, it is easier to obtain more
precise elements and a therefore a more efficient use of materials. Cost and material
efficiencies are often found through mass production. Also, by producing the
elements in a shops controlled atmosphere, material waste can be better and more
easily controlled. Conditions can be established to control dust, noise and air
pollution, and therefore minimize it on the construction site. These factors likely
decrease the overall cost as well.

Structural Systems
The structural engineer has the opportunity to evaluate structural systems for their
suitability for the present and future use of the building. The engineer also has the
unique opportunity to communicate the benefits of performance-based engineering
in the selection of a structural system and its impact to the life cycle cost analysis of
sustainable design investment.

7.4 Adaptability for Future Use

It is not uncommon for existing buildings to be partly or completely demolished

before the lifetime of the building is near its end. This is mainly the solution owners
seek when their individual buildings no longer serve as desirable space for
occupancy, whether the owner desires flexibility in the tenant space, or the
surrounding neighborhood redevelops to cater to a different set of customer
altogether. In order to make the most of energy, labor, and materials used during new
construction, it is beneficial to consider possible changes in use or occupancy that
may occur over the lifetime of the building. Future possibilities for use should be
discussed, established and accounted for in the initial layout and design process.

To allow for changes in use, consideration of floor vibrations can be made to ensure
serviceability for a wider variety of future uses. The design load for floor systems can
be increased from the minimum code level, not only to damp out vibrations, but also
to support potential increases in load. For partial overhauls of gravity or seismic
systems, a higher floor-to-floor height can allow for either deeper beams or a more
open tenant space.

The structural system layout can be designed to accommodate unknown future

tenant improvements that will almost certainly occur during the life of a building.
Large open spans in an initial structural layout allow for more architectural options
within that layout. The potential elimination of a column requires a redundant system,
and if designing in steel, beams could be switched out for stronger ones if the
connections are bolted.

7.5 Performance-based Engineering

The investment of design effort and thoughtfulness in the implementation of

sustainable systems of a building deserves a corresponding amount of thoughtful
design effort and owner investment in the structural system of the building. If the
conscientious intent of sustainable design includes conserving operating costs and
resources in the building and maintaining and prolonging the useful life of the
building, then the design approach should extend beyond the building shell to the
building contents as well. The building and its contents together comprise the
sustainable design system. The consequences of the structural performance on the
building contents and systems should be considered because the building
performance can protect and prolong the benefits of the sustainable systems and of
the other investments that the owner has committed to.

7.6 The Future

Structural engineering is an integral part of sustainable design on a number of fronts:

judicious and selective use of materials, resourceful use and application of structural
systems, and provisions for future adaptability of the buildings that are designed
today. Material selection can be optimized and recycled and reclaimed or salvaged
materials can be used. The performance, reliability, and reparability of structural
elements in the seismic force resisting system contribute to sustainable design. The
viability of the structural system and building shell to accommodate future renovation
becomes important.

Structural design that considers the eventual deconstruction of a building increases

the likelihood that the building components can be reused in another form.
Collaboration with other design professionals is critical to the structural engineers
successful role on a project - understanding lighting, stacking, thermal mass, cooling
and heat gain strategies enables the structural engineer to anticipate and respond to
these issues in the building structure.

Structural engineers have the opportunity to become an instrument of

change in the industry. By encouraging the responsible use of our natural
resources, and considering total building performance over its life cycle,
we can proactively collaborate and participate in the best practices of
structural engineering and sustainable design.

8.0 Conclusion

As the world's population continues to grow and the need increases for more food,
comforts and luxuries, we must learn to do more with less energy and materials.
We must begin developing alternative and renewable energy sources that will be
available when the known supplies of fossil fuels are gone.

We must also learn to turn our garbage into a resource. Today's designers have to
develop a "cradle to grave" attitude in their designs. By thinking initially about the
full life-cycle of a product and how it might ultimately be re-used, designers and in
particular, engineers can make great strides in helping to close the energy and
environmental cycles.

Closing the energy and environment cycles is certainly not an easy task. However, it
is a necessary commitment if the human race wants to ensure our very own
sustainable existence. We simply have no choice but to work towards this goal of (at
least) stretching our resources. For the built environment, the building industry which
has served mankind extremely well (in terms of comfort convenience and the like),
now need to be at the forefront of this effort since we will not likely sacrifice all the
comfort and luxury that we have grown accustomed to.


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design <>
2. D. Wood, The structural engineer and sustainable design <>
3. P.K. Mehta, Fly ash, silica fume, slag & natural Pozzolans in concrete
4. Portland Cement Association, (PCA), Design and Control of Concrete Mixtures,
2005. <>
5. M. Pulaski, C. Hewitt, M. Horman and B. Guy, Design for deconstruction,