Air-Conditioning for Buildings | Why Too Much Cool is Uncool

One hundred and twelve years since the invention of the air-conditioner—yes, it’s that old—and we’re still coming to terms with its uncool effects.

Back in 1902, Willis Carter only intended to control temperature and humidity inside a printing press to prevent paper from warping.  It was a reasonable enough purpose for a new radical invention.  Before long, AC crossed over from commercial and industrial use to our very homes, and life was never the same again.

Phoenix, Arizona: well alive at night (Image from

Phoenix, Arizona: well alive at night (Image from

Actually, I can’t be sure; I grew up in a home where it never occurred to us to install an AC unit.  Maybe my parents realized the monthly bill would fry us.  The only time I experienced air-conditioning is whenever I’d step inside a mall or get on the bus.  Back in our house, we had low-tech ways to combat the heat—a dependable electric fan, open windows, high-ceilings, and a lush garden outside.


The Power of Coolness

In many ways, I delight in the fact that our monthly bills have never amounted to more than thirty dollars.  There must be some sort of trickery going on, if not some serious Scrooge-like belt-tightening.  Yes, there are, but we don’t feel like deprived at all.  We still watch our TV, we still use the PC and washing machine and the fridge, but we also know when to turn off the LED lights and the fan, and curb our use.

They say air-conditioning empowered people, freeing us from the burden and limitations of the weather.  Air-conditioning …

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Stormwater Management Is Everyone’s Concern

Once upon a time, the rain fell in lovely droves.  It freely splattered and gushed and rushed and rolled.  And then all that energetic water promptly drained into the earth, absorbed by the roots of plants and trees, and naturally filtered through soil and rocks before getting stored underground.

From one state to another: water's movement in our planet (Image from

From one state to another: water’s movement in our planet (Image from

That’s basically the gist of groundwater recharge.  It’s a nice-sounding name; “recharge” almost seems like a dynamic process, as if water was being refreshed and transformed and made new again.  We’ve all been taught the wondrous water cycle in our grade school years—how water from our rivers, lakes and seas evaporates and becomes clouds, and then condenses as rain or snow, falls back to earth, joins the rivers and lakes and seas again, and some of it seeping into the ground.

So yes, in many ways, it really is a dynamic, even magical process.  Everything is taken care of naturally.

And Then the World Was Paved

Sadly, all that dynamic and magical process gets disrupted in our built world.

Paved in concrete and asphalt, the ground is effectively barred from absorbing and filtering stormwater.  Water now has no choice but to rush aboveground, carrying with it man-made pollutants and contaminants such as grease and oil, road salts, heavy metal, pesticide and fertilizers residues, sediments, and many others.  All these empty into drains and sewers and end up into lakes and rivers, endangering aquatic life.

Toxic algae which …

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USGBC Report Shines the Spotlight on Green Building in China

It’s out now: USGBC‘s LEED in Motion series, an extensive and insightful reportage on LEED adoption in various countries worldwide.  Among many other things, the report features profiles of successful LEED projects, growth statistics, analysis and insights from green building experts in their respective countries.

LEED's presence in Greater China in detail

LEED’s presence in Greater China in detail

Launched last year, LEED in Motion is actually an ongoing report, a “living document” meant to be updated as LEED grows and extends its influence in various regions.

Greater China—that is Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macauis part of that report.  And for a good reason; over the years, LEED has been at the forefront of improving China’s built environment.


Good Times for LEED and Green Building in China

The U.S. and Canada still leads the pack in LEED usage, with China coming in a happy third.

According to the LEED in Motion : Greater China report, there are 1,961 LEED-registered and -certified projects in China.  A total of 110 million gross square meters are currently LEED-certified.  And LEED operates in 29 of the 34 provinces in mainland China.

Back in 2004, there were only two registered LEED projects; last year 499 projects registered.  This year, 54 projects have already been certified.  LEED v4 may not widely adopted yet (there are only 12 projects aiming for a certification under it), but it’s worth noting that the first ever LEED v4 certification went to Haworth Showroom in Beijing last year.

LEED’s exponential growth in China is actually remarkable considering the Chinese government already has its own homegrown Three Star Rating system for green buildings.  Then again, Three Star does not intend to override LEED, but complement its sustainability goals.  In fact some projects have achieved certifications from both LEED and Three Stars.

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Demanding Sustainability from Our Coffee Shops

The day my favorite indie coffee shop stopped bagging its used coffee grounds, I had to speak up.  The wooden rack which was usually lined with 2-kilo bags of used coffee grounds had been empty for the past couple of weeks.  They used to be there, for free pickup by anyone who wants to use them as compost, or garden fertilizer, pest deterrent, fridge deodorizer, pot scourer—or if they’re not squeamish—even as a body rub in the bathroom.

Repurpose coffee cups claim to be 100% compostable, is proudly sleeveless, made with FSC-certified paper, and has minimal carbon footprint.

Repurpose coffee cups claim to be 100% compostable, are proudly sleeveless, made with FSC-certified paper, and have minimal carbon footprint.

One of the staff, Lean, had told me nowadays they only bag them when someone requests it; otherwise the grounds go to the building-wide waste collection at the end of the day, but that isn’t very efficiently segregated in the first place.  I suggested they could coordinate with a plant nursery that can haul the spent grounds each day.  Also they could approach customers and offer them a free bag, along with some info on what exactly those damn grounds are good for (A lot!).

In some ways, those unbagged coffee grounds may just be nitpicking …

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Story Roundup This June | From Tiny Robots that 3D Print to Smart Warming System that Follow You Around

Spot-On Local Warming Systems Redefine Climate Control

The quest to make our homes and buildings smarter has led MIT researchers to develop an ingenious local warming system that’s spot-on and intuitive.

MIT's smart infrared heating element stalks you, but in a nice way.

MIT’s smart infrared heating element stalks you, but in a nice way. (image from MIT)

Using WiFi-enabled motion trackers, heating elements mounted on ceilings follow human targets as they move around, delivering just the right amount of infrared heat they need.  The researchers suggest that creating these “personalized climates” around individuals is more energy saving than warming the entire room.

Miriam Roure, lead researcher on the project notes,

“With a dynamic system like Local Warming in place, buildings may not need to waste as many resources on climate control…. Local Warming allows participants to engage with their climate directly and to enact a new type of efficient, localized climate control.”

| via MIT


Tiny Minibuilder Robots Show How to 3D Print Buildings 

A Spain-based research team at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia has recently shown proof of concept for 3D printing …

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