THERE’S PLENTY to see in Tokyo and in­deed most vis­i­tors to the city take time out for a leisurely walk around the Im­pe­rial Palace moat and ad­mire the spec­tac­u­lar view over the city from the ob­ser­va­tion desk of Tokyo Skytree. I am no ex­cep­tion but on a trip to the Ja­panese cap­i­tal last month, I was given an ex­cep­tional op­por­tu­nity to learn that there’s far more to the city than what we tourists see on the sur­face.

For ex­am­ple, I didn’t ex­pect to spend time in of­fice build­ing’s base­ment ad­mir­ing the wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity for the Im­pe­rial Palace moat or whizzing up to the top floor of a lux­ury con­do­minium to ex­am­ine the car­port-type so­lar power gen­er­a­tor.

My some­what un­usual mis­sion came cour­tesy of prop­erty de­vel­oper AP (Thai­land), which took four stu­dents from its sec­ond in­tern­ship pro­gramme and a group of re­porters to see how its busi­ness part­ner Mit­subishi Es­tate Group has de­vel­oped en­vi­ron­men­tal, yet tech­nol­ogy-driven projects to en­sure sus­tain­able habi­ta­tion.

Op­po­site the Im­pe­rial Palace is the Ote­mon Tower-JX Build­ing, de­vel­oped by Mit­subishi and JX Hold­ings Inc, whose base­ment is given over to a rapid wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity and a huge reser­voir, both de­signed to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity of the Im­pe­rial Palace moat that stretches roughly five kilo­me­tres. The build­ing’s first floor is also home to 3x3 Lab Fu­ture – a co-work­ing space that pro­motes en­ergy sav­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives.

“There are about 500 species of fish and in­sects liv­ing in and around the moat in­clud­ing fire­flies de­spite it be­ing right at the heart of Tokyo,” says Shinji Taguchi, deputy man­ager of 3X3 Lab Fu­ture.

“Set up two years ago, this is the first pri­vate- sec­tor ini­tia­tive to in­tro­duce a pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity to clean wa­ter in the moat through rapid floc­cu­la­tion and sed­i­men­ta­tion, which pu­ri­fies a large amount of wa­ter at high speed.”

The project is timely. The qual­ity of wa­ter in the moat has de­te­ri­o­rated sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years and al­gae are grow­ing fast be­cause of a chronic lack of fresh wa­ter. The pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity takes in wa­ter from the moat and pu­ri­fies it at about 180 litres ev­ery five sec­onds.

Moat wa­ter is sent to a rapid mix­ing tank with chem­i­cal co­ag­u­lant and pH reg­u­la­tor that turns the dirty sub­stances into larger clumps, be­fore going to an in­jec­tion mix­ing tank filled with mi­cro sands to form flocs of high spe­cific grav­ity that sink eas­ily. Through the ob­ser­va­tion glass, vis­i­tors can see how the large ag­glom­er­ated dirt par­ti­cles are set­ting. The last floc­cu­la­tion tank with a poly­mer floc­cu­lent agent to ab­sorb dirt par­ti­cles is said to re­move 90 per cent or more of sus­pended solids such as blue-green al­gae. The pu­ri­fied wa­ter is then sent to a huge reser­voir while wa­ter with co­ag­u­lated dirt is dis­charged into the sewage sys­tem.

The mas­sive reser­voir is in­stalled 35 me­tres un­der­ground. It re­leases the treated wa­ter into the moat and keeps some for use in case of emer­gency. Its ca­pac­ity is about 3,000 cu­bic me­tres or about equiv­a­lent to six 25-me­tre­long swim­ming polls.

“It also stores rain­wa­ter and dis­charges it to the moat. To pre­pare for a dis­as­ter, the wa­ter stored in this fa­cil­ity could be used to wash man­hole toi­lets in the build­ing,” adds Taguchi.

Up to the first floor is 3x3 Lab Fu­ture. Oc­cu­py­ing an area of 820 square me­tres, it is ded­i­cated to re­search and de­vel­op­ment through the in­te­gra­tion of three el­e­ments – en­vi­ron­ment, so­ci­ety and econ­omy. It is open to mem­bers and dou­bles as the of­fice for en­vi­ron­men­tal plan­ners Ecozze­ria As­so­ci­a­tion.

“There are more than 4,000 com­pa­nies and 200,000 peo­ple work­ing and liv­ing in this area cov­er­ing Otemachi, Marunouchi and Yu­raku­cho dis­tricts. The 3x3 Lab Fu­ture aims to be­come a third place, nei­ther home nor of­fice, but a col­lab­o­ra­tive work­place cross­ing busi­ness bound­aries where peo­ple can ex­change ideas, ex­per­i­ment with new ideas and show­case their cre­ativ­ity,” says Taguchi.

The sem­i­nar room ac­com­mo­dat­ing about 120 peo­ple is best en­tered bare­foot as the floor is made of sisal hemp. The ta­bles and chairs are gen­er­ated from lam­i­nated bam­boo lum­ber.

“This room can be used as a shel­ter for peo­ple in the event of a dis­as­ter such as an earth­quake. The hemp floor is com­fort­able,” he says. “There’s stor­age space be­hind the wall for ne­ces­si­ties and food­stuffs and there’s a ‘Cre­ative Stall’ that stores elec­tric power from so­lar pan­els in­stalled on the top of build­ing to use as in­ter­nal light­ing.”

The 120-square-me­tre com­mu­ni­ca­tion zone with a floor made of do­mes­tic cedar sal­vaged from old scaf­fold­ing is avail­able for dif­fer­ent types of gath­er­ings. Ta­bles, so­fas and par­ti­tions can be moved around as needed to change the lay­out.

The en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious small meet­ing room is equipped with a ceil­ing air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem whose coiled tubes cir­cu­late hot wa­ter dur­ing win­ter and cold wa­ter in sum­mer, thus sav­ing on en­ergy costs. The floor is made with the rem­nants of chop­sticks and ta­bles and chairs are fash­ioned from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

A closed booth with de­vices that con­trol tem­per­a­ture, air, light, sound and aroma can be used by those re­quir­ing pri­vacy and there’s even a place to re­lax – an in­door court­yard planted with di­verse hard­woods and conifers. Special LED light­ing al­low­ing for pho­to­syn­the­sis and an au­to­matic wa­ter­ing sys­tem means trees can grow well even indoors.

“In the of­fice area, each desk is equipped with in­di­vid­ual heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing, and chairs have stress check­ers to mon­i­tor stress lev­els af­ter long hours of work. It’s a model for the of­fice of the fu­ture with pri­or­ity given to en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and com­fort,” adds Taguchi.

AP (Thai­land) has adopted the 3x3 Lab Fu­ture con­cept for its AP Academy Lab, the first lab­o­ra­tory in Thai­land ded­i­cated to com­pre­hen­sive learn­ing of real es­tate. Lo­cated on 800 square me­tres at its head­quar­ters, it’s open to em­ploy­ees, in­ter­ested par­ties and univer­sity stu­dents in rel­e­vant dis­ci­plines.

“The de­sign con­cept is a ‘Liv­ing Lab­o­ra­tory of the Fu­ture’. We pro­vide tools to stim­u­late learn­ing and cre­ativ­ity. The home lab is the high­light here. It is de­signed for ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing with a com­plete house model built to fit in the com­part­ment. The aim is to en­cour­age the young gen­er­a­tion to learn how to build a home that goes against in­dus­try con­ven­tions,” says Pu­mi­pat Si­nacharoen, the academy’s di­rec­tor.

Now in its sec­ond year, the academy also of­fers the AP Open House pro­gramme. Open to 50 third-year univer­sity stu­dents, the two-month in­ten­sive in­tern­ship of­fers the chance to learn the whole process of work­ing in the real-es­tate in­dus­try. A new course in mar­ket­ing and sales has been added to the pro­gramme in ad­di­tion to civil engi­neer­ing. The four most out­stand­ing stu­dents – two from civil engi­neer­ing and two from mar­ket­ing – were in­vited to join the field trip to Ja­pan.

“This of­fered me a rare op­por­tu­nity to learn how a lead­ing real es­tate com­pany de­vel­ops its in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies while re­main­ing com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. There is an in­creas­ing need for se­cure and dis­as­ter-re­sis­tant work­ing space that doesn’t come at the cost of the en­vi­ron­ment,” says Kom­grid Sit­tikarn, a civil engi­neer­ing stu­dent at King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lad Kra­bang.

Mit­subishi Jisho Home, the de­vel­oper of low-rise prop­er­ties un­der the Mit­subishi Es­tate Group um­brella, has a model project that com­bines smart liv­ing with en­ergy sav­ing in the Shibuya area. The struc­ture is mostly made out of wood grown in the coun­try and is equipped with Aerotech, a central air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem that al­lows res­i­dents to con­ve­niently mon­i­tor and con­trol ven­ti­la­tion, cool­ing and heat­ing. So­lar pan­els grace the roof and a Home En­ergy Man­age­ment Sys­tem (Hems) con­nects res­i­dents with In­ter­net of Things tech­nol­ogy to con­trol their en­ergy use ef­fec­tively.

Its al­most-com­pleted high-end con­do­minium Park House Shin­juku Gy­oen has 21 so­lar cells units on the roof, with each unit gen­er­at­ing about 30 kilo­watts. The col­lec­tive-ac­cess high-volt­age power will be used for com­mon-use ar­eas and re­duce elec­tric­ity costs. The base­ment also houses a 60-cu­bic-me­tre dis­posal tank equipped with tech­nol­ogy that re­duces meth­ane from food waste.

“From this field trip, we ex­pect that the stu­dents will un­der­stand more about the in­no­va­tions in smart liv­ing man­age­ment and clean en­ergy al­lo­ca­tion. We hope that they will be able to ap­ply the de­sign con­cepts and knowl­edge to the Thai con­text,” says Sap­p­a­sit Foong­faungchaveng, the di­rec­tor of AP De­sign Lab.

A com­mu­ni­ca­tion zone of 3X3 Lab Fu­ture - a co-work­ing space that pro­motes en­ergy sav­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives – has a cedar floor made from old scaf­fold­ing.

A small meet­ing room has an en­ergy-sav­ing ceil­ing air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem and LED in­te­grated ra­di­ant pan­els. The floor is made from dis­carded chop­sticks.

The base­ment of the Ote­mon Tower-JX Build­ing in central Toyko houses a rapid wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity and a huge reser­voir, both de­signed to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity of the Im­pe­rial Palace moat.

The in­door court­yard is equipped with LED light­ing and an au­to­matic wa­ter­ing sys­tem.

The floor of a sem­i­nar room is cov­ered with sisal hemp, mak­ing it com­fort­able when pressed into ser­vice to ac­com­mo­date vic­tims of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

Pu­mi­pat Si­nacharoen, sec­ond left, the di­rec­tor of AP Academy, leads stu­dents from the in­tern­ship pro­gramme AP Open House to learn about the so­lar cell sys­tem in­stalled on the rooftop of the Park House Shin­juku Gy­oen con­do­minium.

A “Cre­ative Stall” can store elec­tric power ob­tained from so­lar pan­els to use as in­ter­nal light­ing in case of emer­gency.

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