BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
DEVELOPERS IN THAILAND AND JAPAN USE THE LATEST IN TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY WORKING AND LIVING SPACES
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.