City & Country: Veritas focusing on sustainable hospitals

An artist’s impression of River of Life Sungei Hijau Hospital

VERITAS ARCHITECTS Sdn Bhd is no stranger to the architectural spotlight here in Kuala Lumpur. If you look up at the city’s skyline, you can probably point out several of the design firm’s completed projects, many of which are green-accredited developments. Examples are Menara Binjai, One Sentral, Menara AIG and Wisma Lee Rubber.

While Veritas is well known for its sustainable residential and office projects, this time around, it is providing its expertise to healthcare, mainly hospitals.

According to its principal Anton Alers, the design firm has quite a big portfolio of healthcare projects in Malaysia. Currently, it is working on one such project in the River of Life development near Jalan Pahang in KL.

“The project is unique,” he says. “Because of its location and land size, we designed it to be a vertical hospital with 28 floors instead of the more traditional six to eight storeys.”

Alers says River of Life Sungei Hijau Hospital will have 350 beds while the intensive care and high dependency units will be large. It will also feature a number of specialist clinics, such as cardiac healthcare, maternity and oncology.

The project represents a new paradigm for healthcare in Malaysia, Alers comments. “I believe the hospital can work successfully despite the constraints of the site and its vertical orientation. With proper elevators and mechanical services, it should operate efficiently.”

One might think the hospital is just another healthcare development for Veritas, considering that it already has in its portfolio Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya, Ipoh Specialist Hospital in Perak, Klang Pantai Hospital in Klang and Damaipuri Urban Senior Sanctuary in Kota Damansara.

However, this project is different because of its emphasis on sustainability and green features. “It focuses not only on the sustainability of the building, but also the site,” Alers says. “It’s not just about energy efficiency, but also about contributing to the recovery and general well-being of the patients.”

With sustainability in mind and the good location, Alers will work on offering views of Kuala Lumpur’s hills with an emphasis on natural lighting. “We have to pay particular attention to the type of glazing we use and the design of the façade because that will have a huge impact on the thermal performance of the building as well as the quality of the indoor environment. These issues need to be carefully looked at when designing the building.”

Veritas is also trying not to design the building in such a way that it is associated only with sick people. “This is a hospital where patients will get well rather than be sick,” explains Alers. “We have the opportunity to create a sky garden on the roof to give the staff, patients and visitors access to a secure outdoor environment that can help the healing process. There will also be a link to the Klang River, which would then have been revitalised. But we are still discussing that.”

He adds that the land surrounding the hospital will be well landscaped.

This is a hospital where patients will get well rather than be sick — Alers

Touching on the heavy emphasis on sustainability, Alers says it is only natural for a hospital to be sustainable and energy saving. “All hospitals tend to be power and water-hungry. In the past, not enough attention was paid to the design of hospitals. With our expertise, we can provide a much better building envelope to reduce operating, heating and cooling costs as well as water consumption.”

To support his claim, Alers says homes that have energy-saving features utilise them during a certain period of time — when there’s someone in the house. Hospitals, however, use them round the clock since they are never empty. “So you can imagine energy-saving happening every single hour.”

When asked if building green hospitals is a common practice in Malaysia, Alers says he hasn’t seen much evidence of it in the country. “I think this comes from the way hospitals are procured in Malaysia. Often, they are built by developers and leased out to hospital operators. The capital cost is borne by the developers, so cost-reduction is seen as of paramount importance. However, what people don’t understand is that more importance should be placed on the running cost of the building.”

Alers believes the developers and operators should be made more aware of this aspect because the operators will be shouldering the cost of running the hospitals. “I don’t think there’s enough interaction between the designers, engineers and architects. We need more people who are sensitive to the sustainable aspects of design.”

Alers adds that it is not standard practice here to incorporate green designs into a building, although there is a need for sustainability.

“Malaysia is lagging behind more developed countries. But this is probably because in those countries, electricity and energy are considered expensive.”

The reality is that energy cost is equally expensive in Malaysia. “Electricity cost in Australia is expected to double in the next few years and Malaysia will probably face the same scenario. So buildings with cost-saving features will benefit in the future.”

Because of its location and land size, the hospital will be vertical with 28 floors instead of the more traditional six to eight storeys

Because of its location and land size, the hospital will be vertical with 28 floors instead of the more traditional six to eight storeys

Moving forward, Veritas is working on the newly relocated International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL). It is now at the schematic stage of design for the school. “We’re not just looking at meeting Green Building Index ratings, but surpassing them,” says Alers.

GBI’s highest rating of Platinum is not Veritas’ penultimate because that will still have an impact on Earth. “For this school, we are trying to see how far we can go in terms of energy efficiency,” Alers says. “We are looking to make the school carbon-positive, which means it actually produces more energy than it uses.”

Veritas is also hoping to reduce portable water consumption by 75% by looking at recycling water using bio-filtration systems and reusing it for irrigation and flushing.

Looking at the big picture, Alers says Malaysia is behind Singapore in sustainability in Southeast Asia, but it is catching up fast. “In terms of energy-efficient buildings, Malaysia is ahead of other countries in the region. The country has shown that it can reduce the energy consumption of its buildings by up to 70%. But there’s a lot more to be done.”

Alers concludes that educating the public on how they can cut costs and save energy is one way to get more people interested in sustainable designs. “If you tell the developers it takes a lot of money for a sustainable development, they will take a step back. But if you inform them how much money they can save on running the building, it might attract them since it only costs 3% more to save 15% more energy.”

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 3, 2014.


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