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  • Green Building Pioneer in China: An Interview with Zhang Hongru (Dennis Zhang)

Green Building Pioneer in China: An Interview with Zhang Hongru (Dennis Zhang)

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  • Date June 26th, 2012 14:44
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  • Zhang Hongru (Dennis Zhang) is one of the fathers of green architecture in Shanghai and China. Amongst many other projects, he is the architect of the SRIBS research centers, the first of which was completed in 2004. He is also one of the authors of China's green building code and green building certification system. Based on 10 years of pioneering work in China, Mr. Zhang recently shared his insights and opinions in an interview with GIGA.


    GIGA: What is most difficult about designing green?

    Dennis: The most difficult part of green design is to get all stakeholders (designers, decision makers, policy makers, etc.) to understand the nature of green design. There are many incorrect case studies and advertisements which mislead the public.


    GIGA: What's your opinion on today's green buildings, especially in China?

    Dennis: There are too many “luxury” green buildings in China, including some so-called “landmark building”. These buildings (many government offices, public transportation building, etc.) often have construction footprints and scales that are far larger than what is needed. Labeling super high-rise buildings with large areas of glass curtain-walls as “green buildings” also misleads the public’s understanding of green design.

    Good examples of green design do exist though. For example, the Maosi Primary School designed by Professor Wu Engrong, and the Ali Pingguo Primary School designed by Wang Hui and Dai Changjing.


    GIGA: You often advocate learning from traditional Chinese residential buildings. Does it imply this should be the direction of development for green building in China?

    Dennis: From a narrow perspective of sustainable development, learning from traditional design requires one to learn the specific way a traditional person (pre-electricity) would create a healthy and comfortable living environment. From a wide perspective of sustainable development, learning from traditional design also means to learn from culture; using natural social behaviors, lifestyles and preferred architectural aesthetics to shape design.


    GIGA: In your 20+ year design career, what's your favorite project? Why?

    Dennis: Shanghai SRIBS Xinzhuang Complex (LINK: http://www.gigabase.org/en/en/en/en/projects/3) (built in 2010) is my favorite project, by far. The building’s passive strategy fits perfectly with the the entire building system. When built, the Complex was also the least expensive though most efficient among all China 3-Star green buildings. Most importantly, both investors and users are highly satisfied with the building.


    GIGA: What role do materials play in green design? How many points would you award to materials, 10 points being critical.

    Dennis: The proportion of green materials in green design fluctuates according to each projects’ location, conditions and building goal, so it is hard to give a fixed point. But to be sure, green materials are gaining in importance.


    GIGA: What is your favorite green material and why?

    Dennis: Of course plants are my favorite green material. I use plants as an important “component” in all of my green design, for shading and visual comfort.

    There are also a few examples of good artificial materials, “Wood-Plastic Cladding” is one of my favorites. It is an exterior finishing material, made by waste raw materials. Wood-Plastic cladding is also fire-proof and resists corrosion. The Wood-Plastic Cladding used in the Shanghai SRIBS Xinzhuang Complex continues to perform well.


    GIGA: Many designers want to choose green materials, but in the end, very few make it into projects. In your opinion, what impedes designers from choosing green materials?

    Dennis: First, it is not easy for designers to have reliable material information, especially regarding green performance, technical performance and price.

    Second, using new materials is a potential risk for both designers and their projects. Pioneering often means taking risks.


    GIGA: When and what will be the next big breakthrough in green design?

    Dennis: Maybe in three or five years.

    Actually I am building a “Green Building Center” in the Shanghai Academy of Building Research Group, integrating 10 years of experience and practice in green design, consulting and research resources. I hope this center can play an important role in the development of China’s green buildings.



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