Written by Fernado Cardoso Gomes, an exchange fellow at GBU through the U.S. State Department's Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Professional Fellows Program (YSEALI PFP).
Since a long time ago, I have always been curious to learn about the value of sustainability in practice, in daily life, as an environmentalist, and as an architect. It is this idea that led me to the YSEALI PFP and why I participated at the Living Future Conference 2023 (LFC23) held in Washington D.C.
The LFC23 addressed a range of issues related to climate change, health, and environmental justice. Attending this conference was my chance to get new ideas and network with the people behind them. Most importantly, the conference facilitated interactions between participants and stakeholders in an open and participatory atmosphere that was friendly, safe, accompanied by meals, laughs, and also serious contemplation.
Living in the present, we all know we are facing the reality of climate change. Buildings are the largest contributors to global carbon emissions, so it's critical to our future to think about how our buildings are designed and operated, how they contribute to our health, and to the resilience of people and the entire ecosystem.
My findings about sustainability at LFC23 started with a tour to D.C.'s Water Headquarters, located in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood. A curvy, dynamic 6-story building featuring painted metal panels and glass curtainwall for the facades, which allowed light to penetrate deep on the south side exposing a beautiful view to the river. Each floor steps back around 50cm beyond the floor below, solving passively the heat load in the summertime. The building uses an innovative wastewater heat recovery system, the first in North America, that transforms wastewater into warm or cool air, depending on the season. The wastewater is pumped to the energy system machine where it filters to a clean water loop. The now clean water is pumped to the chiller where it will produce warm or cool water then transfer it to the fan powered system in every floor ceiling that blows over warm or cool water coils.
Next, I took a tour of the Lubber Run Community Center, a great design by VMDO Architects. The design integrates nature into the building, allowing you to frame the trees, forest, and parks in every room of the building. It has an enormous green roof park area with a beautiful landscape-focused approach for the community to exercise. At the back side, it has access to a nature deck that walks you to the original site forest and river. The building responds to an urban challenge on how to create public space for community to socialize and connects with the natural environment.
On the second day of the conference, Marta Delgado with Architecture with Meaning, presented evidence that beauty in nature and architecture can relate with science –and neuroscience principles. Through embodied simulation, our brain is stimulated differently by certain forms of nature or architecture, and categorizes it in two comparative traits, physical and psychological. I really enjoyed the biophilic sessions at LFC23, and the natural relationship between humans and nature that existed long before the industrialization of houses and buildings. First humans lived inside the cave, in the treetops, or below the Earth's surface, and the connection between humans and nature was built at that moment. James Brew of Nikken Sekkei Architects talked about Japan’s connection to nature in their design and the resiliency that the Japanese have toward natural disasters. I found it amazing how Japan gives value to their relationship with nature, ensuring that 68.5% of their island nation is still forest.
Over my three days at LFC23, I gained incredible insights and networked with so many amazing people that I have hope for our planet if we can apply all of these green building concepts in countries around the world. I come from the newest country in Southeast Asia, called Timor-Leste, which has not contributed much in terms of technology, such as turning rainfall into drinking water, or targeting 185kg Co2 / m2 carbon emissions to building construction, but I know that it’s never too late to take a step. Even for a small country such as Timor-Leste, I believe we all have a duty to look after our planet, because we live on the same planet, and all of us are affected, both bad and good.
Fernando is from the island nation of Timor-Leste and has a bachelor degree in Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Gadjah Mada in Indonesia. He is passionate about sustainable living and architecture, and approaches building design so that communities can contribute to a better environment. In 2020, he was a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders: Australia, in Timor-Leste, focusing on community-based projects related with disaster preparedness, clean water, and energy efficiency. In late 2020, Fernando and his team won the Green Building Design Challenge Award led by UNDP Timor-Leste for their Kios Matenek project, the first green building prototype in Timor-Leste, which also operates as a youth center for learning, experimenting, and inspiring others about sustainability. In 2022, he established Fernando Gomes Architects, whose projects strive for uniqueness and the humble use of local materials.