Some eco-innovators who are making inroads to being green, the Thai way
Thai eco-innovators have grabbed the spotlight in recent years, bringing fantastic green ideas to life. Self-sufficiency is clearly at the heart of their passion and work. Here are some of their stories.
Professor Soontorn Boonyatikarn of Chulalongkorn University is something of a legend among the design set. Not only is he an eco-architect and academic, he is the resident of one of the few self-reliant houses in the world.
Personal circumstances forced the professor to consider more radical eco-building methods. His wife suffered from severe allergies due to the air, and her condition was exacerbated by the way Thai homes were built, attracting moisture and mold. He also noticed that the homes lacked incorporation of new technologies and were generally built without regard for the environment.
At a first glance, Professor Soontorn’s 180sqm-house looks like a typical suburban Bangkok home. Tropical plants flank an oblong pool and a car is parked under a covered driveway; 62sqm of solar cells mounted on the roof, however, indicate that the house is not quite ordinary.
Beneath the surface, the dwelling employs dozens of meticulously crafted techniques that completely integrate sustainability with modern living. Buried in the garden alone are a photovoltaic system, biogas unit, water treatment facilities and storage tanks.
Developing this so-called Bio-Solar house was a multidisciplinary project involving a combination of material science, civil engineering, and biotechnology. The result is a house that is 15 times more energy efficient than a conventional one. Its solar panels generate more that enough electricity to power the cooling system, lights, and appliances.
Nothing is wasted. The roof is angled to optimize collection of morning dew. Condensation from the air conditioning and rainwater are salvaged and filtered, providing water for everyday use, including filling the pool. Wastewater is used in the gardens. Leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen garbage fertilize an organic vegetable plot, and are also used to produce biogas for cooking.
Passive eco-measures are also employed, including incorporation of a glass room over the pool that maximizes use of natural light. The house is positioned for optimal cross-ventilation. Large trees and ground-covering plants help reduce surrounding air temperatures.
Professor Soontorn explains, “If one has an intimate understanding of one’s environment and a desire to change the way one is accustomed to living, it can be done. We’d be on our way to solving energy problems and bettering mankind, while maintaining a high standard of living.”
Trash has long been a problem in Thailand — garbage piles up in landfills or is incinerated, adding pollutants to the air. One man has tackled the issue head-on, accepting the massive challenge of closing the loop on society’s byproducts.
This eco-innovator is Dr. Singh Intrachooto, design principal at OSISU, Thailand’s leading eco-design production house. Here, trash is recycled into sustainably designed products. From construction site scraps to foil packaging and Tetra-pack containers, discarded materials take on new life as furniture, storage units, and bags, among other creative, whimsical things.
“I started reclaiming debris in 2005 after seeing waste being hauled away from my own construction sites for projects classified as eco-friendly,” says Dr. Singh, who is also a practicing architect. “I didn’t feel I was acting genuinely so some colleagues and I started discussing about using materials efficiently, and how construction debris could become resources.”
Self-sufficiency has become Dr. Singh’s mantra. His approach is all about process, how things are made and the true importance of materials, rather than product. In addition to his creations, he spreads the message to Thailand’s budding architects, as head of the Building Innovation and Technology Program at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Architecture. Dr. Singh explains that his curriculum focuses on two areas: environmentally responsible design and innovation in construction. His so-called Scrap Lab at the university is ground zero for experimentation with trash, including metal, plastic, wood, fabric, wires, glass, and cardboard.
Dr. Singh discusses topics such as life cycle assessment, alternative energy methods, and low impact material development with students, encouraging broader thinking about becoming greener in every aspect of life. Propagating ideas, inspiration, and information, OSISU’s catchphrase sums up its green philosophy nicely: Contemporary vernacular design inspired by environmental concerns.
Innovative hotelier Jirayu Tulyanond created some buzz surrounding his latest venture, the Bangkok Tree House – “a celebration of nature.” Opened last November, these lodgings go way beyond the traditional hotel concept, embracing the use of locally sourced materials and renewable energy, and drastically lowering one’s carbon footprint to go green all the way.
Firstly, the Bangkok Tree House is located in Bang Kra Chao, or the ‘Green Lung of Bangkok,’ a peninsula on the Chao Phraya River. It is literally across the river from the city’s most hectic areas, including Bang Na and Klong Toey, and it is easily accessed by a quick boat ride. Despite its proximity to the city, Bang Kra Chao is a world away. Tall, old growth trees provide ample shade from the mid-day heat and the pace of life is slow.
Simple home stays offer visitors a respite from Bangkok. A 12-suite property with all the modern comforts and conveniences, including Wi-Fi, optional air conditioning, organic restaurant, and dedicated shuttle boat, the Bangkok Tree House is in a league of its own. Each suite is divided into three levels, offering views of the surrounding river, mangroves, and firefly-friendly lamphu trees.
Jirayu uses the alphabet to run through each attribute of the property. For example, the letter A stands for air quality control, where all areas are smoke-free for the health of guests and the environment. ‘Air cleaning plants’ in rooms also help purify the air and produce oxygen at night. C refers to carbon free cooking where solar cookers offer tastier, slow cooked meals. O is for “organic everything, from cleaning products to bathroom amenities to all the food you eat.”
Other initiatives include using only biological filters and hydroponically rooted plants to purify the pool; no fumigation efforts to get rid of insects; and outdoor showers. Also, there are no roads for cars leading to the property; the only access is via foot, bike, or boat.
Jirayu recognizes that the hotel is not for everyone. But “if you love trees, lizards, birds, fireflies, cicadas, and butterflies, you will love the Bangkok Tree House.” It is certainly a bold business, but one backed by ultra-creative green thinking and sound self-sufficiency principals.