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Ken Yeang and Bioclimatic Architecture


Questioning what constitutes the characteristics of ecologically responsible architecture, may not now seem like such an extraordinary pursuit. Yet in 1970's when a young Malaysian born architectural student called Ken Yeang asked the question it was considered quite radical.

Ken Yeang studied architecture at the Architectural Association (AA) in London, an institution with a tradition of radical thinking. It was here that he first began to question architectures role within the context of a growing concern for the environment, energy and sustainability.

In 1971 Ken Yeang became one of the first architects to undertake a PhD on the subject of ecological design. He enrolled in the doctoral programme in the Department of Architecture at Cambridge University. His dissertation submitted in 1974 was entitled ‘A Theoretical Framework for the Incorporation of Ecological Considerations in the Design and Planning of the Built Environment'. After suffering some delays he was awarded his PhD in 1981 and his dissertation was later published in 1995 under the title ‘Designing With Nature: The Ecological Basis for Architectural Design'.

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  • Mesiniaga Tower, Malaysia

In his dissertation he wrote, somewhat prophetically:

‘It is easy to be misled or seduced by technology and to think that if we assemble enough eco-gadgetry in the form of solar collectors, photovoltaic cells, biological recycling systems, building automation systems and double skin facades in one single building this can automatically be considered ecological architecture...to be fully effective, these technologies need to be thoroughly integrated into the building fabric; they will also be influenced by the physical and climatic conditions of the site. The nature of the problem is therefore site specific. There will never be a standard "one size fits all" solution.'

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  • Solaris Tower, Singapore

This statement seems to encapsulate Dr Yeang's lifelong dedication to developing an architectural design approach that goes beyond ‘greenwashing' and ‘tick boxing' certification systems. His ultimate goal has always been the creation of ‘benign' built forms that compliment and work within the planet's delicate biosystems.

Back in Malaysia, in his own architectural practice, begun in mid 1970's with Tengku Robert Hamzah, Dr Yeang started applying his sustainable design methodology to both real world, theoretical writing, and competition projects. Three main forces initially drove this methodology.

The first was climatic. That buildings should be designed to optimise the ambient conditions within spaces and this would ultimately result in new building forms that are specific to their locations. The second was cultural. That architecture needs to respond to the local conditions of life. The third was aspirational and driven by the desire of countries within the tropical zones to join the ‘developed' world, requiring a change from traditional low-rise structures to a modern high-rise strategy.

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  • Human Resource Institute, Hong Kong
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  • Chongqing Tower, China

These three methodologies culminated in the development of the bioclimatic skyscraper, for which Ken Yeang has become most famous. He proposed an approach to tall buildings that respond to the climatic conditions of their site. Often incorporating the integration of vegetation and vertical gardens, use of skycourts, natural ventilation and the influence of solar geometry to achieve self-shading structures.

Yeang's development of ideas for a climate-generated architecture, radically changed preconceptions about appropriate forms for high-rise and urban planning. Many of the ecologically sustainable buildings being developed today, owe their design principles to the methodology Ken Yeang developed almost forty years ago.

He continues to apply his principles of ecoarchitecture today in his practice T. R. Hamzah and Yeang and it's sister offices in the UK as Llewelyn Davies Yeang and in China as North Hamzah Yeang Architectural and Engineering Company (Beijing).

To see a cross section of his work and design awards, visit the following websites of his practices.

T.R. Hamzah & Yeang
Llewelyn Davies Yeang

Article: Vanessa Couzens
Photographs / Images: Provided by TR Hamzah & Associates and Llewelyn Davies Yeang