Indigenous Green Architecture: The Future of Affordable Sustainable Building

Implementing sustainable methods in Malaysia’s building sector has always been a challenge whereby developers, owners and tenants are constantly seeking win-win solutions to benefit both the environment and the industry. In this section, Dr Zalina Shari (ZS), senior lecturer at the Faculty of Design and Architecture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, shares her perception on how to close the gaps between sustainable building and affordable living with indigenous Green architecture that is rich in local character, cultural identity and climate sensibility.

Malaysia has experienced rapid urbanisation within the past 30 years. Are there effective planning policies to control urban sprawl in the country?
ZS: Sprawl is the result of the migration of urban populations from major city centres to urban fringe areas due to changing lifestyles, which emphasised on spacious, more affordable and comfortable living environment. For the past 30 years, intense urban sprawl has occurred in the metropolitan areas of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor. Agricultural and forest lands have been converted to suburban development patterns at an alarming rate, extending our city centre boundaries further. Many of these developments are of low density, requiring cars to move between zones. This trend has contributed to increased ecological, social and economic consequences.

However, the government has shown commitment towards sustainable growth. For example, the government has developed and implemented the National Physical Plan (NPP) and National Urbanisation Policy (NUP) to control urban sprawl, as well as the National Housing Policy to encourage urban renewal and redevelopment. Other related policies that generally promote sustainable development and Green growth are the National Policy on Climate Change, Road Map for Reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and National Green Technology Policy. There are also planning guidelines to control activities in land development. For example, the guideline on Environmental Sensitive Areas (ESA) was developed to assist in deciding the type of use and activities that can be allowed in areas designated as ESA and the minimum planning standards that must be applied for each use. The Green Neighbourhood Planning Guideline is about achieving low carbon societies and improving the standard and quality of life. I must also mention that Malaysia has a couple of rating systems for city and town scales, such as the Low Carbon Cities Framework and Assessment System (LCCF) that was developed by the government, and the Green Building Index (GBI) for Township that was developed by the industry.

Though these policies and guidelines are well and good, what gets translated on the ground is still replete with gaps. There are still environmental problems in Malaysia and we need to close these gaps. Unless the public is willing to align their attitudes with the requirements of sustainability, no legislation or conservation programme—however well designed—will be successful or have the desired impact.

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