In May 2015 the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh inaugurated arguably one of the most environmentally friendly building in Vietnam. Housing 10 United Nations organisations under one roof — previously they were scattered around the capital in different offices — Green One UN House achieves a number of goals; it’s energy efficient, it uses recycled materials and it has an open-plan working environment. It also has a fully integrated ICT platform used by all the different agencies, a first for the UN.
Yet creating a building that allowed for a better, healthier, safer and more productive working environment for UN staff was a challenge — two decades worth of challenge — and it was only in 2007 that together with the Vietnamese government, the UN in Vietnam were finally given the go-ahead to search out premises. Aiming to construct a model building that demonstrates the viability of innovative sustainable buildings in Vietnam, according to Louise Chamberlain, country director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN also wanted to set a benchmark in the region for green office design and make a firm statement of the their commitment to sustainable development.
“[We eventually chose] to renovate the apartment building for UN staff in Van Phuc compound — it had been built in the early 1990s,” she says. “The premises are centrally located and had sufficient space to accommodate the target number of staff of 16 UN organisations. Following competitive and consultative design processes, the basic design was drawn up in early 2011.”
With construction hiccups overcome — the need to reinforce the roof structure due to the unforeseen structural concerns and the discovery of a high-voltage cable underground that did not exist on any drawings — the Green UN One House was completed in early 2015. In June of the same year, all the different UN agencies moved into the new building.
A Sustainable Future
From green roofs and energy efficient lighting and air conditioning, through to draught-tolerant landscaping, every aspect of sustainability seems to have been thought of here. In a country with rising air pollution issues, of particular note is the use of non-toxic building materials. Many building materials are made up of low-volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that affect indoor air quality.
“By choosing materials that have less harmful components to human health, we have created a more healthy level of indoor air quality for our staff,” says Louise. “This can reduce allergies and the risk of other long-term health impacts.”
Other features include the conservation of energy by maximizing natural light and using energy-efficient lighting, and walls built with a lightweight material that insulates well, reducing the energy requirement for cooling and heating. In addition, when the building’s solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, excess power can be returned to Vietnam Electricity (EVN), reducing the net consumption of electricity.
“Over time, the savings in energy and water consumption add up,” says Louise. “But more importantly, we want to demonstrate to others the feasibility of green buildings in Vietnam; they are effective, efficient and they save money in the long run.”
She adds: “If large corporations and government agencies can commit to sustainable buildings and a more green and safe construction industry, this can affect the entire industry — and save lives.”