Visions of sustainability
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2014 - 12:00am

The environment is of critical concern nationwide. In today’s reality of climate change, natural disasters and rapid, or in the Philippines’ case, rabid, urbanization, the main question is one of sustainability. How can we continue to build structures, communities, and whole cities without compromising the ability of future generations to live at the same, or better, quality of life we enjoy today?

“Sustainability” is bandied about by organizations, institutions and companies, but the term is loosely used by many. There are those, however, who take it seriously. To them the concept of sustainability covers not only the environment, but also equally as important are critical development-related concerns including efficient use of resources, social progress, economic growth, and the challenge of mitigating poverty.

One such company that does take sustainability seriously is Holcim. The global corporation’s core business supports the construction industry. Infrastructure and buildings can make a major contribution to a more sustainable future for everyone on this fragile planet of ours. This fragility and the fact that the whole world is now more than half urban make plain the urgent need for sustainable buildings to ensure long-term environmental, economic and social viability.

Holcim is dedicated to these pressing concerns, and as early as 2003, it set up the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction “to raise awareness on the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning and construction have in achieving a more sustainable future — and to globally encourage critical interdisciplinary and long-range perspectives.”

I was in Jakata, Indonesia the other week at the Holcim Awards, Asia Pacific edition. The Holcim Awards is the foundation’s most visible channel of pursuing its goal of raising awareness and encouraging new paradigms for sustainability. The Holcim Awards competition has been held regularly since a decade ago and is a two-stage competition, first at a regional level, then at a culminating global awards event.

The competition is open to entries in architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and urban design, materials, products and construction technologies that contribute to five target issues for sustainable construction — Innovation and transferability, Ethical standards and social equity, Resources and environmental performance, Economic viability and compatibility, and Contextual and aesthetic impact.

We flew into Jakarta a few days ahead of the awards night and had a chance to go around the Indonesian Capital. The first thing I noticed was its operating BRT (bus rapid transit) system. This sustainable mode of transport is helping to address the metropolis’ need to move people efficiently. We have been talking about it for years but Jakarta already has its BRT up and apparently successfully running.

We also were able to tour the city’s heritage sites. Jakarta was, like Manila, a colonial capital. Its historic core near the harbor is relatively intact and is now being conserved and revived. Heritage conservation is an acknowledged avenue for sustainability.

A group of us from the Philippines, including architect Mike Guerrero, visited a Holcim Hub on the outskirts of the metropolis, where homebuilders could tap the expertise of engineers and architects to use modular parts manufactured by Holcim to cost-effectively construct their own modern homes. A similar facility has been introduced in the Philippines.


The awarding ceremony of the final night was a wonderful presentation of  the region’s best sustainable construction projects with a focus on local context and the enhancement of communities. Thirteen projects to be implemented in nine countries in the Asia Pacific region were recognized with a total of US$330,000 prize money.

A bird sanctuary in northern Thailand that serves as both an educational facility and bird rehabilitation center won the gold prize. The fascinating project highlighted an integrated approach to bird conservation by Jariyawadee Lekawatana of Architectkidd and Singh Intrachooto of Kasetsart University in Bangkok, together with Chak Cherdsatirkul of Kaomai Lanna Resort, Chiang Mai.

The design simulates the natural habitat and includes a small hotel and bird viewing tower. Palm fiber discarded from agricultural production is re-valued as a construction material for the building envelope providing additional habitat and food sources for all birds in the area.

At the prize-giving ceremony in Jakarta, jury member Donald Bates (Australia) congratulated the Holcim Awards gold winners for their innovative approach to addressing the devastating effects of bird trafficking on the survival of endangered wildlife. “The project’s stance is aligned with the principles advocated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and combines architectural qualities with conservation, education, research and eco-tourism in a complete and convincing way.”



The Lali Gurans orphanage and library in Kathmandu, Nepal by Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS Architects in New York, USA won the Silver prize. The project addresses the needs of an under-served rural population with a facility that uses low-technology renewable energy and material resources, thus significantly reducing operating costs. Vertical gardens and permaculture provide thermal insulation as well as food for cooking.

A project in the rural town of Ambepussa by Milinda Pathiraja of Robust Architecture Workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka was given the Bronze prize. The project aims to re-integrate former soldiers into post-civil-war society by providing training in building techniques through the construction of a community library. The slender building sits lightly in the landscape and wraps around an inner courtyard, taking full advantage of cross ventilation and daylight use, rammed-earth walls and recycled materials reduce the building’s ecological footprint.

The organizers also gave five Acknowledgement prizes for responsive approaches in construction. Madhusudhan Rao Chalasani of MADE, India, received one of the equally-ranked Acknowledgement prizes for a community medical center and school in Tatiba Baraibura, Jharkhand, India that combines local materials and traditional craftsmanship with modern technology to create a simple yet elegant building.

Benoît Jacquet of École française d›Extrême-Orient and Manuel Tardits of Mikan, Japan were acknowledged for a sustainable research center in Kyoto, Japan that uses advanced technological features as well as time-honored Japanese woodworking methods to allow rapid construction.


A further Acknowledgement prize went to a plan incorporating stakeholder participation for urban upgrading in Jakarta, Indonesia by Tomohiko Amemiya of UNITYDESIGN in Japan and a team from Universitas Indonesia that uses a two-step micro intervention to upgrade informal settlements in megacities.

Two additional awardees of Acknowledgement prizes included a response by Maj Plemenitas of LINKscale in the UK to the imminent threat of coastal erosion due to rising waters by using palm tree branches for the coastal protection of Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati; and an urban water transport system in Bangkok, Thailand by Santi Sombatwichatorn of D I Designs, Thailand.

The Holcim Awards also featured five “Next Generation” prizes for students and young professionals as it looks for bold new ideas for the future. This category is meant for participants up to 30 years of age.

The “Next Generation” 1st prize went to Harvard Graduate School of Design student Zhe Peng for the historic village reconstruction of Xueshan, China. The design proposes a post-earthquake reconstruction of a historic village in Sichuan Province that focuses on the unique local characteristics of the site, bamboo as the main building material.

Nusrat Jahan Mim from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology won second prize for a modular housing plan for urban poor in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The third prize went to Antonius Richard Rusli from Universitas Katolik Parahyangan, Indonesia for an urban neighborhood remediation plan of Bandung, Indonesia, while Eugene Tan, from my alma mater, the National University of Singapore, won the fourth prize for an urban network upgrading concept in Tangerang, Indonesia.

The fifth prize was pawarded to Meriem Chabani, Etienne Chobaux, and John Edom from École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris Malaquais, France for an intervention plan for the Chittagong garment district in Bangladesh.

Holcim Awards submissions for projects in Asia Pacific were evaluated by an independent jury hosted by the Tsinghua University in Beijing and included Rahul Mehrotra (head of jury, India), Marc Angélil (Switzerland), Donald Bates (Australia), Momoyo Kaijima (Japan), Forrest Meggers (Singapore), Geeta Mehta (USA), Ian Riley (China), Stephen Siu-Yu Lau (Hong Kong/China), Brinda Somaya (India), Davy Sukamta (Indonesia), and Yue Zhang (China).

The Holcim Awards ceremony in Jakarta for the competition is the final one of a series of five events that were held in Moscow for Europe, Toronto for North America, Medellín for Latin America, and Beirut for Africa Middle East. The projects that received Holcim Awards Gold, Silver and Bronze in each region will automatically qualify for the Global Holcim Awards 2015.

The global concern of a critically-compromised environment is one we have yet to fully embrace in the Philippines. Awards programs like Holcim’s give us hope that there are options and strategies to address specific and contextual issues of sustainability.  There was participation by Philippine entries to the competition, but no entry made it to the final selection. We need to dig deeper in research, design, and innovation to find solutions; not just to win this prestigeous contest but to make a difference in our own struggle for sustainability.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at For more information on Holcim foundation, the company and the awards competition log on to

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