Rethinking Building Construction in an Era of Climate Crises

Ever wondered why Green Building matters for small island countries like Timor-Leste? Accelerator Lab Timor-Leste distills what it means to build “green” in Timor-Leste.

March 17, 2020

Photo © Maria Silvia Dos Reis Lopes/UNDP Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is the 9th country most vulnerable to climate change. Annually, the country experience climate induced disasters particularly landslides, soil-erosion, strong-winds, floods, and drought. Thus, a search for green building is paramount when 1 out of the 7 village (Suco) in Timor-Leste is vulnerable and around 400 houses destroyed annually for a tiny country of 1.2 million people.

Accelerator lab Timor-Leste (AccLabTL) conducted a 3-day workshop which brought together stakeholders from the private sectors, government, universities, NGOs, Civil Engineering Association, Architect Association, and youth groups to make sense of the existing and potential solutions for resilient communities.

The workshop marked the first step in a learning journey to experiment and develop various portfolio of solutions to protect the communities against climate change, while at the same time sustainably manage natural resources.

UNDP RR – Tuya Altangerel and Minister of Public Works Salvador Pires with the participants & Group of Participants working on a sustainable toilet using water bottle as natural lighting

How is a “green” building different?

Various green building certifications highlight many benefits of green buildings. Improving building designs can reduce energy consumption by 30-40%, water by 40% and reduce greenhouse gas emission by 69%. They also enhance indoor air quality and occupant's health and productivity, which supports healthy communities and economic growth (3).

According to World Green Building Council, a green building is “a building that, in its design, construction or operation reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts on our climate and natural environment.”

What it means to build ‘green’ in Timor-Leste?

Currently, there is no building code nor policies and laws governing green building standards and certification. There are some exemplary buildings identified during the workshop which have elements of green building principles. The Pousada de Baucau pavilion (inn), that uses local and readily available materials such as limestone, coconut timber, bamboo and palm leaves and promote the health and well-being of its occupants.

“When we designed the building, we considered it’s sustainability. We also thought about who this building will benefit, the occupants’ wellbeing and how can people maintain this building. We used local materials, local people, and designed the building to use less energy.”

-Vasco Albuquerque, an Architect 

Pavilion of the Baucau Pousada (in Timor-Leste’s second largest city)

Another exemplary building is made of an interlocking Compressed Soil Stabilized Brick (ICSSB). It uses local Timorese earth as its primary source which is cheaper than conventional brick and has durable structural system. Furthermore, the temperature inside this house is also lower than in conventional house. The local company pioneering this is Community Housing Limited Lda – Timor Leste (CHL) which was identified during solution mapping. The “ICSSB” comes to fruition after several years of research CHL has conducted. 

The participants suggested that green buildings in Timor-Leste should reflects Timor-Leste cultural/architectural identify while eliminates negative impact, build resilient to disasters, and create positive impacts on our climate and natural environment, among others, by using local materials, reduce waste in all building operations, efficient use of land, water, and energy, promote green and healthy environment, and connectivity with its surroundings. The participants also recommended the integration of ‘green’ aspect into the Timor-Leste building code currently under development.

Stay tuned as the AccLab Timor-Leste will updates on the various local innovations such as water harvesting/filtration, waste management/recycling, etc for green building and sustainable development. A Green Building challenge will be announced calling for innovative ideas from private sectors, engineers, youths, and any entities.