Taiwan’s Sustainable Architecture Reaches New Heights

New and retrofitted buildings are laying the foundation for architecture that supports the nation’s 2050 net-zero emissions goals.

Sustainable architecture has become a crucial component of real estate development in recent years. Green architecture focuses on the efficient use and recycling of resources, as well as reducing power and water consumption.  

In Taiwan, this trend is evident in the many skyscrapers, office buildings, and apartments that incorporate green architectural features. However, sustainable architecture extends beyond visible elements like solar panels or plant-covered walls. It also encompasses efficiency and environmental im-pact, including the amount of water and power consumed and the types of materials used in construction. 

Sustainable architecture also seamlessly aligns with ESG (environmental, social, and governance) initiatives by minimizing buildings’ environmental impact and enhancing the workplace for employees and the broader community. 

Green buildings are also an important part of Taiwan’s Pathway to Net-Zero Emissions in 2050, a report published by the National Development Council laying out a roadmap for Taiwan’s net-zero goals. One of the goals for commercial buildings is to achieve 100% LED lighting. Additionally, all new public buildings are expected to qualify as Building Energy Efficiency Class 1 structures (achieving near-zero carbon emissions), as determined by the Architecture and Building Research Institute (ABRI). Other focus areas include enhancing exterior design, improving energy efficiency, and deploying smart meters. 

Efficient operations and minimal environmental impact are essential aspects of real estate, says Shawn Jang, managing director of RCI Engineering, a Taichung-based consulting firm specializing in sustainable buildings. “The goal for every project is very simple – to minimize environmental impact and maximize resource efficiency and occupant satisfaction.” 

This goal is applicable to both new and existing buildings. “Our mission is to transform how buildings are designed, built, and operated to create smart, healthy, and resilient places,” says Jang. Among his favorite projects involving sustainable buildings are the Shuter Factory in Nantou County and a residential building designed by Austrian architect Hans Hollein in Kaohsiung.  

“The Shuter Factory is a good example of passive design,” he says. “The buildings are orientated to optimize natural sunlight exposure and use insulated glazing, advanced insulation materials, and air sealing techniques to optimize thermal comfort, minimize heat transfer, and reduce energy loss, thus reducing reliance on mechanical heating and cooling systems.” 

Meanwhile, the Hans Hollein building features vegetated roofs and walls, which improve insulation, reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate the urban heat island effect, and provide habitats for local wildlife.  

The most prominent international green building certificate is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which assesses carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health, and indoor environmental quality. Taiwan’s own green building certification is EEWH, which stands for Ecology, Energy Saving, Waste Reduction, and Health. Established in 1999 and overseen by the Ministry of the Interior’s ABRI, EEWH covers nine factors within the four categories that comprise the name. 

People spend around 80% of their time in a building, making it crucial to consider how this space may make you happier, says Taipei 101 COO Michael Liu.

One of Taiwan’s most notable green buildings is also its tallest and most iconic: Taipei 101. Not only is it one of the world’s tallest buildings, but it is also the tallest green building globally. It has held a LEED Platinum certification – the highest level possible – since 2011, with renewals in 2016 and 2021.  

The building boasts numerous green features. Its energy control management system (ECMS) regulates power, temperature, and air quality, while a rainwater collection platform saves the building over 58,000 tons of water. Among other features are energy-efficient lighting units and controls, as well as double-paned and glazed windows that block external heat. The basement car park also features 33 electric vehicle charging stations for customers and tenants. 

“From 2008 to now, we have deployed over 50 projects in terms of energy savings across the building and shopping mall,” says Michael Liu, Taipei 101’s chief operating officer. An ongoing project involves replacing all existing office lighting fixtures with LED lights, expected to reduce energy consumption by 50%. 

“From 2008 to 2022, our occupancy rate rose from 75% to 95%,” says Liu. “Logically, you would have more power consumption, but actually, we have saved 160 million kWh of electric consumption.” 

The projects were initially met with skepticism from some of Taipei 101’s tenants, who questioned their necessity. However, tenants were won over after learning about the expected savings on their power bills. “Now they know it benefits them,” says Liu. “They can see this in their electric bills as they save a lot of money.” 

Initially, implementing these green features required higher upfront costs, necessitating extensive explanations to the building’s board to secure approval for the expenditure. Since then, the investment has paid dividends not only in reduced power usage and lowered electric bills but also in attracting tenants. 

In addition to LEED, Taipei 101 also holds a WELL Healthy Building Platinum certification, awarded to buildings that enhance the health and wellness of occupants through features like air purification systems and natural lighting. “These certifications signify that both a good workplace environment and welfare of people are important for us,” says Liu. 

In an effort to extend its sustainability efforts, Taipei 101 formed an ESG green building consulting team last year. This team collaborates with clients, including China Trust on its Nangang headquarters, to incorporate green features, manage carbon offsets, and assist in applying for certifications such as LEED and WELL.  

For the benefit of EV drivers, Taipei 101 has installed charging stations in its basement car park.

“We have four expert consultants who work with our engineers every day,” says Liu. “They have a lot of practical experience and knowledge of green buildings. They can also do green spaces like offices and boutiques.” 

Liu further stresses the “social” aspect of ESG, such as the welfare and happiness of a building’s staff and tenants, as important aspects that are sometimes underappreciated in Taiwan.  

“People engagement, how to make people happy, these are abstract ideas and not so common in Asia,” says Liu. “We spend 80% of our time in a building, so [it’s important to look at] how this space can make you happier, how you engage with other people.”  

To this end, Taipei 101 established a “Sky Park” on its 35th floor – a shared space designed for the building’s tenants and staff to relax, hold meetings, or work outside their usual office environments. This area also showcases fittings made from recycled materials and lights produced by 3D printing. 

Retrofitted solutions 

Green architecture extends beyond new constructions – existing buildings can also adopt sustainable features. One of these is the Regent Taipei, one of the city’s most renowned luxury hotels since its opening in 1990, established a herbal garden in February. This garden features over 10 types of herbs, including basil, mint, and rosemary, which the hotel’s restaurant uses to offer guests a sustainable dining experience. The hotel’s hands-on, farm-to-table sustainable dining packages allow guests to pick herbs, which they can then learn to cook from the hotel’s chefs. All guests can also enjoy a stroll through the 580-square-meter garden. 

“Sustainable dining is not merely a concept but an actionable commitment,” says Simon Wu, general manager of Regent Taipei.  

For its part, Taipei-based law firm Winkler Partners, which occupies the top two floors of a 14-story building, has implemented a comprehensive green workplace vision, reflected in installed rooftop solar panels, an outdoor roof garden, and a terrace.  

“We not only want to provide the best professional services to our clients, but we also want to provide the best work environment for our colleagues and make the best contribution we can to our community – not just local and legal communities, but the natural environment,” says Peter Dernbach, coordinating partner at Winkler Partners. 

Regent Taipei’s hands-on, farm-to-table sustainable dining packages allow guests to pick herbs, which they can then learn to cook from the hotel’s chefs.

The rooftop garden at Winkler Partners features an array of trees and shrubs, along with small plots where 25 of the firm’s employees can grow vegetables and herbs. This garden serves multiple purposes, from providing fresh produce and a natural habitat for birds to contributing to energy efficiency by absorbing heat.  

“One was to reduce the heat and the amount of electricity we use to cool the office during hot summer months,” says Dernbach. “The original design was a natural ecosystem area, which did help to achieve that purpose. We also did want to encourage colleagues to take time to experience nature, so we found that adding the ability to grow vegetables made it something for colleagues to talk about and create a different interaction.”  

Installed in 2017, Winkler Partners’ solar panels now supply about 25% of the firm’s power needs. “Both central and local governments have programs to encourage people to install solar panels on their rooftops, but the process of doing that is quite time-consuming,” says Dernbach.  

While the firm benefited from a Taipei City incentive program that subsidized the installation, gaining approval from all other tenants in the building initially delayed the process. Since then, the approval threshold for installing solar panels has been lowered to two-thirds of the tenants in a building.  

The government has taken several steps to improve sustainable architecture. “There are more government initiatives that help drive the market,” says Jang. “All new Taiwan government building developments are required to apply for Taiwan’s EEWH standard.” 

Moreover, subsidies for specific types of buildings, including private schools and residential structures encourage renovations that comply with EEWH standards. Despite these incentives, challenges persist due to bureaucratic procedures and regulations.  

Jang identifies regulatory hurdles, such as the implementation of engineered timber in buildings, as significant challenges that need to be addressed. Regulatory frameworks and bureaucratic processes can often impede or even discourage the adoption of green building practices. Streamlining approval procedures and providing incentives for sustainable construction could help surmount these obstacles, he says. 

“There’s a growing awareness among the public about the benefits of green architecture, leading to increased demand for sustainable buildings and practices,” says Jang. He adds that “educational initiatives and public campaigns would further promote the importance of green design and construction.” Jang himself teaches LEED lab classes at Feng Chia University in Taichung, the only such class offered at a university in Taiwan. 

Winkler Partners’ Dernbach agrees that simplifying the application procedures for solar roof panels would be beneficial. “We have not seen the pickup in solar panels in residential communities or office buildings where the ownership is distributed. That is something that could be streamlined, which would then act as an impetus to make that change.”  

Jang urges the government to be more proactive in promoting public awareness. “When [the authorities] build government buildings and apply for green building certifications, tell us how much energy you used and how much water you save as we don’t know. The government requires government buildings to be green buildings, but the public doesn’t know this – so teach us.” 

Addressing these challenges could take Taiwan’s green infrastructure to new heights, Jang says. “Compared to other places like Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, we’re doing good, but we could do more to advance the building industry.”