Oct 19, 2007

Design Lessons from Glorietta Explosion

Many will be talking about today's blast in Glorietta, but most will ignore two important design elements that came into play but will be ignored. First is the design of our buildings in general and second is the design of security in malls and other public places in our country.

Design of Buildings. An eyewitness interview in TV Patrol revealed an important detail that will be ignored by most of us. The eyewitness, who was inside the mall when the blast happened, said that it took several minutes because they could get out of the mall because it was very, very dark.

Most of our building designs were patterned after old, western design: bulky, hulking structures. Just look at the boxy, claustrophobic design of Megamall or the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the buildings in its vicinity.

In today's global-warming-conscious world, these buildings are energy inefficient. They suck up thousands of watts of electricity daily, just to power air conditioning, lighting, escalators and elevators.

Ironically, we are in a tropical country with lots of sun and wind. We should take advantage of this by making buildings that use lots of natural light and air to save on electric costs.

Our architects need to look back into the design of more traditional houses. The bahay kubo and bahay na bato maximized natural lighting and ventilation. But we have destroyed most of these buildings and erected instead unventilated bungalows and box buildings.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

actually, from a design efficiency standpoint -those commercial box buildings, as ugly as they are, are more efficient than building with more fenestration, especially in tropical weather.

glass scapes with views are ornamentation - they do bring in light and can save money on the lighting side during the day -but they also bring in heat - which then taxes your AC system.

the box allows you to utilize all the floor space up to the walls.

on a per meter operating costs vs. profit, SM's megamall does better than the Glorietta complex. SM can keep a lower overhead, and so can offer lower rental rates.

also slower egress may have saved more lives by preventing stampedes. (cf -this study on the movement of panicked crowds)

that said, i agree those boxes are ugly. and we can benefit from better models of passive cooling and natural lighting.

Robby Villabona said...

Just a trip to the 2nd floor of SM Mall of Asia or the 5th level of Megamall will demonstrate what Urbano is saying. Those floors are very uncomfortable in sunny weather because of the skylight windows. If you want to keep airconditioning efficient, you have to insulate the building from outside heat as much as possible.

As pretty as it looks, I believe Greenbelt 3 was one of the worst-designed malls when it debuted. It's a design fit for Southern California, not hot, humid, and rainy Metro Manila. The only time that place is truly comfortable is in February, or at night. Even today you'll have to walk in rain puddles as you go through some of its walkways. And just to illustrate how lessons haven't been learned, we now have Serendra and Bonifacio "High Street"...

I really don't think Metro Manila has weather conducive to natural cooling and ventilation. Perhaps there's ways of making cooling more efficient, but with outside temperatures of 30-32 degrees celsius, you're not going to get people to go to malls without AC. If you look at Singapore malls they're mostly boxy with very little windows as well.

For me, the design issue with Glorietta is that it's too symmetrical. And because everything looks the same from different points within the mall, the casual Glorietta shopper (or person looking for an emergency exit) easily gets lost.

And now I will go look up 'fenestration'... :-)

ben c. said...

Urbano (aka Benjie) and Robby, thanks for the comments.

A friend of mine, Clifford Espinosa was approached by SM to try and solve the perennial problem of Megamall's skylight. It was letting in warmth that was a pain in the aircon system of the 5th floor.

His solution: drizzle water regularly over the skylight, to cool it down. Of course, this creates another problem in itself (water usage).

The problem with the Megamall skylight, methinks, is that it is horizontally oriented, absorbing all of the light rays. If they were tilted at an angle, then some of the heat could be bounced back. Using polarized filters will also help filter the rest of the heat.

ben c. said...


Urbano, I wasn't able to tie up the piece cleanly. I was not advocating for glass, solely. What I meant was a better use of sunlight and ventilation, through open spaces. :)

Robby Villabona said...

Hi, Benc,

I think of Tiendesitas and am skeptical of no AC to cool a commercial location in Metro Manila enough to attract a crowd (never mind using sunlight for internal lighting). The only way I can think of at this point is using sun and wind to power the AC and your lights, but that's still more expensive.

Which reminds me, one of the more inappropriate technologies a lot of establishments (including Tiendesitas) are using are those so-called evaporative coolers, which really don't do much in a humid environment. Mas nakamura sana sila kung bentilador na lang nilagay.