Sustainability in architecture, with Vaishnavi Rajasekaran – LEED Green Associate

While it is true that LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification exists only for buildings, for entire companies and individual architects the opportunity exists to gain recognition from the US Green Building Council as an expert in LEED.

Vaishnavi Rajasekaran has attained her LEED Green Associate credentials, and hopes to get the letters ‘LEED AP’ after her name (AP stands for Accredited Professional) in the second exam later this year. We spoke to her about how she gained the first accreditation, her passion for sustainability and her thoughts on sustainability trends and features in architecture in the UAE.
LEED architect DubaiBSBG Blog: So how does one become a LEED Accredited Professional?

Vaishnavi: “The LEED accreditation comes in two stages: first you have to take a written exam and pass the first stage. Once you’ve done this you are recognised as a LEED Green Associate. You then have to take the AP exam which is more focused on the specific area of architecture or design in which you specialise. But once you get the accreditation, it doesn’t end there. You have to have continuous education which I think is 30 hours every two years. Six of these hours need to be LEED specific. You really need to keep improving yourself and staying on track with the latest developments and trends in sustainability.”

BSBG Blog: What led to you aim for LEED AP status? Are you passionate about the environment?

Vaishnavi: “The misconception is that when people think about green building design, it is assumed this relates to how energy efficient the building is, but it’s a lot more than that. The reason for my interest is because I want to continue to be involved in impactful architecture that improves people’s lives, while also having a minimal impact on the environment of course. We use the three P’s when we design, and these are people, planet and profit.

“If the building has many green features, the construction process will cost more, however in the long term, the building will save the owners money because it consumes less energy and less water and is more efficient all round. We also consider the interior environmental quality, so for example the classic case particularly in the UAE is with air conditioning units. As dirty air gets pumped around the building, people can get ill and productivity levels can drop. LEED certification requires clean air to be distributed throughout the building – so that’s just one aspect, but it’s a lot of things that, when put together, enable a building to be LEED certified. But of course, like anyone, I am passionate about the need to look after our planet for sure!”

BSBG Blog: So a green building is not just one that uses renewable energy sources, like solar power?

Vaishnavi: “Well, that’s part of it, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Green building design involves a really elaborate system that relates to the initial setting of some goals or objectives – and these can be accomplished in any number of ways. In terms of power, the usual objective would be to reduce reliance on fossil fuels or traditional sources of energy and reduce energy bills for the building. But this doesn’t just relate to placing solar panels on the roof, this could mean that you design in such a way so as to maximise the level of natural light that enters the building. There’s no set method, there’s an objective, and you can choose to meet that objective in the way you consider to be the most effective for the individual project.”

BSBG Blog: How important are green practices in architecture here in the UAE?

Vaishnavi: “I would say it’s at a good level, but there’s still work to be done. I worked in Singapore and the emphasis they place on sustainability there now is something quite remarkable. In Dubai at this moment, there isn’t yet that commitment to environmentally friendly designs. For example, in Singapore all the government buildings have to be sustainable. They have their own ratings system there specifically for government buildings.

“I think this will happen here with Dubai architecture eventually, because for marketability, credibility, and also as the requirements are upgraded over time, those that adapted early on will be best positioned to prosper in the long term. Even now if the project doesn’t have what you might consider a real environmental aspect to it, I still employ the core concepts of what I have learned through LEED accreditation – like how the building glass can be more efficient and better protect employees working in the building for glare or heat. It’s only small touches, but we employ these values and it improves the user experience at the end, which is really the whole objective of architecture.”

BSBG Blog: Do you think the landscape is changing in Dubai now regarding the approach to sustainability? After all, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has introduced some pretty demanding energy targets for Dubai, which can only be accomplished with utilising what you have learned…

Vaishnavi: “The mind-set is shifting, but I think what is needed to really kick-start a push for LEED certification on buildings is to educate people and spread awareness of the benefits from a commercial or economic point of view for sustainability in building design and construction.

“The general consensus is that it’s expensive, but in the longer run it’s so much cheaper to run a building as the energy bills are dramatically reduced 10 years down the line. If people can have a way to visualise the financial savings and environmental benefits from investing more at an early stage, LEED certification would be made a priority before such times as it is made a basic requirement for building approval.”

We also asked Armin Buchbinder, BSBG Head of Design, about his thoughts on Vaishnavi’s accreditation. He said: “Now more organisations actually require or prefer a team to include a LEED AP when submitting a proposal. And this goes for both public and private sectors. As a practice we are well known for our work in sustainability, having delivered the Masdar HQ in Masdar City, amongst other projects. I’m really happy that Vaishnavi is working towards becoming a LEED AP because that helps position us even more advantageously as the demand for green buildings and sustainability grows in the Middle East…”

Learn more about BSBG’s sustainable projects by clicking here.