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Green Without Envy: Malaysia’s Eco-Conscious Buildings And What Makes Them Special

In a world besieged by a climate crisis, green buildings have become the next big thing in Malaysia, with growing numbers of green buildings and green development projects across the country. Seas of grey concrete are now being broken up by emerald gems reaching towards the heavens, providing oases of natural calm in the hustle bustle of the city.

Green buildings are nothing new, with many countries having constructed their own green structures. But thanks to one Ken Yeang, Malaysia was one of the earliest countries to get onto the eco-conscious architecture trend.

So what makes Malaysia’s green buildings so special? And will we continue to see a green wave in the future?

What Makes A Building Green?

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

Such buildings are built with the environment in mind – aiming to preserve our natural resources while at the same time, improving our quality of life. Essentially, a green building aims to maximise the efficiency of energy, water, and use of materials, while also reducing its effects on human health and the environment[1].

Among the benefits green buildings provide throughout their lifecycle[1]:

  • Use less electricity (up to 50% less), reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Recycle construction waste and minimise emissions of toxic substances
  • Save water through the use of rainwater harvesting and efficient fittings

What Makes A Building Green In Malaysia?

Source: iProperty

Believe it or not, Malaysia has specific requirements for what constitutes a green building.

Of course, different countries have completely different definitions or characteristics for what makes a green building, due to different climate conditions, unique cultures, building types, as well as other environmental, economic and social priorities.

Here in Malaysia, the main body governing certification of green buildings is the Green Building Index (GBI), a non-profit initiative and an internationally recognised green building tool founded by the Malaysian Institute of Architects and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia in 2009, with the aim of building a more sustainable future by reducing our cities’ carbon footprint and improve our built environment[1].

What Are the GBI’s Criteria?

The GBI awards points based on the following green building features and green design elements[1]:

  1. Energy Efficiency: measures how the project is able to eliminate greenhouse gases by reducing energy demand, resulting in better energy performance. This includes optimising building’s orientation to maximise natural lighting, as well as the use of renewable energy such as solar panels.
  2. Indoor Environmental Quality: measures the project’s methods for better indoor air quality, acoustics, as well as visual and thermal comfort through natural passive design and active mechanical solutions. The result is a comfortable indoor air environment for all occupants.
  3. Sustainable Site Planning and Management: measures the project’s construction practices, which includes its connectivity to public transportation options, greenery (landscaping), open spaces, and community services.
  4. Materials and Resources: measure the project’s utilisation of construction materials that are environmentally friendly and sustainability sourced, as well as the implementation of proper construction waste management.
  5. Water Efficiency: measures how the project is able to integrate the use of rainwater harvesting systems, water recycling, and water-efficient fittings. The aim is to reduce potable water consumption in the building or development.
  6. Innovation: measures how the project uses new innovative design and initiatives, examples include the use of solar thermal technology and the use of self-cleaning facades – a higher score is awarded for developments that go above and beyond the requirements set by the GBI.

Why Go Green?

Almost 50% of our annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are attributed to buildings. And with urban areas being expected to hold almost 70% of the human population by 2050, we can expect built areas to become a major hindrance to our goals of achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Source: iProperty

As such, green buildings are increasingly becoming a major solution to this issue, not only reducing the negative impacts of development, but also providing positive impacts on the surrounding environment and its residents[2].

Malaysia, being a developing country, is going to have a lot of large-scale developments in the future, especially considering that up to 87% of its population will reside in urban areas by 2050. As the building sector continues to be one of the largest users of energy and emitters of CO2, the optimisation of energy and resource usage in the construction and maintenance of buildings has become increasingly crucial. By promoting and rewarding the efficient use of natural resources, green building rating systems like the GBI are playing a significant role in the road to net zero by 2050[2].

Among the benefits of green buildings include[1]:

  • Reduced energy usage i.e. incorporating natural light to reduce the need for artificial light
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Improved water efficiency i.e. rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling
  • Improved air quality i.e. using non-toxic materials and improved ventilation
  • Cost savings i.e. improved energy and water efficiency can help reduce utility bills
  • Improved quality of life i.e. spaces constructed with the natural environment in mind can lower stress, boost productivity, and increase creativity

Ecologist First, Architect Second

Malaysia owes much of its green architecture to one man.

Eco-architect Ken Yeang (Source: The Star)

When Ken Yeang started out, he was considered something of a rogue designer with his new and never-heard ideologies on ecology and architecture. But these eco-conscious designs and ideas ended up propelling him to fame as one of Malaysia’s best and most famous architects.

Born in Penang, Yeang studied at Cheltenham College in England and furthered his education in Architecture at the London Architectural Association. He received his Ph.D. in Ecological Design from Cambridge University and would go on to make a name for himself as a pioneer in eco-friendly architecture, best exemplified by describing himself as an “Ecologist first, architect second[3]. It is no wonder the Guardian listed him as “one of the 50 people who could save the planet” in 2008[4].

We continue to throw things away, but there is no ‘away’. The ‘away’ is the biosphere itself, because the Earth is a closed system. So when we continue to make things, continue to generate emissions, throw plastics, we contaminate the world we live in, causing environmental degradation. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect[4]

One of Yeang’s projects is his own house, known as the “Roof Roof House” built in 1985. Named after its distinctive dual-roof design, this unique design serves as an environmental filter, blocking off the tropical Malaysian heat and providing much-needed shade. Other environmentally-friendly cooling features Yeang had incorporated into this house include a swimming pool functioning as an evaporative cooling device and doors that allow the morning sunlight in while also blocking out heat and radiation[3].

“Roof Roof House” by Ken Yeang. Source: EdgeProp

In his years of experience, Yeang has developed an intimate knowledge of the finer details of Sustainability and Green Design. Many of us make the simple mistake of assuming that sustainable design is as simple as placing a lot of plants, trellises, or rooftop gardens around the building or area.

We would be mistaken to see green design as simply about eco-engineering. These engineering systems are indeed (an) important part of green design…but these are not exclusively the only considerations in green design. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect, in his book, “Sustainable Retrofitting of Commercial Buildings: Warmer Climates[3]

Yeang also believes that “active solutions” like solar panels, air conditioning, building automation systems, double-skin facades, as well as building accreditation ratings such as LEED, do not make up the entirety of sustainable design. Instead, he prefers to emphasise the importance of passive systems built within the design and forming stronger connections to the natural environment[3].

Everything in nature is connected. A green building has to start with ecology. We have to teach and learn ecology, because it changes the way we look at the world, the way we design, and the curriculum of schools of architecture. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect[4]

Yeang has been disappointed by the lack of ecology training and studies in today’s architecture education.

Schools of architecture have to teach ecology in the first year itself and let that drive architecture. Then we will look at materials from source to site and, later, how to recycle materials. So the whole way of teaching has to change. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect[4]

Likewise, he also emphasised the importance of putting people first in design.

What is very important is, while I focus on green design, we must remember that we are designing for people. The whole purpose of architecture is to make people happy, then we make it green at the same time because it’s an ethical thing to do for the environment. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect[4]

Green Buildings In Malaysia

Malaysia has already made a master plan for building sustainable urban areas in the country, with at least 389 registered Green Building Index (GBI) projects spanning from individual households to factories and even townships. And the number only continues to grow.

Here are some of Malaysia’s most notable green buildings and green development projects and some of their key features, which are not only excellent for the environment but also help occupants live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

#1: University of Technology Sarawak (UTS) – Sibu, Sarawak

Green building certification: GBI Platinum

Year of completion: 2013

The University of Technology Sarawak (UTS) was established back in 2013 and in 2021, the uni campus located in Sibu, Sarawak went viral on various social media platforms for how beautiful its buildings are[5].

But more than just looks, UTS’s campus also prides itself on being the first Malaysian university to be awarded the prestigious Platinum rating in the GBI for its design that incorporates green elements in its design and planning to create a beautiful, eco-friendly campus[2].

#2: Bandar Rimbayu Township – Telok Panglima Garang

Source: PropertyGuru

Green building certification: GBI Silver

Year of completion: Various

Bandar Rimbayu Township is designed to provide the comfort of an environmentally friendly township development, offering both residential areas in natural environments and the convenience of high connectivity to major highways[6].

Each house at Bandar Rimbayu incorporates renewable energy and energy efficiency, with great indoor ventilation, solar-powered water heaters and rain harvesting systems, ensuring excellent efficiency and a high quality of life at lowered utility costs[1].

In addition to providing green spaces and an improved quality of life for residents, Bandar Rimbayu also operates on a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principle that incorporates security into the landscaping of this extensive development. For example, a green buffer zone separates motorised lanes and pedestrian walkways[6].

#3: Leisure Farm Resort – Iskandar Malaysia

Source: PropertyGuru

Green building certification: GBI Certified

Year of completion: 2025

Leisure Farm Resort Central Spine @ Iskandar Malaysia represents the very first GBI-certified property in this huge multi-billion Ringgit development corridor. Benefitting from both its close proximity to Singapore, and the significant development drive of the Iskandar Malaysia project in Johor, Leisure Farm Resort is built upon the principle of Sustainability, Energy, Environment, Design, and Security (SEEDS) for a positive sustainable building policy.

The project has already won numerous awards for liveability, property achievements, and architectural excellence, the wider masterplan for this luxury eco-development incorporates extensive natural land to enjoy, as well as a golf and country club[6].

#4: Bukit Bintang City Centre – Kuala Lumpur

Source: PropertyGuru

Green building certification: GBI Gold

Year of completion: 2020

The iconic development of Bukit Bintang City Centre (BBCC) is one of Malaysia’s flagship green building development projects and includes the Menara 188 skyscraper, the second-tallest building in Malaysia stretching over 2,000 feet into the air above downtown Kuala Lumpur.

More importantly to the subject, BBCC serves as a vital green lung for downtown Kuala Lumpur, with green outdoor areas and landscaping as part of a connected building ecosystem, with the highlight (literally) in the form of a stunning rooftop park. This greenery is not just part of the outside but also interwoven with the building’s structure to enhance the ambience, aesthetics, and green living environment for residents[6].

Green Building: The Future of Sustainable Development In Malaysia

It is clear that green architecture will have a bright future in this country. Malaysia has already shown her commitment towards creating more sustainable cities through the greenlighting and construction of over 500 green building projects.

Many multinational corporations (MNC) are also moving or planning to move into green buildings, especially where there are cost savings for their branches globally. For instance, if offices or industrial spaces can be more efficient in saving electricity costs, these cost savings do add up significantly across their branches worldwide. In this way, MNCs will be able to show their commitment towards reducing carbon emissions while also ensuring the most efficient usage of their resources[7].

Ken Yeang, being the visionary that he is, is already pushing the boundaries of design and the natural environment with his theories on Vertical Green Urbanism. Yeang envisions a future where skyscrapers double as sustainable vertical cities, featuring vertical gardens, courts, water harvesting systems, etc. and the ground will create an opportunity for wildlife to regenerate.

Yeang best highlights this in his book “Bioclimatic Skyscrapers”, where he describes skyscrapers as an intensification of built space in the small floor area and will become the future as the cities expand. He believed that as a response, buildings should be bioclimatic, energy-efficient, and sustainable especially for the wellness of the users[3].


There is already a significant number of green building projects in Malaysia that have gained national and international acclaim, and the increasing demand for green buildings in this country will only serve as an encouragement to greenlight or complete such green projects.

Not only that, but the growing number of green building projects will hopefully encourage more architecture classes to adopt ecology- and sustainability-focused lessons in order to breed a new generation of eco-architects following Ken Yeang’s footsteps.

So don’t be surprised that another green building project has been greenlighted. And that’s a good thing, not just for the environment but also for you and your family.

Architecture is an art – it has to be aesthetically beautiful, but not to the extent of wasting resources and materials.

(To sum it up), architecture must do five things – it must work, meet (design) criteria, look immensely beautiful, be green, and make people happy. – Datuk Dr Ken Yeang, eco-architect[4]

Explore our sources:

  1. N. Yong. (2021). Green buildings in Malaysia: Everything you need to know. iProperty. Link.
  2. Energy Watch. (2022). Malaysia’s Green Building Index Paves the Way to Sustainable Development. Link.
  3. M. Panlilio. (2020). Ken Yeang: On Sustainable, Green, and Biophilic design. ACIIID. Link.
  4. W. Li Za. (2021). Designing green buildings starts with ecology, says Malaysian architect Ken Yeang. The Star. Link.
  5. Alena. (2021). Breathtaking University In Sarawak Goes Viral & It Even has Environment-Friendly Features! World of Buzz. Link.
  6. PropertyGure. (2022). Green Buildings In Malaysia: 10 Benefits If You Live In One! Link.
  7. Y.Y. Lau & V. Loh. (2021). Demand for Green buildings in Malaysia—A Snapshot. FuturArc. Link.

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