Sponsored by Magnolia Quality Development Corporation, the Well-being Architecture, Technology and Sustainability (WATS) Conference held on 3 June attracted 1,000 participants from diverse professions.
Assoc. Prof. Dr Singh Intrachooto, Chief Advisor of the Research & Innovation for Sustainability Center (RISC) under MQDC, declared at the opening that, “Natural disasters, air pollution, climate change events are happening around the world and they affect not only the environment but all of us. WATS Forum was born from our belief in the core value of sustainability. We believe that only through sharing knowledge can we stand a chance of creating a brighter, better, and happier future.”
This annual platform brings together experts to share their ideas, innovation, and success stories in preserving our planet. Four speakers shared their inspiring implementation and ideas.
Dasho Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan, inspired the audience to investigate ideas of happiness as he shared stories from 400 years ago when the former King of Bhutan introduced a philosophy that the government should provide happiness and well-being to the people. For the past 40 years, the Bhutanese Monarchy along with the government invented Gross National Happiness (GNH) to measure the nation’s happiness level. It has valued GNH or Gross National Happiness over GDP because the economy alone does not provide well-being for the people, he said.
GNH has become a symbol of Bhutan. The United Nations and many European countries are learning about this model to implement it for the public good. The government of Bhutan conducts thorough 2-hour interviews every 5 years with large groups of people to measure their happiness level based on 9 important indices such as their living standard, health, education, and environment.
To further affirm this philosophy of happiness, Mr Tobgay added that, “We have GNH of Business Certification with 56 indicators to measure the health and happiness and well-being of companies and their stakeholders. We are thus moving from a profit-driven approach, satisfying only the shareholders, to a holistic approach that includes everyone among the stakeholders of operations.”
Professor Michael Steven Strano, Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the author of over 50 innovative papers, showcased an inspiring invention that can light up cities as well as human creativity. Imagine reading a book by the light of a luminous plant. Through research and development in nanotechnology, Prof. Strano and his team made a watercress shoot glow for 4 hours using luciferase, an enzyme that enables firefly to glow.
“We are able to inject these chemicals into a living plant. For the first time, we can hack the plant and put particles inside to interact with it. There’s a long-standing idea of making trees illuminate along roadsides. They could take the place of streetlamps and wouldn’t need an electricity supply, reducing power demand. We have also seen this idea in the popular movie Avatar, which depicts light-emitting plants in its alien world,” he revealed.
Assoc. Prof. Dr Yodchanan Wongsawat from the Faculty of Engineering at Mahidol University is known as a pioneer in improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. Working with brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, he is able to use electrical activity to help people move, cycle, and perform basic functions for themselves. There are about 2 million people with disabilities in Thailand and 190 million around the world.
“Half of my life has been dedicated to solving this problem. I want to be able to create opportunities for people with disabilities to move because that’s their dream, to do things for themselves instead of relying on canes, wheelchairs, or human assistance.”
Dr Yodchanan was able to create miraculous changes in people’s lives even bringing 2 clients to participate in the Cybathlon, which is a unique championship for people with physical disabilities to compete against each other using technological assistance.
Stefan De Koning, a Senior Associate Architect from MVRDV, one of the most influential urban design practices in the world, offered a solution to solve the impact of Bangkok’s rapid population growth.
Bangkok’s population is forecast to be 9.4 million by 2020 and 12.1 million by 2030. Mr Koning suggested that Bangkok could benefit from architecture models used around the world, such as in Kemang Jakarta, where traditional villages are built as vertical cities, with tall towers and stacked floors.
“The question is how we can improve the quality of life while growing the city. There is 10,000 km of sois in Bangkok and these are places where people feel safe, with a sense of community and tradition. In Kemang, Jakarta, we were requested to build a large mixed-use development with restaurants, gardens and we stacked the villages literally. The housing is in a tower formation, the same size as you would have at ground level. What we try to achieve here is to have a high-rise development which is community-centred. In that sense, could this be something that could be applied in Bangkok? What if we were to stack the sois on top of each other?” suggested Mr Koning.
Bangkok ranked among the top 3 cities for pollution in the world. Mr Koning proposed that one potential way to solve the problem could be to have buses underground and to create sky bridges that connect destinations, making them educational walks with trees and nature. With climate change, there is no escaping rising water levels but there are ways to combat this. His ideas include trees alongside the Chao Praya River and adopting models that have worked in other cities to make Bangkok resilient for the future.
Assoc. Prof. Dr Singh Intrachooto concluded that “If we all think about our society and our environment, making that a priority, maybe we’ll have a chance to create a happy future. The environment has not been our top priority and we can change that now by focusing on the needs of this world, not just humans but all living beings.”
As one of the leading property developers in Thailand, MQDC hopes to improve the industry through its “sustainnovation” concept, which embraces novel solutions for individuals and communities to live well, both physically and psychologically.