Climate Crisis: China’s Pollution-Eating Skyscrapers

phoenix-towers-worlds-tallest-wuhan-china-designboom-01 Though it is already home to the world’s largest building – in the form of the New Century Global Center in Chendu – China is seeking to create the world’s tallest structure as well. Designed by UK-based Chetwoods Architects and known as the Phoenix Towers, this tower concept is slated to be built in Wuhan, Central China. But equally impressive is the fact that this building will be suck pollution out of the air and water and will host more than the usual building features.

The larger of the two towers reaches a total of 1000 meters (3,280 ft) in height – beating the Burj Khalifa by 170 meters (558 ft) – and sports an ambitious list of sustainable technology. The towers cover 7 hectares (17 acres) of ground on a 47-hectare (116-acre) plot that sits upon an island in a lake. In an attempt to make the design of the towers more relevant to Chinese culture, Chetwoods drew upon the Fenghuang (or Chinese Phoenix) mythological bird and designated the larger tower Feng (male), and the smaller tower Huang (female).

phoenix_towers_chetwoods-2The designers hope the building will serve as a catalyst for more sustainable design in the industrial city. Laurie Chetwood, chairman of U.K.-based Chetwoods, the architects on the project explained how the building’s water-cleaning features work:

The water goes up through a series of filters. We don’t use power to pull the water up, we’re using passive energy. As it goes through the filters and back, we’re also putting air back into the lake to make it healthier… Wuhan is an unusual city, dotted with huge lakes. Protecting the lakes could lead to other projects that protect them even more.

The towers also have pollution-absorbing coatings to help clean the air, vertical gardens that filter more pollution, and a chimney in the middle of the larger tower naturally pulls air across the lake for better ventilation. For the sake of generating energy, the building relies on a combination of wind turbines, lightweight solar cladding, and hydrogen fuel cells running on the buildings’ waste, giving it energy independence and even having enough left over for the local community.

phoenix_towers_chetwoods-4Inspired by the Chinese symbols of the phoenix, and the concept of yin and yang, one tower feeds the other with renewable power in a symbiotic relationship. Spheres hanging between the two towers will also hold restaurants with views of the lake. Pending approval by the city’s mayor, construction may begin by the end of the year and could be completed by 2017 or 2018, a pace that the architects say would be unlikely in other countries.

According to Chetwood, construction in China obeys a different set of rules and parameters than his native Britain:

The most amazing thing for me is that in the U.K. we strive as designers to get things built, and there’s a lot of red tape, but the Chinese seem to have a different view of things. I think they’re incredibly optimistic. If you have an idea and you think, ‘Oh, is this going to be too exciting’, they’ll actually want it more exciting. It’s more ambitious. They’re quite keen to push the boundaries. For a designer, that’s fantastic. It’s a thrill.

Whereas the sheer size of the buildings is reflective of China’s aim to assert its national authority on the world stage, it’s focus on pollution-eating and green energy is reflective of the desire to create living spaces in a sustainable way. And it is one of many building concepts being considered by Chinese authorities that seeks to address pollution by achieve energy independence, while at the same time being part of the solution by incorporating pollution-eating features.

shanghai_towerFor instance, there’s China’s Shanghai Tower, which finished construction in August of last year. This building is currently the tallest tower in China, is one-third green space and a transparent second skin that surrounds the city in a protective air envelope that controls its internal temperature. In addition, vertical-axis wind turbines located near the top of the tower and geothermal vents located at the bottom will generate 350,000 kWh of supplementary electricity per year.

And then there’s Sky City, a building under construction (though currently on hold) in Changsha, Hunan province. Designed by Broad Sustainable Building, this 666m meter (2,185 ft) skyscraper incorporates numerous sustainable building features. These include modular design, recycled building materials, non-toxic building materials, insulated walls and quadruple glazing. Beyond China, there is also the Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta, which relies on geothermal, solar, and wind turbines to act as the very picture of energy independence.

Together, these concepts (and many others currently under consideration) represent the future of urban planning and architecture. In addition to being assembled with recycled material, fabricated using less wasteful methods (like 3-D printing), and seeing to their own energy needs in a clean and sustainable way, they will also incorporate carbon capture, air and water cleaning technology that will make urban environments healthier places to live.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, designboom.com, gizmag.com

The Future of Cities: eVolo’s 2014 Skyscraper Competition

3028400-slide-launchspireThe skyline of the future… Chances are, it’s something we’ve all wondered about at one time or another. Given the current rate of urban expansion, combined with population growth and environmental concerns, it’s essentially a given that cities of the future will look quite different from cities today. And when it comes time to break new ground and convert old centers, contracts will be given to those designs that can meet all of these challenges.

That’s the idea behind eVolo Magazine’s Skyscraper Competition, an annual event that for the past nine years has awarded architects and planners who create the problem-solving skyscrapers of the future. This year, over 600 entries were submitted from around the world, and top marks were given for those that addressed the problems or urban sprawl, pollution, sustainable living, and incorporated the latest in design technology.

These included the latest in renewable energy, carbon-capture technology, additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing), and of course, the time honored concept of Paolo Soleri’s Arcology – a school of thought that merges architecture with ecology for smarter and more sustainable living. Here are just a few of the entries that received top marks in this year’s competition, which include the top three and numerous honorable mentions:

Winners:

Vernacular Versatility:
0302-0The winner of this year’s Skyscraper Competition, this entry was created of Korean-American designer Yong Ju Lee. who used the concepts of the “Hanok” and “Gagu” as his inspiration. In traditional Korean architecture, the Hanok refers to a type of house with an exposed wooden structure and tiled roof. Gagu refers to a special wooden structural element that is located directly beneath the main roof where the column meets the beam and girder and fastens them without the need for nails or additional parts.

Traditionally, this structural system has only ever been employed in the creation of single-story residences. However, modern modeling software allowed Lee to adapt this traditional system to complex high-rise structural planning to meet contemporary purposes and programs. Vernacular Versatility can open a new chapter of possibilities to bring this old construction and design tradition to the present day with efficiency and beauty.

Designed to be located within one of Korea’s busiest districts, Vernacular Versatility seeks to use a traditional design concept to combat the growing problem of urban sprawl, as well as associated health risks such as atopy and asthma, as well as addressing the destructive impacts urbanization has been having on traditional Korean culture and the environment.

Car and Shell Skyscraper:0697-0Also known as “Marinetti’s Monster” and created by Mark Talbot, Daniel Markiewicz, this concept for a “city in the sky” took home 2nd place at this year’s competition. As a solution for what to do about Detroit’s aging infrastructure, the project proposes a vertical suburban neighborhood equipped with recreational and commercial areas where three main grids (streets, pedestrian pathways, and structure) are intertwined to create a box-shaped wireframe.

Inspired by all the attempts to “save Detroit”, which is focused largely on preserving its dwindling suburban areas, Talbot and Markiewicz instead thought of building a new neighborhood within a single enormous skyscraper located in the core. Here, dozens of single-family homes are stacked into a vertical grid, new roads cross through the building, and traditional and contemporary living all plug into a framework to create a rich urban environment.

Propagate Skyscraper:
3028400-slide-propagateThis year’s third place went to Canadian designers YuHao Liu and Rui Wu for their concept of a building that would turn air pollution into construction materials and use it to gradually create the building. Relying on an alternative carbon-capture technique that employs philic resins and material processes to transform carbon dioxide into solid construction material, their building employs additional material that uses carbon dioxide as a means to self-propagate.

The building uses a simple vertical grid scaffold as a framework and takes all the ingredients it needs for material propagation from the surrounding environment. Individual living spaces are built within this gridwork, which creates open square spaces between lattices that can then be filled by tenements. Its pattern of growth is defined by environmental factors such as wind, weather, and the saturation of carbon dioxide within the immediate atmosphere.

Thus each building is a direct reflection of its environment, growing and adapting according to local conditions and cleaning as the air as it does so. Unlike conventional skyscrapers, which rely on steel frame and concrete casting, the proposed skyscraper suggests a more environmental conscious construction method, an alternative mode of occupation and ownership, and possibly a distinct organization of social relationships.

Honorable Mentions:

Climatology Tower:
??Designed by Yuan-Sung Hsiao, Yuko Ochiai, Jia-Wei Liu, Hung-Lin Hsieh and Japan and Taiwan, the Climatology Tower is a proposed skyscraper designed as a research center that evaluates urban meteorology and corrects the environment through mechanical engineering. This involves analyzing microclimates within cities as a result of the use of industrial materials, the accumulation of buildings, and the scarceness of open spaces. In order to maintain a healthy environment for the city, two main strategies are employed.

The first is Environmental Control Engineering, which consists of a system of evaluation and operational programs. Evaluation programs inspect city climates through a variety of factors such as insolation, radiation, and thermal coverage. Collected data is compared with humidity levels and then mechanical systems respond to reduce or increase the levels to optimal environmental conditions. The second is Information Expression, a system that is becoming increasingly common in East Asia.

Basically, in addition to automatically adjusting to optimal environmental conditions, data is transferred from a control center to different departments in this city. This can alert entire communities of present and upcoming environmental hazards and conditions, much as residents in major cities are currently given “smog alerts”. Climatic information is also displayed publicly, though digital networks, notifying the public on maintaining certain conditions, to preserve both energy and health.

Here-After:Here-AfterDesigned by Tsang Aron Wai Chun of Hong Kong, the Here-After project is a proposal to reuse the Ruashi copper mine located in Lubumbashi, Congo. The mine is predicted to stop production in 2020, at which time it would be abandoned, leaving as an enormous urban void surrounded by a rapidly expanding city. The Here-After projects seeks to make use of the left over space, waste soil, and sulfuric acid from the mine drainage and former copper production.

A machine will reuse the waste soil to neutralize the sulfuric acid, which in turn will be used to erode the land to be used as raw buildings blocks for the project. As the machine operates, starting from the South end, the remaining structures from the neutralization process would be reconfigured as a university campus. Throughout the building process the contour, the campus, and the public spaces would continuously change their relationships and form.

Hyper Filter Skyscraper:
hyper_filterDesigned by Umarov Alexey of Russia, the Hyper Filter Skyscraper recognizes the threat of environmental pollution and seeks to merge carbon capture technology with the building’s design. Under today’s levels of pollution, harmful substances spread over hundreds of kilometers and a whole region and even a country could represent a single pollution source. Hence the plan to place a air-scrubbing building at the heart of the problem – an urban core.

Consistent with CC technology and the principle of photosynthesis, the Hyper Filter Skyscraper is designed to inhale carbon dioxide and other harmful gases and exhale concentrated oxygen. The skin of the project is made out of long pipe filters that ensure the cleaning process. While clean air is released to the atmosphere, all the harmful substances are stored for use in the chemical industry for later use. These can include chemicals products, biofuels, and even manufactured goods.

Hyper-speed Vertical Train Hub:
Verticle_train_skyscraper1All around the world, nations from the USA, UK, Japan and China are again consolidating futuristic proposals for an advanced public transport network, to maximize the economic growth of their cities. The Hyper Speed Vertical Train Hub is an extension of this, aiming to resolve the inevitable challenges that cities will face by 2075, and offering a deliverable and sustainable solution for the future of the transport generation.

As the world’s population dramatically increases, the demand for goods, natural resources, foods, fuel and land would have increased significantly by 2075. By then, the world’s population will reach an estimated 10 or 11 million, and the majority of them (6 or 7 billion) will gravitate towards living in mega-cities. This will increase pressure and competition for adjacent suburban land, therefore forcing cities to explore more innovative forms of public transport.

Verticle_train_skyscraperConsistent with a key principle of arcology, this proposal seeks to take advantage of vertical space in order to use available land more efficiently. By flipping the traditional form and function of the current train design into a vertical, cylindrical mass, the Vertical Train Hub seeks to eliminate the current impact that traditional stations have on land use, therefore returning the remaining site mass back to the densely packed urban Mega City.

This remaining land will surround the base of the tower forming a large urban park, leading towards to the base of the Hyper-Speed Vertical Hub. The trains will create a dynamic and kinetic facade, one that will be continuously evolving and responsive to the workings of the vertical hub. Passengers will travel into the main lobby, allowing travelers to ascend through the atrium and through the platforms and onto the carriages. The high-speed trains will maximize time efficiency, able to traverse 482 km (300 miles) in just thirty minutes.

As the train travels and transitions from its horizontal formation, and ascends up the facade vertically, the carriages will pivot similar to that on a ‘Ferris wheel’, allowing the passengers within the carriage to remain in an upright position and facing towards the cityscape. The carriages will be supported by a magnetic structure located at either side, eliminating the need for rails beneath, and allowing the carriages and its passengers to connect to the tower.

Launchspire:
launchspireDesigned by Henry Smith, Adam Woodward, Paul Attkins of theUnited Kingdom, the Launchspire is an arcological design that also seeks to eliminate much of the CO2 emissions associated with air travel. This year, commercial air travel is celebrating its centenary; and looking ahead to 2050, aviation is predicted to fly 16 billion passengers and 400 million tones of cargo. This radical re-interpretation of the skyscraper would eliminate the hydrocarbon dependency of aircraft during takeoff through the use of an electromagnetic vertical accelerator.

On short flights, as much as 25% of the total fuel consumed is used during takeoff. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 4,300 kilometers, but roughly half the flights taking place in the developed world cover less than 500 kilometers. An electromagnetic vertical accelerator, utilizing the technological principles developed at CERN’s LHC and maglev train propulsion, would provide a method for commercial aircraft to be accelerated to cruising speed using renewable electrical energy sources from ground-based infrastructure.

launchspire1This new design methodology envisions a ‘spiral tube’ structure that would reinvigorate the ‘core and floor plate’ model of high-rise buildings. Schools, hospitals, commercial, and residential properties would be interspersed throughout the tower with approximately one third of all Plots to be public green spaces, nature reserves and farm land. Due to the scale of the building, different climates would be experienced, with various wildlife and crop species, whilst also being natural devices for internal climate control.

The concept is essentially a helical version of the classic urban grid environment. This has the benefits of extreme high density, elevated living, mass transportation to different levels, pedestrian and cycle travel locally to enable healthy living. Community interaction and a unique and varied sense of place is achieved to each area of the tower. As the building ages specific areas develop to support an organic and culturally rich network of settlements within the matrix of the structure.

The towers can be built close to renewable energy infrastructures; hydropower in the mountains, tidal and offshore wind nearer the coast. The city is the building, the surrounding environment will remain natural thus the urban realm becomes a vertical entity within the wilderness. The building is effectively a confluence of road, rail, air and space transportation, and takes advantage of vertical spacing to reduce the impact on the local environment.

New Tower of Babel:
babelDesigned by Petko Stoevski of Germany, this perhaps unfortunately-named building seeks to invert the relationship between structures and their surrounding environment. Essentially, it is a steel construction built over a desert surface with multiple levels planned depending on the landscape’s topology. The top two panels are made of glass, and the air contained in between is warmed up by the sunlight. The structure is slightly tilted upwards, which leads the air to the middle of the tower into an inner cylindrical.

The updraft power channels the warm air into the chimney tower, propelling the wind turbines located in the base and converting the kinetic energy into electrical power. Under the glass panels, photovoltaic panels are placed to generate electricity while reflecting the sunrays, thereby offering more warming. Moreover, the photovoltaic panels cast a shadow, cooling down the land’s surface and creating a microclimate that allows the creation of residential and recreational areas as well as the development of agriculture.

The Tower of Babel establishes a new landscape, which makes use of the natural forces of an upwind power plant and therefore stretches from the horizontal to the vertical. The building is characterized by many different spaces and leaves their use open to improvisation. Therefore, life develops in different places with different intensity. The project reinforces the principles of sustainability, which allow long term economic, social, and ecological development.

PleXus Tower:
PieXus_towerDesigned by Chris Thackrey, Steven Ma, Bao An Nguyen Phuoc, Christos Koukis, Matus Nedecky, Stefan Turcovsky of the United States, the PleXus Tower is proposed development for the West Hong Kong Harbor. It was conceived as a segmented, but highly connected network of major transportation functions, as well as housing conventional program, that would merge the concepts of interconnectedness, renewable energy, and ecology into the same fabric.

The design starts out as a series of distributed pods reaching out to connect with the city’s transportation, accepting traffic in the form of boats, ferries, and other water vehicles. Bridged together by connected pipelines over the water, these pods work in harmony with the existing Macau Ferry Terminal. As people move inward from these pods, they travel through a series of different structures, beginning with  a horizontal parking structure that also connects to the highway network to efficiently receive car traffic.

PieXus_tower1Farther up, business and shopping space is available, all accessible by car to the highest level of the tower. The upper reaches of the towers are set aside for residential space, providing a living area that incorporates spectacular views of the dynamic city skyline. A heliport on top that can receive air traffic from above, and power is supplied by the south-facing side of the building that comes equipped with numerous solar panels.

The skin is also breathable, with numerous openings designed to overlap each other, undulating throughout, allowing carbon dioxide to easily filter out from the designated parking areas on the lower levels. Each parking level will also utilize foliage to further filter carbon dioxide from the air helping to reduce pollution in Hong Kong. At night, lights will glow from the panels, reminding people of the connections these segments share as well as blending in with Hong Kong’s unique night skyline.

Project Blue:
project_blueDesigned by Yang Siqi, Zhan Beidi, Zhao Renbo, Zhang Tianshuo of China, Project Blue is designed with China’s explosive growth in mind. On the one hand, the country’s “economic miracle” has left the world in awe. But on the other, the country is paying a big price for being the “factory of the world”, in the form of getting polluted at an alarming speed. Chinese cities are now characterized by an unhealthy hazy weather as the result of large amounts of suspended particles in the air.

The purpose of Project Blue is to transform suspended particles into green energy by creating an enormous upside down cooling tower with a multi-tubular cyclic desulfurization system that produces nitrogen and sulfur. When both elements are combined with the atmospheres surplus of carbon monoxide, the result is “water coal” that would later be transformed into methane through a low-pressure reaction called low pressure efficient mathanation.

This methane could then be converted into biofuel that would then be shipped to the surface, providing a clean alternative for China’s fast-growing supply of gasoline cars. Consistent with many modern designs that utilize carbon capture technology, Project Blue would therefore be combating the problem of emissions and air pollution at both ends.

Rainforest Guardian:
3028400-inline-rainforest-guardian
While most of the concepts were designed for cities, a few were made for more remote locations. The Rainforest Guardian, from Chinese architects Jie Huang, Jin Wei, Qiaowan Tang, Yiwei Yu, and Zhe Hao, was one such example. Designed to sit on the edge of the Amazon, capturing and storing rainwater in the rainy season to help fight fires in the dry season, the building also has labs located at the top for scientists studying and monitoring the local environment.

The lotus-shaped water tower is captures rainwater directly and then filters and stores it in its spare reservoirs. Using capillarity combined with active energy, the aerial roots with a distinct sponge-structure can absorb and store the excess water without disturbing the Amazon’s ecosystem. In the case of fire, firefighters fly to the scene and extinguish the fire with the collected water. In addition, the laboratories can act as exhibition spaces for tourists to create environmental awareness.

Sand Babel:
0656-1Produced by designers Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, and Guo Shen of China, the Sand Babel uses an idea similar to that being proposed by NASA and the ESA to build settlements on the Moon. Basically, their plan is to use sintering and additive manufacturing to turn desert sand into a series of ecological skyscrapers.These structures would serve as scientific research and testing facilities, tourist attractions for the desert, and would be divided into two parts.

The first part, located above ground, consists of several independent structures for a desert community while the second part, located partially underground, would connect several different buildings together and create a multi-functional tube network system. The main portion of each building is constructed with sand, sintered through a solar-powered 3D printer to create walls of solid ceramic.

The top structures utilizes a spiral skeleton shape, inspired by desert phenomena like Tornadoes and mushroom rocks. These are tall, straight and have high tensile strength, and are thus able to withstand high winds. The net structure of the lower sections are similar to tree roots, effectively anchoring each building into the ground. The dual funnel model provides cooling through cross-ventilation, as well as ensuring that water can be collected through condensation.

Seawer:
seawerDesigned by Sung Jin Cho of South Korea, the Seawer was inspired by another major environmental issue – the problem of waste. Every year, millions of tons of trash enter the ocean, and between 60 and 80 percent of it is from land-based sources. Due to ocean currents, this waste collects in particular areas of the world, such as the one currently located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Consisting of tiny particles of plastics, this area is commonly referred as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), or just “Garbage Island”.

The GPGP is twice the size of Texas and contains six times more plastic than plankton biomass. And since plastic is not biodegrade, it poses a threat to thousands of marine animals. Seawer proposes to install a huge drainage hole 550 meters in diameter and 300 meters in depth in the middle of the GPGP that would engulf all kinds of floating trash filled with seawater. Seawer consists of five layers of baleen filters, which separate particles and fluids and collected the particles together.

seawer1These collected plastics are then taken to a recycling plant atop of the structure while seawater is filtered and stored in a large sedimentation tank at the bottom to be further cleaned and released into the ocean. Much like skyscrapers that are energy-independent and turn air pollution into useable fuels, the Seawer concept is all about making a future city that can offer solutions, and placing it at the heart of the problem.

Skyvillage:
skyvillageDesigned by Ziwei Song of the United States, the Skyvillage concept was inspired by Los Angeles’s freeway system, which he claims segregates the city’s fabric and restricts urban activities to single locations. As a result, Song envisioned a vertical city that would encourage urban integration by providing a bridge over freeway interruptions and connect the four quadrants around the 101 and 110 freeways. This single architectural organism would also boost cultural exchanges, urban activities, and social interaction.

The interchange 101 and 110 breaks Los Angeles east urban fabric into four disconnected quadrants: Downtown, Chinatown, Echo Park, and Temple Beaudry. The four quadrants have distinct cultural and social differences, lacking a coherent urban tissue. Moreover, the leftover space around the freeways reaches over 27 acres. Skyvillage aims to reclaim this vague terrain and provide green filtering towers to clean the freeways and also articulate various programs to revitalize the disconnected urban fabric.

Urban Alloy Structure:
urban_alloyLast, but certainly not least, there is the design concept that was put forth this year by Matt Bowles and Chad Kellogg of the United States. Known as Urban Alloy, the concept was inspired by cities like New York and other dynamic cities of the 21st century – which they refer to as “anthropomorphic alloys”. In short, these cities act as engines for innovation and social cohesion which, combined with their continually evolving demographics, will forge the dynamic societies of the future.

Once again, the concept calls for smart growth – developments that promote innovation and renewal without disrupting current land use. Hence their proposal for a residential typology that surrounds the intersection of transportation hubs – such as elevated train lines and freeway interchanges – with a set of highly linked living environments that capture the air rights above these systems. The design and skin of the structure also reflects a blend of space types and a desire to optimized shading and day lighting.

urban_alloy2Composed of a series of different alloys and composites, the system is deployed on a grid that follows the geometric pattern of the surface. This grid is designed for integration with adjoining pieces of the structure, and to optimize shading and lighting so the building doesn’t cast a huge shadow over adjacent areas (which is a common problem for skyscrapers). The resulting architecture is a steel diagrid system that can efficiently be constructed with each unique member cut by an automated system (i.e. 3D metal printing)

The relatively light weight of each structural unit also means that it can be constructed with greater ease, cutting down on construction costs and the carbon foot involved. The wall systems are also built with a high content of recycled materials, making it a comparatively eco-friendly structure compared to most modern skyscrapers.

Summary:
An impressive collection, isn’t it? And this is not even the complete list of winners and runner-ups, just those that I felt I could squeeze in to this here humble post. Alas, it gives a pretty good idea what the great minds of the world are coming up with when they consider the needs of urban residents and cityscapes in the coming years and decades. In addition to providing housing, energy, transportation and basic services in ways that are sustainable, top marks go to those who can turn problems into solutions.

When Paolo Soleri first conceived of his Arcology concept, he was looking for a way to provide room for more people with less space, and in a way that did not further tax the environment. However, since the 1970’s, this challenge has been updated thanks to the advance of Climate Change. At this juncture, simply not adding to the problem is no longer sufficient. Future living solutions must also find ways to reduce and roll back the damage.

Hence concepts that now call for carbon capture, garbage processing, and pollution control in addition to the smart use of space, urban agriculture, and renewable energy. It is one of the paradoxes of the modern age that cities are both the cause, and solution to, the problems of modern living. While they may bring millions of people together in one place, producing tons of waste and pollution, they also bring together ideas for change and innovation that lead to better living.

In the end, ideas that expand upon this paradox – turning cities into pollution and garbage-eating factories – will not only determine the size and shape of future cities, they may very well ensure the survival of the natural environment and the human race itself. Much like all life on this planet, we remain permanently connected to space and place and are dependent on it for our livelihood and our very lives. The only way to keep living in to learn to live with it.

For more info on eVolo’s 2014 Skyscraper Competition, or to just check out some interesting design and architecture news, click on this link to go to their homepage.

Sources: fascoexist.com, (2), evolvo.us

Google CEO Wants Land Set Aside for Experimentation

future-city-1Back in May, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page hosted a rare Q&A session with the attendees of the Google I/O keynote speech. During this time, he gave some rather unfiltered and unabashed answers to some serious questions, one of which was how he and others should focus on reducing negativity and focusing on changing the world.

Page responded by saying that “the pace of change is increasing” and that “we haven’t adapted systems to deal with that.” He was also sure to point out that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.” Towards that end, he claimed that an area of the world should be set aside for unregulated scientific experimentation. His exact words were:

There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation. And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world… some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.

So basically he’s looking for a large chunk of real-estate to conduct beta tests in it. What could possibly go wrong?

detroit_experimentOne rather creative suggestion comes from Roy Klabin of PolicyMic, who suggest that an aging and dilapidated Detroit might be just the locale Page and his associates are looking for. This past week, the city declared bankruptcy, and began offering to sell city assets and eradicate retirement funds to meet its $18 billion debt obligations.

What’s more, he suggests that SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who’s always after innovation, should team up with Google. Between the two giants, there’s more than enough investment capital to pull Detroit out of debt and work to rehabilitate the city’s economy. Hell, with a little work, the city could be transformed back into the industrial hub it once was.

And due to a mass exodus of industry and working people from the city, there is no shortage of space. Already the city is considering converting segments of former urban sprawl into farming and agricultural land. But looking farther afield, Klabin sees no reason why these space couldn’t be made available for advanced construction projects involving arcologies and other sustainable-living structures.

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Not a bad idea, really. With cities like Boston, New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Moscow, Chendu, Tokyo and Masdar City all proposing or even working towards the creation of arcologies, there’s no reason why the former Industrial Heartland – now known as the “Rust Belt” – shouldn’t be getting in on the action.

Naturally, there are some who would express fear over the idea, not to mention Page’s blunt choice of words. But Page did stress the need for positive change, not aimless experimentation. And future generations will need housing and food, and to be able to provide these things in a way that doesn’t burden their environment the way urban sprawl does. Might as well get a jump on things!

And thanks to what some are calling the “New Industrial Revolution” – a trend that embraces nanofabrication, self-assembling DNA structures, cybernetics, and 3D printing – opportunities exist to rebuild our global economy in a way that is cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable. Anyone with space to offer and an open mind can get in on the ground floor. The only question is, what are they willing to give up?

venus_projectThere’s also a precedent here for what is being proposed. The famous American architect and designer Jacque Fresco has been advocating something similar for decades. Believing that society needs to reshape the way it lives, works, and produces, he created the Venus Project – a series of designs for a future living space that would incorporate new technologies, smarter materials and building methods, and alternative forms of energy.

And then there’s the kind of work being proposed by designer Mitchell Joachim and Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology). And amongst their many proposed design concepts is one where cities use vertical towers filled with energy-creating algae (pictured below) to generate power. But even more ambitious is their plan to “urbaneer” Brooklyn’s Navy Yard by turning natural ecological tissues into viable buildings.

future-city2This concept also calls to mind Arconsanti, the brainchild of architect Paolo Solari, who invented the concept of arcology. His proposed future city began construction back in the 1970 in central Arizona, but remains incomplete. Designed to incorporate such things as 3D architecture, vertical farming, and clean, renewable energy, this unfinished city still stands as the blueprint for Solari’s vision of a future where architecture and ecology could be combined.

What’s more, this kind of innovation and development will come in mighty handy when it comes to time to build colonies on the Moon and Mars. Already, numerous Earth cities and settlements are being considered as possible blueprints for extra-Terran settlement – places like Las Vegas, Dubai, Arviat, Black Rock City and the Pueblos and pre-Columbian New Mexico.

Black Rock City - home to "Burning Man" - shown in a Martian crater
Black Rock City – home to “Burning Man” – shown in a Martian crater

These are all prime examples of cities built to withstand dry, inhospitable environments. As such, sustainability and resource management play a major role in each of their designs. But given the pace at which technology is advancing and the opportunities it presents for high-tech living that is also environmentally friendly, some test models will need to be made.

And building them would also provide an opportunity to test out some of the latest proposed construction methods, one that do away with the brutally inefficient building process and replace it with things like drones, constructive bacteria, additive manufacturing, and advanced computer modelling. At some point, a large-scale project to see how these methods work together will be in order.

Let’s just hope Page’s ideas for a beta-testing settlement doesn’t turn into a modern day Laputa!

And be sure to check out this video from the Venus Project, where Jacque Fresco explains his inspirations and ideas for a future settlement:


Sources:
1.
Elon Musk and Google Should Purchase and Transform a Bankrupt Detroit (http://www.policymic.com/)
2. Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation (theverge.com)

3. Six Earth Cities That Will Provide Blueprints for Martian Settlements (io9.com)
4. The Venus Project (thevenusproject.org)
5. Arcosanti Website (arcosanti.org)
6. Terreform ONE website (terreform.org)

Climate Crisis: Rising Tides and Sinking Cities

climate_changetideWith all the population, urban sprawl, and consumption that we as a species are imposing on the planet, there are those who argue that we’ve entered a new geological era – known as the Anthropocene. It’s an age we’ve lived in since the neolithic revolution and the advent of farming, one where the human race is the dominant force shaping our planet. Since the industrial revolution, this era has been accelerating and escalating, and things are not likely to get better anytime soon.

It is because of this that we need to contemplate what the near future will look like. Consider the recent floods in the Canadian Prairies, or last year’s wildfires which raged across the American midwest. Consider the famines and shortages that led to a world food price crisis in 2007-8 which had serious political consequences, especially in the Middle East (i.e. the Arab Spring).

climate_changesandyWhen you add to this the fact that rising tides and the increased risk of storms are already effecting coastal communities in severe ways, you begin to understand just how turbulent the next few decades are likely to be. Already, incidents like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, which rocked the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard in just the past decade, have shown just how extensive the damage can be.

Historically speaking, cities have been built in fertile river valleys and at river mouths to take advantage of fertile conditions, maritime resources and trade. Agricultural run-offs of sediment, water and nutrients created rich coastal deltas that could support greater food production. This and the good maritime and river connections for trade and transport made these ideal places to live.

Population_curve.svgBut as populations grew, rivers were tapped and diverted for irrigation, industry and canal transport. They were also trapped behind dams and reservoirs for energy and water storage, and depleted by droughts and other extractions. Meanwhile groundwater is increasingly being extracted from beneath cities, and sea levels are rising because of the run-off from the melting of glaciers and thermal expansion of the oceans.

As a result of these changes, many major cities are slowly sinking into the oceans. Our rapid industrialization over the past century has sped these processes, so that now, many urban centers face inundation by storm surges, and we stand to lose many of the most economically important parts of our planet. The loss of these cities will mean a terrible loss of life, economic fallout, and a massive refugee crisis.

Population_densityCities from Bangkok to New York have already experienced emergency flood conditions, and many more are to follow. Those most at risk include Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Calcutta, New York City, Osaka-Kibe, Alexandria and New Orleans. More than 3 billion people currently live in coastal areas at risk of global warming impacts such as rising sea levels – a number expected to rise to 6 billion by 2025.

And as was recently learned, the carbon levels in the upper atmosphere have surpassed 400 ppm (parts per million). The last time the atmosphere boasted this concentration of greenhouse gases was the Pliocene Era, a time when sea levels were as much as 60 to 80 feet higher than they current are. If sea levels rise to that level again, we can say goodbye to all these major cities, as well as any that sit on major waterways.

climate_changeshanghaiIt’s not just a matter of water rising up to swallow the coastlines, you see. As the flooding in southern Alberta and the Canadian Prairies demonstrated this week, there’s also the threat of flooding due to increased precipitation and of sewage systems backing up from increased storms and rainfall. These threats make shoring up river deltas and waterways effectively useless, since its not simply a matter of blocking the tides and rivers.

In terms of solutions, a number of major cities are investing in new sea walls, dykes and polders, or high-tide gates – like London’s Thames Barrier – to hold back high waters. In poorer places, people simply endure the problem until they are forced to abandon their homes. As the problem gets worse though, coordinated efforts to rescue people caught in flood zones will need to be mounted.

climate_changedykesAnd there are those who speculate that underwriting the damage will be a waste of time, since no government will be able to afford to compensate its citizens for the untold billions in property damage. In reality, many of these place will simply have to be abandoned as they become unlivable, and those forced out resettled to higher ground or protected communities.

At this point in any lecture on the fate of our planet, people are about ready to abandon hope and hang themselves. Hence, I should take this opportunity to point out that plans for dealing with the problem at the root – cutting our carbon footprint – are well underway. In addition to clean energy becoming more and more feasible commercially, there are also some very viable concepts for carbon capture.

These include inventions like artificial trees and ecoengineering, which will no doubt become absolutely essential in coming years. At the same time though, urban planning and architecture are beginning to embrace a number of alternative and clean technology concepts as part of their design. Not only will future buildings be designed to provide for the needs of their residents – food, water, electricity – in sustainable ways, they will also incorporate devices that can trap smog and turn it into biofuels and other useful products.

Of this, I will be saying more in the next post “Thinking, Breathing Cities of the Future”. Stay tuned!

Source: bbc.com

The Future is Here: The Air Scrubbing Skyscraper!

aircleaning_skyscraperAir pollution has always been a problem in urban centers. But with the massive industrialization and urban expansion taking place in some of the most heavily populated regions of the world (China and India being foremost), the issue of how to deal with increasing emissions is especially important. And more and more, researchers and environmentalists are considering options that hits air pollution where it lives.

Two such individuals are Danny Mui and Benjamin Sahagun, a pair of architects who have devised a rather novel concept for dealing with the thick layers of carbon dioxide pollution that are so common to major urban centers. In essence, it is a pair of buildings that scrub CO2 emissions from the air, and thus marries the concept of Carbon Capture technology to urban planning.

artificial_trees1Dubbed the CO2ngress Gateway Towers, the concept involves two crooked buildings that are outfitted with a filtration system. This system then feeds the captured CO2 to algae grown in the building which then converts into biofuels for use in vehicles. In this respect, it is not unlike the artificial tree concept designed by Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University.

Much like these “trees”, the carbon capture technology involves using a entirely natural process to absorb CO2 from the air and then combine it with water, thus causing a chemical reaction that results in a fossil fuel precursor which can easily be converted. This fuel can then be consumed as gasoline or ethanol, thus giving people the ability to keep burning fossil fuels while they research cleaner, more sustainable sources of fuel.

aircleaning_skyscraper3Ultimately, the idea here is not to offer a be-all, end-all solution to the problem, but rather to buy the human race time to clean up its act. And by ensuring that carbon capture technology is available in large urban dwellings, they are looking to ensure that one of the many symptoms of urban sprawl – i.e. large urban dwellings – are part of the solution.

Said Mui and Sahagun on the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) website:

The scrubbers are the first step in a process that generates fuel for a fleet of eco-friendly cars for building residents. The system raises public awareness of air pollution and its impact on the health of Chicagoans.

aircleaning_skyscraper1Aside from the scrubbers, the buildings boast some other impressive features to cut down on urban annoyances. These include the “double skin facade”- two layers of windows – that can cut down on outside traffic noise. In addition, the spaces on either side of the buildings’ central elevator core can be used as outdoor terraces for residents.

Apparently, Mui and Sahagun worked on the project while students at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where it earned them an honorable mention in the 2012 CTBUH student competition. According to Mui, they created the structure after the semester ended, but there are no immediate plans to build it.

aircleaning_skyscraper2However, given the growing interest in arcologies and urban structures that reduce our impact on the environment, it is likely to garner serious interest very soon. Especially in China, where air pollution is so severe that it causes up to 750,000 deaths from respiratory illness a year and cities are still growing, buildings like this one could easily become the stone that kills two birds.

Sources: factcoexist.com, bbc.com

NASA’s 3D Printed Moon Base

ESA_moonbaseSounds like the title of a funky children’s story, doesn’t it? But in fact, it’s actually part of NASA’s plan for building a Lunar base that could one day support inhabitants and make humanity a truly interplanetary species. My thanks to Raven Lunatick for once again beating me to the punch! While I don’t consider myself the jealous type, knowing that my friends and colleagues are in the know before I am on stuff like this always gets me!

In any case, people may recall that back in January of 2013, the European Space Agency announced that it could be possible to build a Lunar Base using 3D printing technology and moon dust. Teaming up with the architecture firm Foster + Partners, they were able to demonstrate that one could fashion entire structures cheaply and quite easily using only regolith, inflatable frames, and 3D printing technology.

sinterhab2_1And now, it seems that NASA is on board with the idea and is coming up with its own plans for a Lunar base. Much like the ESA’s planned habitat, NASA’s would be located in the Shackleton Crater near the Moon’s south pole, where sunlight (and thus solar energy) is nearly constant due to the Moon’s inclination on the crater’s rim. What’s more, NASA”s plan would also rely on the combination of lunar dust and 3D printing for the sake of construction.

However, the two plans differ in some key respects. For one, NASA’s plan – which goes by the name of SisterHab – is far more ambitious. As a joint research project between space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Ondrej Doule and scientists from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SinterHab is so-named because it involves sintering lunar dust: heating it up with microwaves to the point where the dust fuses to become a solid, ceramic-like block.

This would mean that bonding agents would not have to be flown to the Moon, which is called for in the ESA’s plan. What’s more, the NASA base would be constructed by a series of giant spider robots designed by JPL Robotics. The prototype version of this mechanical spider is known as the Athlete rover, which despite being a half-size variant of the real thing has already been successfully tested on Earth.

athlete_robotEach one of these robots is human-controlled, has six 8.2m legs with wheels at the end, and comes with a detachable habitable capsule mounted at the top. Each limb has a different function, depending on what the controller is looking to do. For example, it has tools for digging and scooping up soil samples, manipulators for poking around in the soil, and will have a microwave 3D printer mounted on one of the legs for the sake of building the base. It also has 48 3D cameras that stream video to its operator or a remote controlling station.

The immediate advantages to NASA’s plan are pretty clear. Sintering is quite cheap, in terms of power as well as materials, and current estimates claim that an Athlete rover should be able to construct a habitation “bubble” in only two weeks. Another benefit of the process is that astronauts could use it on the surface of the Moon surrounding their base, binding dust and stopping it from clogging their equipment. Moon dust is extremely abrasive, made up of tiny, jagged morcels rather than finely eroded spheres.

sinterhab3Since it was first proposed in 2010 at the International Aeronautical Congress, the concept of SinterHab has been continually refined and updated. In the end, a base built on its specifications will look like a rocky mass of bubbles connected together, with cladding added later. The equilibrium and symmetry afforded in this design not only ensures that grouping will be easy, but will also guarantee the structural integrity and longevity of the structures.

As engineers have known for quite some time, there’s just something about domes and bubble-like structures that were made to last. Ever been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul? Ever looked at a centuries old building with Onion Dome and felt awed by their natural beauty? Well, there’s a  reason they’re still standing! Knowing that we can expect similar beauty and engineering brilliance down the road gives me comfort.

In the meantime, have a gander at the gallery for the proposed SinterHab base, and be sure to check out this video of the Athlete rover in action:

Source: Wired.co.uk, robotics.jpl.nasa.gov