In addition to causing extensive damage, Hurricane Sandy demonstrated just how woefully prepared people in New York for major storm surges. When the water began rising back in October, due to intense rainfall and wind, there was little in the way to stop it or break in the incoming flow. As such, plans are now being considered for creating a buffer zone to protect the city from future storms.
Mitch Joachim, the co-founder of Terreform ONE, has a rather novel suggestion for how this could be done. Basically, he wants to submerge old Navy ships in the New York Harbor, creating a “riparian buffer zone” that could better handle large volumes of water. This is just one of many projects his company is involved in, which include improving transportation links in Red Hook and Governor’s Island, and ecologically engineering Brooklyn’s Navy Yard.
According to Joachim, their firm hit on the idea of using ship hulls to create a walkway that rises up from the harbor floor. In addition to providing protection for New Yorkers, he claims it would be cosmetically pleasing as well:
We thought one way to make gabions really quick is to take hulls from ghost fleets, cut them into sections, and then puzzle-fit the geometry together. It allows over time the transformation of that landscape. Over years of sediment building up, you would have environments that privilege humans at certain points of the day. But then as tide changes occur, you would have aqueous environments that privilege other life besides humans.
Basically, the walkway would help keep rising tides back in the near future, and would serve as a natural habitat once the tides rise and move in to claim them. By cutting the hulls into clam-like shapes, the organization says that New York could restore a diversified structure to its waterfront, slowing the water before it makes land.
Joachim points out that dumping junk into New York waterways has a long history, much of it constructive in nature. Parts of Manhattan, like Battery Park City, were built on land created artificially from construction waste. And sinking ships is already one means of disposal, for the sake of creating artificial reefs. The only other method is what is known as “ship breaking”, which is far worse.
This methods of retiring ships involves cutting ships up for scrap and then recycling the usable steel parts. This practice is both environmentally unsound and can lead to toxic chemicals leeching into the ocean, which is why the majority of ship breaking operations occur in developing countries, such as Bangladesh, India, China, Pakistan and Turkey.
So in addition to offering protection to coastal cities that are currently ill-prepared for the worst effects of Climate Change, reusing ships to augment the world’s harbor fronts could also help reduce the environmental stress we place on other coastlines. It’s like repurposing one problem to deal with two more. Quite clever, when you think about it!
Back 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?
One 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.
Not 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?
There’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.
This 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.
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:
The human race has been thinking the way it lives in the past few decades, due mainly to a number of challenges posed by climate change and resource development. This is not only an environmentally and socially responsible idea, its an absolute necessity given the sheer number of people that live in urban sprawl, and the many more that will need homes, sanitation, food and energy in the near future.
And a number of interesting concepts are being proposed. Using striking technological breakthroughs across multiple fields of study, designers are moving closer to making lightweight buildings that can move, and perhaps even think and feel. Instead of hard, polished building faces, emerging prototypes from some of the world’s research centers suggest future cities that would resemble living, breathing environments.
To break it down succinctly, urban environments of the future will be built of “smarter” materials, will most likely be constructed using advanced techniques – possibly involving robots or bacteria – and will be powered by greener, more sustainable means. Sanitation and irrigation will also be provided and involve a fair degree of recycling, and food will be grown in-house.
And while much of this will be accomplished with good old-fashioned plumbing, air vents, and electrical circuits, a good deal more could come in the form of structures that are made to resemble and even behave like living organisms. Might sound like a distant prospect or purely theoretical, but in fact many of these ideas are already being implemented in existing and planned cities around the world.
For example, the planned community of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, designer Alexander Rieck has helped create a vast central cluster of opening and closing solar powered “sunflower” umbrellas that capture the sun’s rays during the day and fold at night, releasing stored heat in a continual cycle. In addition, the concept of the Wind Stalk is being pursued to generate wind-farms which don’t rely on turbines, and look just like standing fields of grass.
Another project comes from the American designer Mitchell Joachim of Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology), who’s plans for a vast site covering Brooklyn’s Navy Yard call for the engineering of living tissues into viable buildings. This would involve concepts like his “living tree house” which involves building a human habitat by merging the construction process with the surrounding environment.
Such a project not only presents a way of building structures in a way that is far more energy-efficient, but also fully-integrated into the ecology. In addition, they would even be able to provide a measure of food for their inhabitants and be able to clean the local air thanks to the fact that they are made from carbon-capturing trees and plants.
And there was this project by Near-Living Architecture which was recently shown at the London Building Centre Gallery. Here we see a floating canopy of aluminum meshwork fitted with dense masses of interconnected glass and polymer filters that houses a carbon-capture system that works in much the same way that limestone is deposited by living marine environments.
Within each cell of the suspended filter array, valves draw humid air through chemical chambers where chalk-like precipitate forms, an incremental process of carbon fixing. This is not only an example of how futures of the city will help remove pollution from the air, but how buildings themselves will merge biological with artificial, creating a sort of “biomimetic building”.
What it all comes down to is breaking with the conventional paradigm of architecture which emphasizes clean, linear structures that utilize idealized geometric shapes, highly processed materials, and which create sanitary artificial environments. The new paradigm calls for a much more holistic approach, where materials are more natural (built of local materials, carbon, or biomimetic compounds) forms are interwoven, and the structures function like organics.
All of this cannot come soon enough. According to a recent UN report, three-quarters of humanity will live in our swelling cities by 2050.The massive influx to our planet’s urban populations could create a whole host of problems – from overcrowding to air pollution, extra stress on natural resources and loss of habitats to grow more food. The most obvious solution to this problem is to make sure that these future cities are part of the solution, and not more of the same dirty living spaces that generate megatons of waste and pollution year after year.
Hope you’re enjoying this “Climate Crisis” segment, and that its not getting anybody down. Granted, its a heavy subject, but crises have a way of bringing the best and brightest people and ideas to the fore, which is what I hope to present here. By addressing our present and future needs with innovative concepts, we stand to avert disaster and create a better world for future generations.
Up next, I plan to take a look at some of the air-cleaning building designs that are currently being produced and considered. Stay tuned!