Climate Crisis: London’s River Village and Pools

https://i2.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02192/london-from-space_2192333k.jpgOne of the greatest challenges facing future urban planning is the very real prospect of running out of land. In addition to urban sprawl encroaching on neighboring farmlands, the concentration of people at the core eventually creates a situation where open spaces become incredibly scarce. Luckily, the city of London – one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world – is coming up with some innovative solutions.

For starters, the city is developing the area around some former dockyards in East London to accommodate a floating neighborhood. Borrowing from similar projects that were initiated in the Netherlands to prepare for rising sea levels, London’s new river-based housing program is designed to place housing in the one spot that hasn’t been converted to high-rise apartments or suburban dwellings.

https://i0.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-3-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgExperts from the Netherlands are helping to plan the new “floating village,” which will include 50 floating homes around a neighborhood square that comes complete with floating restaurants, offices, and shops, and possibly a floating swimming pool (more on that below). A floating walkway will lead back to land, where the city plans a much larger development with tens of thousands of new homes.

Earlier in its history, the area, known as the Royal Docks, served hundreds of cargo and passenger ships each day. The three docks were the largest enclosed docks in the world – 250 acres of water and over 1000 acres of land – and got more use than any other port in London. But they haven’t been in use for the last several decades, and that’s why the city wants to transform the area.

https://i0.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-1-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgAs Richard Blakeway, the city’s deputy mayor for housing, land and property

With demand for new homes in London soaring, we need to put every scrap of available land to the best possible use. Tens of thousands of new homes, workspace, leisure, and cultural facilities are being developed . . . The ‘Floating Village’ will be yet another draw, restoring London’s docklands to their former glory as a centre of enterprise and bringing jobs, growth, homes and visitors.

On the same front, the city of London is also contemplating turning its river waters into a massive public pools project. Known as the Thames Bath Project, this idea was inspired by similar ideas where swimming pools have been created out of waterways. For example, New York has a project called +Pool, which has raised more than $300,000 in crowd-funding, and looks set for a 2016 launch.

https://i2.wp.com/h.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2014/08/3034656-inline-i-1-london-joins-list-of-cities-building-pools-in-their-rivers.jpgThe Thames Baths Project is similar, aiming to create a freshwater lagoon amid the meandering old waterway. The consortium responsible consists of Studio Octopi, Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, all of whom won the competition last year to come up with new river uses. Initially, they hoped to create a pool using water from the Thames that would be filtered and treated.

However, that plan has since been updated and improved to something a little more sanitary. Now, they plan to pump in freshwater, rejected the New York City idea of filtering the water as it enters the pool space because of the concern of sewage. And though London has a major sewage system upgrade planned, the designers are worried it won’t be ready in time to ensure sufficient water quality.

london-poolAs Chris Romer-Lee, director of Octopi, explained:

We’re using freshwater because of the sewage overflows from the aging [Sir Joseph William] Bazalgette sewers. They dump millions of tons of sewage into the river after even the shortest rain storm. A filtration system could work. We’ve been looking at natural swimming pools and the filtering systems they use. But the +Pool filtering system is as yet unproven.

The design calls for floating pontoons with space for three pools –  one large, one medium, and one for paddling. A thick layer of vegetation will mark the edges and a ramp leading off the side will connect swimmers back to firm ground. The $8.5 million plans are still awaiting approval from the city, but, if all goes well, the baths could be completed sometime early in the next decade.

london-pools1The purpose, according to Romer-Lee, is about re-purposing something that would otherwise be forgotten:

We need these baths to reconnect Londoners with their largest public space. The river is used extensively for transporting building materials, passengers and the like but is increasingly becoming something that Londoners look over and don’t engage with.

Meanwhile, Berlin also has a proposal for an open river pool, as does Copenhagen, which actually already has swimming in its harbor. No doubt, it won’t be long before others follow. In fact, the idea of re-purposing public spaces that have fallen into disuse is becoming increasingly popular – not just as a response to sprawl, but as an innovative solution of what to do with infrastructure that has fallen into disuse.

Cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Hamilton, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec – just to name a few – all might want to consider getting on board with this…

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

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

The Future is Bright: Positive Trends to Look For in 2014

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklersWith all of the world’s current problems, poverty, underdevelopment, terrorism, civil war, and environmental degradation, it’s easy to overlook how things are getting better around the world. Not only do we no longer live in a world where superpowers are no longer aiming nuclear missiles at each other and two-thirds of the human race live beneath totalitarian regimes; in terms of health, mortality, and income, life is getting better too.

So, in honor of the New Year and all our hopes for a better world, here’s a gander at how life is improving and is likely to continue…

1. Poverty is decreasing:
The population currently whose income or consumption is below the poverty line – subsisting on less than $1.25 a day –  is steadily dropping. In fact, the overall economic growth of the past 50 years has been proportionately greater than that experienced in the previous 500. Much of this is due not only to the growth taking place in China and India, but also Brazil, Russia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, while developing nations complain about debt crises and ongoing recession, the world’s poorest areas continue to grow.

gdp-growth-20132. Health is improving:
The overall caloric consumption of people around the world is increasing, meaning that world hunger is on the wane. Infant mortality, a major issue arising from poverty, and underdevelopment, and closely related to overpopulation, is also dropping. And while rates of cancer continue to rise, the rate of cancer mortality continue to decrease. And perhaps biggest of all, the world will be entering into 2014 with several working vaccines and even cures for HIV (of which I’ve made many posts).

3. Education is on the rise:
More children worldwide (especially girls) have educational opportunities, with enrollment increasing in both primary and secondary schools. Literacy is also on the rise, with the global rate reaching as high as 84% by 2012. At its current rate of growth, global rates of literacy have more than doubled since 1970, and the connections between literacy, economic development, and life expectancy are all well established.

literacy_worldwide4. The Internet and computing are getting faster:
Ever since the internet revolution began, connection speeds and bandwidth have been increasing significantly year after year. In fact, the global average connection speed for the first quarter of 2012 hit 2.6 Mbps, which is a 25 percent year-over-year gain, and a 14 percent gain over the fourth quarter of 2011. And by the second quarter of 2013, the overall global average peak connection speed reached 18.9 Mbps, which represented a 17 percent gan over 2012.

And while computing appears to be reaching a bottleneck, the overall increase in speed has increased by a factor of 260,000 in the past forty years, and storage capacity by a factor of 10,000 in the last twenty. And in terms of breaking the current limitations imposed by chip size and materials, developments in graphene, carbon nanotubes, and biochips are promising solutions.

^5. Unintended pregnancies are down:
While it still remains high in the developing regions of the world, the global rate of unintended pregnancies has fallen dramatically in recent years. In fact, between 1995 and 2008, of 208 billion pregnancies surveyed in a total of 80 nations, 41 percent of the pregnancies were unintended. However, this represents a drop of 29 percent in the developed regions surveyed and a 20 percent drop in developing regions.

The consequences of unintended pregnancies for women and their families is well established, and any drop presents opportunities for greater health, safety, and freedom for women. What’s more, a drop in the rate of unwanted pregnancies is surefire sign of socioeconomic development and increasing opportunities for women and girls worldwide.

gfcdimage_06. Population growth is slowing:
On this blog of mine, I’m always ranting about how overpopulation is bad and going to get to get worse in the near future. But in truth, that is only part of the story. The upside is while the numbers keep going up, the rate of increase is going down. While global population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 and 10.1 billion by 2100, this represents a serious slowing of growth.

If one were to compare these growth projections to what happened in the 20th century, where population rose from 1 billion to just over 6, they would see that the rate of growth has halved. What’s more, rates of population growth are expecting to begin falling in Asia by 2060 (one of the biggest contributors to world population in the 20th century), in Europe by 2055, and the Caribbean by 2065.

Population_curve.svgIn fact, the only region where exponential population growth is expected to happen is Africa, where the population of over 1 billion is expected to reach 4 billion by the end of the 21st century. And given the current rate of economic growth, this could represent a positive development for the continent, which could see itself becoming the next powerhouse economy by the 2050s.

7. Clean energy is getting cheaper:
While the price of fossil fuels are going up around the world, forcing companies to turn to dirty means of oil and natural gas extraction, the price of solar energy has been dropping exponentially. In fact, the per capita cost of this renewable source of energy ($ per watt) has dropped from a high of $80 in 1977 to 0.74 this past year. This represents a 108 fold decrease in the space of 36 years.

solar_array1And while solar currently comprises only a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity supply, its total share grew by 86% last year. In addition, wind farms already provide 2% of the world’s electricity, and their capacity is doubling every three years. At this rate of increase, solar, wind and other renewables are likely to completely offset coal, oil and gas in the near future.

Summary:
In short, things are looking up, even if they do have a long way to go. And a lot of what is expected to make the world a better place is likely to happen this year. Who knows which diseases we will find cures for? Who knows what inspirational leaders will come forward? And who knows what new and exciting inventions will be created, ones which offer creative and innovative solutions to our current problems?

Who knows? All I can say is that I am eager to find out!

Additional Reading: unstats.un.org, humanprogress.org, mdgs.un.org

Feeding the Future: 3D Printing to End World Hunger?

3DfoodThe Systems & Materials Research Corporation, a 3D printing development firm, received a lot of attention after it became revealed that NASA had hired him (to the tune of $125,000) to develop a printer that could create pizza. Looking ahead to the era of deep-space exploration, NASA wanted something that could provide its astronauts with food that was tasty, nutritious, and not subject to a shelf life.

But to Anjan Contractor, the head of SMRC, 3D printing also presents a solution to a much more terrestrial problem: world hunger. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store.

3dfood1Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years. Each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would therefore be fully exhausted before ever needing to be returned to the store. So in addition to providing for our daily needs, this process would also eliminate a massive proportion of the waste we generate on a daily basis.

In addition, the proliferation of food synthesizers is also likely lead to new and diverse ways of producing the basic calories on which we rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. And with open source software, where people can upload and download recipes all the time, people will have a chance to get creative and expand the repertoire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd in addition to alleviating hunger, there is the added (and arguably bigger) bonus of relieving pressure on the natural environment. Already, environmentalists are gravelly concerned about the amount of land that is consumed every year by urban sprawl. But even more disconcerting is the amount of land, forests, wetlands, and natural habitats, that are consumed and destroyed by the need to farm food for these environments, and dispose of their waste.

And he is hardly alone when it comes to the concept of turning powdered ingredients and pastes into food. The Dutch holding company known as TNO Research, which owns several technology firms, has also been contemplating the possibilities of turning any food-like starting material into an edible meal. According to an outline provided by their researchers, 3D printed meals of the future could include any of the following “alternative ingredients”:

  • algae
  • duckweed
  • grass
  • lupine seeds
  • beet leafs
  • insects

As long as the biological properties of the base materials are appropriate – meaning they have the requisite carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids, etc – than it should be possible to synthesize just about anything.

3dfood2In addition, companies like Philips and institutions like MIT have been working on the concept of food printers for many years. In Philip’s case, this research led to the creation of the Diagnostic Kitchen program. This led to ideas for a Food Printer, which was inspired by the concept of ‘molecular gastronomists’, chefs who deconstruct meals and then reassemble it in completely different ways.

In much the same way, a Food Printer would take various edible ingredients and then combine and ‘print’ them in the desired shape and consistency. The nutritional value and relevance of what was being ‘printed’ would also be adjusted based on input from the diagnostic kitchen’s nutrition monitor. If, for example, you were trying to carbo-load for an athletic event, wanted to build muscle, or lower your cholesterol, you could tweek the levels of carbs, protein, or fatty acids to suit your needs.

MIT_3DprinterAnd there’s the Cornucopia,  a 3D printer that was unveiled by MIT’s gastronomy geeks back in 2010. Here, a series of refrigerated food canisters provide the food ingredients, which are then deposited into a built-in mixer which delivers concoctions that can be either heated or cooled thanks to a temperature controlled print head. A touch screen allows users to dial in what they want, and adjust ingredients to get the desired end.

Granted, there are those who won’t likely see this as an appetizing prospect. But as Contractor notes, that’s probably because they haven’t tried the high-end stuff yet. As the technology improves, attitudes about printed food products are likely to change. What’s more, he also believes overpopulation might add a little incentive to the mix:

I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently. So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.

Quite right. When the world is bursting at the seems and so many people are forced to live together in close quarters, hardly anyone is likely to raise a fuss about assembled food. Not when the alternative is an empty belly or a planet that will collapse from the weight of so much farming and waste. So if you’re the kind of person who likes their meat, veggies and fruits to be farmed locally and organically, you may want to consider moving to the country!

And be sure to check out this concept video produced by NTO that showcases the future of 3D printing, which of course includes food production:


Source:
qz.com, popucity.net, geek.com

Climate Crisis: Population Growth in Coming Years

trafficWhen it comes to populations and environmental problems, cities are at the very heart of the issue. Not only are they where the majority of humanity lives, a reality which will only get worse as time goes on, they are also the source of most of our pollution, waste, and land use. People require space to live and work, as well as food, water and

Last year, the world’s population increased to 7 billion, which represents a seven-fold increase in the space of the last two centuries. What’s more, the proportion of people living in urban centers (as opposed to rural) shot up from 3% to almost half of the world’s people. This rate of population growth and redistribution is unprecedented, and is not likely to slow down anytime soon.

urbanworld_50Consider the following series of infographics which were released by Unicef with the help of the design studio Periscopic. Titled “An Urban World”, they illustrate the issues of population growth and distribution. This interactive, HTML5 visualization of the world covers the years of 1950-2050. But rather than showing our geographic boundaries, every country* is depicted only by their population living in urban environments.

As you can see, each country is represented by a circle that depicts the number of people living in urban environments. As these populations grow, the circles get bigger. And as urban populations get more dense, the circles shift from green to blue to yellow to fuchsia. Immediately, a glaring fact is made clear: the problem is getting worse and at an alarming rate.

urbanworld_2000In addition, there are several nuggets of info which are staggering and particularly worrisome. For example, by 2050, both China and India will have about a billion people living in cities alone. In addition, since the 1990s, more than 75% of the U.S. population has lived in cities. At one time, the US was an outlier in this regard, but found ourselves joined over the next two decades by France, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, Korea, Australia, and Brazil.

But of course, this growth need not be a bad thing. When all is said and done, humanity has a choice. One the one hand, these megacities can take the form of smartly scaled communities of loosely populated expanses and efficient agriculture. On the other, they could easily take the form of urban slums and underdeveloped countrysides that are stricken by poverty and filthy.

urbanworld_2050It’s a complex issue, no doubt about it, especially when you consider the flip side to the whole equation. As the saying goes, every new life means a new mouth to feed, but also a pair of working hands. What’s more, studies have shown that people living in cities tend to be far more energy efficient, and that energy surplus is usually directed toward more and more technological growth and innovation.

Seen in this light, the massive cities of the future could be hubs for the ongoing development of new energies and creative living solutions. And with more people living in large, connected, interdependent environments, the more business startups, ideas, and contributions were likely to get. Part of the reason we have seen so much progress in solar, piezoelectric motors, and bio-electricity is because of this trend. More growth will conversely mean more clean energy.

overpopulation Quite the paradox, really. Who knew people could be both the cause and solution to the world’s worst problem! In the meantime, feel free to head on over to the Unicef site and watch this interactive infographic. Just press play, and watch the cities of the world swell at the edges, competing for room on the page as they compete for room on this planet.

Also, be sure to take a gander at this infographic from BBC Future that demonstrates the current population of the world’s major cities per square meter, the projected population per square meter by 2050, and the livability rating of the city in question. They even provide some context at the bottom by showing the size of relative spaces – from prison cells to Olympic swimming pools, and comparing that to the average space an urban dweller enjoys.

city_spaces
Sources:
bbc.com, fastcodesign.com
, unicef.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

Candidates for De-Extinction

Woolly Mammoth Replica in Museum ExhibitIt’s no secret that humanity’s success on this planet we call Earth has come at a high cost. Since our ancestors began migrating out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, their passage and settlement have left marks on the natural environment and its species. In short, our ability to grow has always meant extinction for other species, be they other forms of high-order primates (such as Neanderthals) or animals hunted for their pelts and meat (such as wooly mammoths).

In fact, the Neolithic Revolution, which began some 15,000 years ago with the adoption of farming, was believed to have been motivated by the mass extinction of animals that were once hunted by our ancestors. And since that time, countless more species have been pushed to the brink or killed off entirely by our ever-expanding, consuming, and polluting ways. However, recent innovations in biology and bio-medicine might just be able to reverse this trend.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last Friday, at a at a National Geographic-sponsored TEDx conference, scientists met in Washington, D.C. to discuss which animals we should bring back from extinction, as well as the means and ethics involved in doing so. They called it “de-extinction”, and considered which species they would consider restoring to existence. The conference resulted in a list of 24 species that were selected for restoration, as well as some guidelines for the selection process.

Those chosen were based on the following criteria and future selections will be determined the same way:

  1. Are the species desirable — do they hold an important ecological function or are they beloved by humans?
  2. Are the species practical choices — do we have access to tissue that could give us good quality DNA samples or germ cells to reproduce the species?
  3. And are they able to be reintroduced to the wild — are the habitats in which they live available and do we know why they went extinct in the first place?

As you might imagine, dinosaurs didn’t make the cut. In addition to no longer serving and important ecological function, the habitats they once had access to are long gone (Earth’s climate and ecology have changed drastically since the Cretaceous Period), and most importantly, we no longer have access to their DNA.

TEDxDeExtinctionYes, despite what Michael Crichton told us, the DNA of dinosaur fossils is so far degraded that something like Jurassic Park would never be possible. And of course, despite being beloved by humans, they aren’t exactly safe customers to have around! But rest assured, the list of candidates is still very long.

Of the 24 species selected, the majority were families of birds which were pushed to extinction due to hunting, deforestation, urban sprawl, pollution, and loss of habitat. In addition, the famous Auroch, a species of cattle that is commemorated in myth but which actually existed until 1627. And then there’s the equally famous DoDo bird, the fearless bird which was rendered extinct by Portuguese settlers in its native Mauritius.

woolly-mammoth1And then there’s the venerable Wooly Mammoth, the great shaggy member of the Elephantidae family which went extinct some 4000 years ago. Not only is this animals demise directly associated with humanity’s ascendance to the top of the food chain, it is something which may now be entirely reversible. Thanks to frozen, preserved carcasses of Mammoths, which are still found in the north to this day, scientists have access to well-preserved strands of their DNA.

And as already noted, the issue of cost, ethics and desirability featured pretty prominently in the conference. For starters, those present had to consider whether or not it would be a good idea to bring animals back from the brink seeing as how it was human agency that led to their extinction in the first place. Is the world any better off than it was hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Would these animals find new purchase, or just end up dying off again?

sabre-tooth-tiger-_1117360cSecond, there was the question of housing them and reintroducing them into the wild. Not only is it a question of them being able to find habitats again, it’s a question of whether or not we can ensure the kind of transition that would be needed. Sure, we’d all love to see Sabre-Tooth tigers alive and well again, but its not like we can just clone them and send them back out into the wild. Who’s to say how their reintroduction will impact species that are currently roaming about in the wild?

And of course, there was the consideration of what all this tampering amounts to. Given that human agency is responsible for all this loss of life, would resurrecting them simply be more of the same? Would we be, in effect, playing God and tampering with forces best left to nature? All good questions, and they force us to consider an alternative proposition.

Perhaps what would be best for the natural world and its remaining species would be for us to stop behaving so irresponsibly. Perhaps we should focus on sustainable living, cleaning up pollution, ending climate change, and getting our own population under control before we start trying to repopulate other species. Still, it is an intriguing possibility, and provides some reassurance that no matter how much damage we end up doing, that we might be able to undo some after the fact. Perhaps we just need to wait…

Too bad about Jurassic Park though. In the course of everything else discussed at this TED conference, I’m sure that the announcement that dinosaurs were as good as gone shattered the dreams of many an eccentric billionaire!

t-rex

Sources: businessinsider.com, nationalgeographic.com