Shanghai Talks> Watch SOM’s top sustainable engineer talk air quality, environmental design

Architecture International Skyscrapers Sustainability Technology
Zhengzhou Greenland Plaza, a 280-meter-tall SOM tower Leung worked on. (© Si-ye Zhang)

Zhengzhou Greenland Plaza, a 918-foot-tall SOM tower Leung worked on. (Si-ye Zhang)

Last September, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat invited me to serve as the special media correspondent for its Shanghai symposium, entitled Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism.

I conducted video interviews with dozens of architects, developers, building managers, and others on topics relevant to tall building design and sustainable urbanism. Among the many designers, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Luke Leung, director of sustainable engineering for SOM.

In Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower (an SOM building), we talked air quality, sustainable design metrics, and whether humanity might be able to build ourselves out of the environmental mess we find ourselves in.

“The tall building can help to create better health and potentially less carbon emissions in the city per capita,” Leung said, but he added it’s important to address the issue holistically. We need to reduce emissions associated with embodied carbon, transportation carbon and operating carbon, Leung said: “We need to strike to make those three components to be all approaching net-zero.”

Asked if LEED is still the best way to rank green buildings, Leung acknowledged shortcomings in how we talk about sustainable design.

“It’s amazing that the focus is on energy and water, while the building is designed for human beings,” he said. And he called for more attention to human-centric systems that address human health: “From that standpoint all the green building systems, they have room for improvement, but LEED is one that starts addressing some of those issues.”

Finally, in light of technological progress, Leung stressed humility before nature.

“[To] go back and listen to the basic laws of nature is our best bet,” Leung said. “But that time is limited.”

Watch more videos on CTBUH’s website, and on YouTube. You can subscribe to their monthly video series here.

Luke Leung talking to AN Midwest Editor Chris Bentley in Shanghai, 2014. (Courtesy CTBUH)

Luke Leung talking to AN Midwest Editor Chris Bentley in Shanghai, 2014. (Courtesy CTBUH)

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