All posts in Sustainability

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Ocean Motion

Architects rethink material and form with a new floating lab
For many, the future floats. Seasteaders, BIG’s floating city, the “Danish silicon valley” (at sea, naturally): in a time of rising tides, many are suggesting working with, or on, the ocean rather than against it. Add the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab to the list. The 13-foot-by-8-foot object was designed by architects and designers Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, and Evan Jones as a prototypical "island" that demonstrates not just an understanding of marine ecology, but also digital design and fabrication techniques. And, not just a Band-Aid approach, it actively protects coastal communities from the brunt of rising seas by dispersing the energy of oncoming waves. The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab is the result of a collaboration between California College of the Art’s architecture school and students in the Architectural Ecologies Lab (AEL), along with scientists at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Benthic Lab. Fabrication support was supplied by Kreysler & Associates. The AEL was founded in 2018, as Ikeda told Hyperallergic, “a research lab that could link speculative architectural thinking with real-world prototyping and scientific expertise,” and go beyond academic borders. Intended as a “new kind of resilient coastal infrastructure,” the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab is the result of multiple years of research into new composites and new forms for ecologically-sound architectures. One of the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab’s key innovations is its fiber-reinforced polymer composite substrate. The “ecologically optimized” material can be digitally formed into varied contours—“underwater topographies”—that encourage the settlement of invertebrate animals that “contribute to the biological diversity of the marine ecology.” Using peaks and valleys on both sides of the structure—produced in two identical halves to minimize the waste of producing custom molds—of varying sizes, the Lab features “fish apartments” supplied by nutrients from plankton and other invertebrates that are carried along by flowing water. Not only does this process and living space for marine animals increase biodiversity, but the biological growth it facilitates also has the added effect of “attenuat[ing] wave action and reduc[ing] coastal erosion.” Thinking ahead, the Lab has scouted out additional locations to attach more prototypes, including future versions of structures made from the same unique composite, designed to further enhance wave attenuation, or reduce the intensity of waves acting on it. The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab will be deployed in San Francisco Bay this year.
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Standard Procedure

The Rockefeller Foundation nixed its resilient cities program. Now it's launching a new one
Elizabeth Yee, who served as 100RC's Vice President of Resilience Finance for five years, will be joining the Climate and Resilience initiative as the managing director. Before landing at 100RC, she worked in public finance at Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and Barclays. "Rapid changes in climate are exposing global citizens to unpredictable risks, and there is an increasing need to leverage data and technology to ensure we make informed decisions, and design and deliver solutions that improve the resilience of communities," said Yee in a prepared statement. "Continuing to support the 100RC Network is a core part of our ability to understand and tackle these immense challenges, which require creative, blended capital solutions to address at scale." The Climate and Resilience initiative will facilitate grants for disaster recovery, and will tie into the foundation's long-term work in health, food, energy, and, per the press release, the "expansion of US economic opportunities." Last month CityLab reported that part of the reason for 100RC's dissolution was that The Rockefeller Foundation wanted to drop around $5 or $6 million on the program annually, not the $30 to $40 million it was spending. Beyond money, the foundation didn't quite know how to measure the results of its investments, particularly the Chief Resilience Officers (CROs). The CROs are a network of professionals who oversee resilience capacity-building in member cities' governments whose salaries were paid by 100RC. The Climate and Resilience initiative will continue to cut checks for CROs, but as of now, it is unclear how long the initiative will be funded.
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Green as Hel

Finland to go carbon neutral by 2035
Following the election in April of this year of a left-leaning, five-party coalition government in Finland, the country has pledged to institute a wide-ranging increase in infrastructure and welfare spending and to make the country carbon neutral by 2035. If enacted, the transition would make Finland the first fossil fuel-free country in the world.  Social Democratic party leader Antti Rinne set the target on June 3 and broke down how Finland would reach such an ambitious goal. The plan to combat climate change involves a full-scale mobilization of the Finnish economy and an overt rejection of the austerity imposed by the former center-right coalition.  Rinne emphasized that efforts will stem directly from internal cutbacks and reorganization of national energy sourcing, rather than from outsourcing carbon dioxide emissions via carbon-capture credits in other countries. The plan is slated to be reviewed in 2025. "Building the world's first fossil-free, sustainable society is going to require much more than nice words on paper,” said Sini Harkki, a Greenpeace Nordic representative, “but we're determined to make it happen."  The new government will increase public spending by $1.4 billion per year over their incoming term, made possible by increasing taxes by an estimated $828 million—much of that stemming from fossil fuel levies. The government’s plan to address infrastructure and welfare in combination also aims to raise nationwide employment from 72.4 percent (in April of 2019) to 75 percent.    Harkki also commented on the “far from perfect” nature of the plan, which will have major implications on the nation’s forestry and peat industries. However, she cited that with the “broad public support” the government and its program has, steps can be taken to refine government actions and win partisan fights. Some parts of the country have already taken even more progressive steps ahead of any official action. A northern town called Li is on track to cut its emissions by 80 percent by 2020 -- 30 years ahead of the EU’s most ambitious targets. Li has ceased using fossil fuels and instead invested heavily in geothermal, solar, and wind energy sources since 2012, with a payoff: The town generates $568,000 in profit each year. On top of this, they are working towards becoming the world’s first zero-waste community, too.  The financial success and stability of Li counters a stance by the populist Finns party, who claim that the environmental goals of the country’s left would "take the sausage from the mouths of laborers." The push and pull within the Scandinavian country echoes a worldwide divide, one between economic stability in continuing the status-quo and the risks of system overhaul to address emissions issues around the globe. 
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Living on a Green

New York State to go carbon neutral by 2050
The New York State legistlature has passed a wide-sweeping climate mobilization bill, that, if signed by Governor Cuomo as expected, would mandate that New York State go totally carbon-neutral by 2050. Senate Bill S6599, or the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CCPA), has been kicking around the legislature in one form or another for the last three years and has been cited as a precursor to the New Green Deal being proposed on the national stage. After a progressive sweep of the State Senate last year in the general election, the stage was set to pass the wide-ranging bill, which had been held up by Republicans up to that point. The ultimate goal is to create a net-zero, circular economy powered by renewable energy. S6599 requires that the state reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 85 percent of the level it was at in 1990, and to offset the remaining 15 percent through planting trees and wetland restoration. In 2030, the entire state will be required to source a minimum of 70 percent renewable energy and move up to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. While that may seem like an ambitious target, New York State already sources 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power generation. According to the New York Times, the state is preparing to build more offshore wind farms and rooftop solar panels and will ramp up its battery capacity for cloudy and windless days. However, just generating clean electricity won’t be enough. About a quarter of emissions in the state come from buildings, which rely on natural gas and heating oil for heating and cooling, and automobile emissions will still need to be slashed as cars and trucks are converted to run on electricity. Hundreds of millions of dollars will also be doled out for remediation in areas disproportionately impacted by industrial manufacturing. While New York City’s own “Green New Deal” initiative will regulate the construction of new buildings to bring them in line with tighter emissions requirements, the CCPA will need to mobilize thousands of new workers to weatherproof and retrofit every type of building to run on clean electricity. No cost estimate has been given so far, and critics have claimed that the final version of the CCPA was watered down by the governor’s office to exclude important labor provisions. The final S6599 takes aspects of an earlier Climate and Community Protection Act but has eliminated job training initiatives in low-income, climate-vulnerable neighborhoods. Additionally, funding the retraining of workers in fossil fuel industries was cut, as were fair wage provisions for workers in the renewable energy sector. The actual nitty-gritty details on how the CCPA will be implemented will be left to a future 22-person “climate action council” to decide. The council will be made up of experts and elected state officials with knowledge on everything from renewable energy, construction, health, labor, and ecology, and will be further supported by working groups with specialized knowledge.
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Rising Tide

MIT and Maldivian researchers mimic nature to save sinking land
Human-driven climate change is threatening the coastal areas that nearly half of the world calls home with rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms. While dams, barriers, dredging, and artificial reefs are sometimes used to address these “forces of nature,” these strategies come with their own drawbacks and, in some cases, significant environmental and ecological impacts. Researchers at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, in collaboration with Invena, a Maldivian organization, have proposed a solution that is inspired by nature. Called "Growing Islands," their project uses wave energy to grow sand formations in a way that mimics natural sand accumulation. The hope is that over time, sand can “grow” into new islands, beaches, and barriers that can protect coasts from erosion and save islands like the Maldives that are under threat of disappearing under rising seas. The Growing Islands project uses sand-filled 10-foot-by-10-foot canvas bladders with biodegradable 3D-printed interiors that use energy generated by waves to create new protective sand formations to rebuild beaches and act as “adaptable artificial reefs,” according to the lab’s website. The site goes on to explain: “By harnessing wave forces to accelerate and guide the accumulation of sand in strategic locations, and adapting the placement of the devices to seasonal changes and storm direction, our approach aims to naturally and sustainably reshape sand topographies using the forces of nature.” This past winter, the lab and Invena installed these devices off the Maldivian coast and are collecting data by way of on-the-ground measurements, drones, and satellite imagery. They hope to create an affordable, sustainable solution to protecting island nations—many under threat of disappearance—and coastal towns and cities from encroaching water. More dramatically, the lab also imagines that this process could be leveraged at a larger scale to create entire new islands over time.
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Seriously, Guys

Heavy hitters of U.K. architecture declare a “climate emergency”
A group of 17 architecture firms from across the United Kingdom, including Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, released an open letter affirming their commitment to heading off climate change and building a more equitable future for their profession. The planet is in "twin crises," the letter declares, under the heading "UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency." The full list of founding signatories, all 17 of which are RIBA Stirling Prize winners, is as follows: Alison Brooks Architects; Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, AL_A, Caruso St John Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, dRMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Foster + Partners: Haworth Tompkins, Hodder + Partners: Maccreanor Lavington, Michael Wilford, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Stanton Williams, WilkinsonEyre, Witherford Watson Mann, and Zaha Hadid Architects. Together, the group declared that as the construction and maintenance of buildings account for 40 percent of the world’s energy-derived carbon dioxide production, the architecture and construction industries have a responsibility to change their practices. Their list of demands compiles practical changes that can be taken to mitigate further climate change, and to stem the ecological destruction that comes with new construction and urban sprawl. “For everyone working in the construction industry,” reads the Architects Declare statement, “meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behavior. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities, and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.” Those measures include collaborating with engineers, clients, and contractors throughout the project’s lifecycle to reduce waste: retrofitting older, existing structures instead of razing them for new construction whenever possible; enacting whole-lifecycle carbon and occupancy analysis; minimizing waste; sharing knowledge with colleagues whenever possible on best practices; incentivizing climate change and biodiversity loss mitigation through awards, and many others. At the time of writing, 155 U.K.-based firms had signed the pledge. Earlier this week, Foster + Partners became the first architecture studio in the world to sign on to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, meaning that all of their projects would be carbon neutral by 2030.
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Race to Zero

New York State launches competition for low-to-zero carbon development
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has announced the Buildings of Excellence Competition to help spur low-to-zero carbon development in multi-family construction across New York State. A recent report by the New Buildings Institute shows New York State is leading the Northeast in net-zero buildings and provides a groundbreaking review of the state’s net-zero buildings market. But the state wants to do better and achieve its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, and it supports Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal that puts the state on a path to carbon neutrality while spurring growth of the green economy and offering consumers highly efficient, resilient, comfortable and affordable low-carbon living and working spaces. The design and development community is best poised to help solve this problem and make New York a beacon of the green economy. NYSERDA is hoping developers and architects will enter this competition before the deadline of June 4.
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Soak up the sun

The solar-powered FutureHAUS is coming to Times Square
New housing is coming to Times Square, at least temporarily. The Virginia Tech team of students and faculty behind the FutureHAUS, which won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, a competition supported by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and U.S. Department of Energy, will bring a new iteration of its solar-powered home to New York for New York Design Week in collaboration with New York City–based architects DXA Studio. The first Dubai iteration was a 900-square-foot prefab home, that, in addition to being entirely solar powered, featured 67 “futuristic devices,” centered around a few core areas including, according to the team’s website: “entertainment, energy management, aging-in-place, and accessibility.” This included everything from gait recognition for unique user identities and taps that put out precise amounts of water given by voice control to tables with integrated displays and AV-outfitted adjustable rooms. One of the home’s biggest innovations, however, is its cartridge system, developed over the past 20 years by Virginia Tech professor Joe Wheeler. The home comprises a number of prefabricated blocks or "cartridges"—a series of program cartridges includes the kitchen and the living room, and a series of service cartridges contained wet mechanical space and a solar power system. The spine cartridge integrates all these various parts and provides the “central nervous system” to the high-tech house. These all form walls or central mechanical elements that then serve as the central structure the home is built around, sort of like high-tech LEGO blocks. The inspiration behind the cartridges came from the high-efficiency industrial manufacturing and assembly line techniques of the automotive and aerospace industries and leveraged the latest in digital fabrication, CNC routing, robotics, and 3D printing all managed and operated through BIM software. Once the cartridges have been fabricated, assembly is fast. In New York it will take just three days to be packed, shipped, and constructed, “a testament to how successful this system of fabrication and construction is,” said Jordan Rogove, a partner DXA Studio, who is helping realize the New York version of the home. The FutureHAUS team claims that this fast construction leads to a higher-quality final product and ends up reducing cost overall. The cartridge system also came in handy when building in New York with its notoriously complicated permitting process and limited space. “In Dubai an eight-ton crane was used to assemble the cartridges,” explained Rogove. “But to use a crane in Times Square requires a lengthy permit process and approval from the MTA directly below. Thankfully the cartridge system is so versatile that the team has devised a way to assemble without the crane and production it would've entailed.” There have obviously been some alterations to the FutureHAUS in New York. For example, while in Dubai there were screen walls and a courtyard with olive trees and yucca, the Times Square house will be totally open and easy to see, decorated with plants native to the area. The FutureHAUS will be up in Times Square for a week and a half during New York’s design week, May 10 through May 22.
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GND-LA

L.A. city and county developing roadmaps for carbon neutrality
Taking a cue from environmentally-conscious legislators in the nation’s capital, Los Angeles–area municipal entities are making plans to transform and repackage the region’s existing sustainability goals under the mantle of the Green New Deal with the aim of eliminating carbon emissions and boosting social equity. This week, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a wide-ranging “Green New Deal” plan for the city that calls for eliminating carbon emissions in the city entirely by 2045. Like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez– and Ed Markey–backed Green New Deal initiative, Garcetti’s vision for the future of L.A. aims to unify environmental and social policy to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Under the vision, Los Angeles would reduce building energy use by 44 percent by 2050, reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita by 45 percent by 2045, and ensure that 75 percent of the new housing units built in the city would be less than 1,500 feet from a transit stop, among other goals. These efforts would be guided by new job training initiatives that would help deliver economic promise to the city’s residents. Under the plan, the city hopes to shore up its chronic water issues, as well, and plans to source up to 70 percent of L.A.’s water locally while capturing 150,000 acre-feet per year and recycling 100 percent of the water used within city limits by 2035. Simultaneously, Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, is crafting a long-term regional sustainability plan with the help of BuroHappold, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and social justice nonprofit Liberty Hill Foundation. The initiative will deploy a “set of strategies and actions for creating a resilient, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable county,” according to a press release, and calls for eliminating on-road diesel particulate emissions by 100 percent by 2035, sourcing 80 percent of water locally by 2045, and achieving carbon neutrality countywide by 2050. The team behind the plan recently unveiled a draft proposal, available at OurCountyLA.org, that is being workshopped with the help of community members and over 630 stakeholders from 292 regional organizations. If the plans are successful, they would signal a major shift in how the county’s 10 million inhabitants live their lives and could reshape the county’s built environment and transportation infrastructure. Mayor Garcetti’s plan, however, has come under fire for not going far enough from environmental groups like the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the youth-driven organization that helped develop Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal legislation. Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, told Curbed that because the mayor’s plan only posits a reduction in VMT and relies heavily on the use of electric vehicles, “nothing that’s listed here will produce more than a 5 percent reduction,” adding, “It probably won’t bring them anything.”
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Sunny Days

EPFL puts new high-efficiency rooftop solar panels to the test
While solar panels have become increasingly common, the ones usually found on rooftops and the like can convert at most between 17 and 19 percent of received solar energy to usable electricity. This average yield has plateaued, increasingly only about 3.5 percent since the 2000s. More efficient panels are available, like those used on satellites, but they remain cost prohibitive. Insolight, a Swiss startup from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), claims to have developed a scalable alternative, however. The company's new technology uses the same high-efficiency cells found in orbiting satellites but assembled in such a way that minimizes cost differences. Insolight's Mathieu Ackermann, Laurent Coulot, and Florian Gerlich have constructed arrays of very small versions of these high-efficiency cells, mounted with an optical magnifier that concentrates sunlight around 100 times, resulting in cells that take up less than .5 percent of the panel’s surface area but harvest a much larger percentage of the light hitting the panel. Most concentrator-operated solar systems require constant maneuvering to be tilted towards the sun. In order to maximize efficiency without requiring new mounting technology or complicated tilting mechanics, each of the cells is detailed so that it can make tiny, millimeter-level movements to position itself to track the sun without all the cost, space, and reliability issues found in many already available concentrator systems. Insolight's “microtracking” can reportedly capture 100 percent of the light that hits it, regardless of its angle of incidence. The ultra-thin panels can be mounted similarly to any traditional photovoltaic cell, even in a hybrid array layered with standard panels, which is especially useful for cloudy days. The panels spent a year on the roofs of an EPFL pilot site and worked “without a hitch,” according to the trio. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, Insolight projects that the panels could cut electricity bills by as much as 30 percent, as well as provide a greater return on investment than other commercially-available solar options. The company hopes to bring its first products to the market in 2022. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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Spring Awakening

A twisting treehouse by modus studio blooms above the forest floor
Following a soft opening last June, Modus Studio’s hovering Tree House has been captured amid its fully-installed landscape in the firm’s native Arkansas. Tree House sits above the Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre botanical garden owned by the University of Arkansas—frequent Modus collaborators. Rather than sitting at the base of the oak and pine trees found in the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden, Tree House has been elevated to the top of the forest, allowing for expansive views of the canopy. The L-shaped treehouse snakes through the trees, ballooning from a child-sized opening at one end to a two-story observation area, capped with a steel screen, fabricated in-house by Modus, that mimics leaflike capillaries. Other than its biomorphic shape, the treehouse is strongly defined by its central steel spine and 113 timber ribs, which were sourced from local Southern Yellow Pine. The fins simultaneously allow the elements to pass through the treehouse while potentially obscuring the forest and adding a sense of mystery for the occupants. The first of three planned treehouses, the structure was envisioned as a refuge for children to explore the outdoors while learning about nature. Everything from the infrastructure, to the programming, to the intricate finishes, reference dendrology, the study of trees. Visitors can access the treehouse either from an elevated trail or directly from a staircase at the forest’s floor. The Fayetteville-based modus, an Emerging Voices 2018 winner, cited its deep ties to Arkansas’s rural landscape in designing Tree House and were directly involved in every step of the project's process.
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Your Glass is Grass

De Blasio cracks down on glass towers as part of Green New Deal
Days after the New York City Council passed the sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, which will impose emission restrictions on buildings over 25,000 square feet, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a sweeping “Green New Deal” for the city. The OneNYC 2050 initiative, which would see the city go fully carbon neutral by 2050, tackles climate change through new building codes, glass tower crackdowns, renewable energy requirements, citywide composting, investing in resiliency planning, and by supporting the new congestion pricing scheme. The $14 billion package would, combined with actions taken by the prior administration, reduce carbon emissions from a 2005 baseline level by 40 percent by 2030. A number of steps will help the city government decrease emissions 23 percent from a 2005 baseline. The city’s 50,000 buildings over 25,000 square feet will be retrofitted with more efficient technology, and city-owned buildings will be switched over to all-renewable energy sources in the next five years (the city is currently in talks to build out the infrastructure that would allow them to bring in Canadian hydropower). De Blasio also touted the potential restrictions on new towers with inefficient glass curtain walls. “Now, we’re going to take it another step because part of the problem here is that buildings got built that never should have been built to begin with if we were thinking about the needs of our Earth,” said the Mayor when announcing OneNYC 2050 on Earth Day yesterday. “Some of them you can see right behind us in the background. And so, we are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore. “If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use a lot of glass if they do all the other things needed to reduce the emissions. But putting up monuments to themselves that harmed our Earth and threatened our future, that will no longer be allowed in New York City.” The mayor went on to ding Hudson Yards in particular, claiming that many of the towers were inefficiently heated or cooled due to their glass envelopes. De Blasio’s aides were quick to point out that the administration wasn’t banning glass as a facade material outright, but that they would be imposing much rigid standards on performance or allowing developers to purchase carbon offsets instead. Mark Chambers, the city's sustainability director, touted SHoP’s American Copper Building for its smart use of high-performance glass. "The reason I’m saying ban is to emphasize the point that if a company came in, a landlord came in with the exact same kind of design that they’ve come in with in too many cases in the last—just few years, it will be rejected and they would not be allowed to build, period. That’s why I say it’s a ban. You literally will not be physically allowed to build the kinds of buildings that have gone up even recently in this town. Now, you know, there’s good examples and Mark pointed out the Copper Building, the buildings that Cornell-Technion are built to much higher standards which is a good example that you can have, you know, a modern skyscraper that works. But honestly even some of the recent ones built in this city don’t meet appropriate standards and those will no longer be allowed." That drew immediate pushback from Hudson Yards’ developer Related Companies, which told Crain's that the neighborhood was designed to meet LEED standards and that its towers were among the city’s most efficient class A office buildings. Other changes the mayor proposed included amending the city’s electrical code, enacting a citywide organics recycling program (composting), and realigning the city’s development goals with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Although the New York City Green New Deal was announced with much fanfare on de Blasio’s part, actual details of how these changes would be implemented were sparse. The plan will also have to pass a City Council vote as legislation and may change in the process.