All posts in Sustainability

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Sonoran Desert Vernacular by CO Architects

Red-rock mountains and the saguaro cactus inspired the Health Sciences Education Building's rippling copper facade.

Downtown Phoenix, observed CO Architects’ Arnold Swanborn, looks a lot like downtown Minneapolis. That feels wrong, given the two cities’ contrasting environments. So when it came to designing the Health Sciences Education Building (HSEB) at Phoenix Biomedical Campus (which won honorable mention for facades in AN’s Best of Design Awards), CO Architects went back to nature—to the Sonoran Desert in particular. “We’re building in a desert. We really, in the outset, wanted to understand what it’s like to build in a desert environment, to really go back and investigate the people who first moved there, or even some of the [American] Indians who lived [there],” said Swanborn. “The skin is really a response to some of the lessons we learned from going out to the desert, being out there and seeing how plants and animals adapted to that environment.” HSEB’s undulating envelope, comprising 5,972 copper panels and more than 10,000 copper parts, echoes two of the defining features of the Arizona desert. First is the omnipresent saguaro cactus, which evolved a folded skin as a self-shading structure. Second is the layered soil of the nearby mountains. “[T]he [building’s] skin folds in a way that’s similar to the saguaro cactus,” explained Swanborn. “How we emulate the mountains beyond is by creating a shadow pattern by folding and articulating the metal panels.” Copper was a natural choice for the exterior cladding. HSEB went up during the recession, said Swanborn, “when everyone was very sensitive to making sure everything was local.” Copper is one of Arizona’s “five C’s”: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. In addition, copper is highly conductive, meaning it responds quickly to the region’s aggressive swings in temperature. “Because it’s a rain screen technology we innovated into a sunscreen, there’s a space between the copper skin and building envelope,” said Swanborn. “There’s a 2 ½- or 3-inch air cavity that essentially acts as a chimney. The air gets superheated, and it essentially creates a vertical convection effect, which wicks heat away from the building.” On a 100-degree day, the copper skin keeps the interior a (relatively) cool 70. Finally, copper ages well. “Over time it patinas beautifully,” said Swanborn. “It’s easy to take care of; it kind of takes care of itself.”
  • Facade Manufacturer Kovach Building Enclosures
  • Architects CO Architects, Ayers Saint Gross (Associate Architect)
  • Consultants Transsolar (Climate Engineering)
  • Location Phoenix
  • Date of Completion 2012
  • System copper rain screen with sunshades and PTFE canopy
  • Products Kovach Building Enclosures custom copper panels and sunshades, Trenwyth Industries (Oldcastle) Trendstone ground face masonry units, Viracon VNE1-63 glass
Phoenix’s climate informed every aspect of the exterior design, starting with the massing. CO Architects worked with Transsolar to determine a shape that would maximize shading. The building is arranged around a narrow courtyard running from east to west, which the architects modeled on the Sonoran desert’s slot canyons. The courtyard is topped with a polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE) shading structure, which “allows daylight to filter through—sort of like a big lightbulb,” said Swanborn. “It filters, diffuses, and bounces off the interior’s light-colored walls.” The courtyard walls are faced in Trendstone ground face masonry units by Trenwyth, a light block rain screen used as a veneer. The courtyard helps bring light to HSEB’s east and west faces, which CO Architects left windowless in order to reduce thermal gain. On the south side of the building, they installed cantilevered copper sunshades over the windows. Vertical copper fins on the north elevation shade occupants from the rising and setting sun. Like the building’s copper cladding, the sunshades and fins were fabricated by Kovach. To open the ground floor on the west end of the building to the adjacent campus green, CO Architects took a cue from early desert dwellers. “When the [American Indians] first settled, they built underneath these carved rock formations, which again becomes self-shading,” Swanborn. The ground floor is glazed, but set back under the building to reduce direct exposure to the sun. Swanborn relished the challenge the joint University of Arizona/Northern Arizona University project provided. “To me the story’s really about the idea of creating a new urban vernacular for the desert,” he said. “The more restricted things become, [the more] architects have to become inventive. The skin of the building is really a pointer to that: it’s inventive, it’s innovative. I think it’s very fitting for that area.”
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Chicago's 'Green Healthy Neighborhoods' plan moves forward
Chicago’s plan to revitalize troubled South Side neighborhoods with green infrastructure, urban farming and transit-friendly development is moving ahead. The city’s Plan Commission heard a presentation last week on the Green Healthy Neighborhoods program, which in 2011 announced its attention to lure investment to the Englewood, Woodlawn and Washington Park neighborhoods (read AN’s coverage here). While the urban agriculture component initially grabbed headlines—renderings show an old rail line repurposed as the “New Era Trail,” which would link urban farms and community gardens with a park-like promenade—the wide-ranging proposals also include developing retail clusters around transit nodes and street improvements for bikers and pedestrians. Funding is still up in the air, but the project will seek financing through the department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. You can see the full plan here.
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De Blasio To Tap Mitchell Silver for New York City Parks Commissioner
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce that Mitchell Silver—chief planning and development director in Raleigh, NC—will be New York's next Parks Commissioner. According to the New York Times, “While Mr. Silver has worked in North Carolina since 2005, he has deep roots in New York. He went to high school in Brooklyn and earned a bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute and a master’s degree in urban planning from Hunter College.” Wilson recently served as the president of the American Planning Association, and in the 1980s worked in the New York City Planning Department. With Wilson’s extensive planning experience, he would seem to be a natural fit to lead City Planning rather than parks—and he reportedly was considered for that post before Carl Weisbrod was selected. This has been a much-anticipated announcement, as the Parks Department as been without a head since de Blasio took office nearly three months ago.
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Loopy Alternative for New York's Organic Waste
For as long as societies have produced trash, they has sought to jettison said trash into whatever water is most convenient, polluting lakes, creeks, and rivers along the way. PRESENT Architecture wants to harness this impulse in order to construct Green Loop, a series of composting islands along the coasts of Manhattan and the city's other boroughs. Each topped by a public park, the floating facilities would offer a more productive and cost-effective means of processing the city's large quantities of organic waste. The proposal is motivated in part by the great costs New York incurs in transporting the over 14 million tons of trash it produces each year. With organic products accounting for about a third of that amount, PRESENT sees an opportunity to cut into this expenditure by depositing the waste in a more local manner. This approach would also help to reduce the amount of traffic, noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions generated by trash's traditional interstate journey. The network proposed by the firm would service each of the five boroughs, composting trash to generate nutrient-rich soil. Each of the ten proposed plants would be to be capped by 12 acres of parkland, populated by green space and public gardens that one would presume would make use of the nutritious dirt produced below.
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New Research Iniatives Examine How Vital Pollinators Function In Urban Areas
As scientists search for the reasons why, large bee populations continue to die off at alarming rates. The insect's role as a vital cog in agricultural processes makes their rapid disappearance all the more concerning. Habitat destruction must certainly be considered as one explanatory factor for the troubling trend, as urbanization and sprawl have dealt a considerable blow to the ecosystems where these insects flourish. Britain alone has lost 98 percent of its wildflower meadows in the past 70 years. A new research initiative led by the University of Bristol is examining the way bees and their fellow pollinators function within the urban and suburban environs they are increasingly forced to inhabit. The Urban Pollinators Project, is studying pollinator populations in gardens in UK cities Bristol, Leeds, Edinborough, and Reading. The initiative is joined by a similar (and identically-named) project sponsored by the University of Washington that takes Seattle as its laboratory.
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BridgeHOUSE Reusing Steel From Old Bay Bridge
Since the east span of the Bay Bridge opened in the fall of 2013, demolition crews have been busy deconstructing the old–taking down over 50,000 tons of steel. While most of the steel will be sent to China as scrap, one Bay Area entrepreneur, David Grieshaber, wants to save a portion to create a mixed-use building, housing a museum, a private apartment, and an Airbnb rental. The Airbnb fees would, hypothetically, keep the non-profit undertaking running. The frame of the project would incorporate the original steel beams (about 1.3 percent of the total bridge) and the floors would use the pavement (and even keep the lane markers). The design would also feature green systems such as rainwater collection, solar panels, and a green roof. The final location for the house has yet been determined. More info on the Bay Bridge House, here.
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TxDOT Approves Barton Creek Bicycle Bridge for Austin
url Since the construction of the twin freeway bridges that carry the MoPac expressway over Barton Creek in 1987, the Austin community has been clamoring for a bike and pedestrian bridge to accompany it. That outcry has now been answered. On February 11, The Texas Department of Transportation approved just such a crossing. The project will cost the state around $7.7 million and will take approximately thirty months to complete. According to the Austin Public works department the construction will be handled in three phases: Phase I includes adding a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek at MoPac. The south bound lanes of MoPac will also be re-striped to lessen traffic congestion and to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections to the Southwest Parkway, Loop 360, and other trails in the area, including the Violet Crown Trail and the Oak Hills Neighborhood Trail System. Mopac_Bicycle_and_Pedestrian_Bridge_Project_Map Phase II will add a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over Loop 360 at MoPac. Phase III entails the creation of a multi-use trail to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians on the west side of MoPac from Loop 360 to Tamarron Boulevard. After the plan is completed there will be approximately two miles of paved bicycle and pedestrian trails running along MoPac. While Austin is no stranger to trails throughout its many greenbelts, there are almost no such trails in the city where it is comfortable to ride a road bike. Construction these trails will improve the travel prospects for those wishing to commute via bicycle. Phases I and II have been funded since late June of 2012. On the February 11, financing was finally put in place for the last section of the plan. Some of the funding comes from the not-for-profit Friends of Barton Creek Bike Bridge, which was started by Solar Winds, Brandywine Realty Trust, and Commercial Texas in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the creation of the new bike path.
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New Research Shows Cities Take an Unexpected Toll on Songbirds
Researchers at Arizona State University have discovered yet another way urbanization contributes to noise pollution. In this case it is not so much what is being added to the aural environment, but rather what is being taken away. A new study establishes a direct link between degrees of urbanization and the prevalence of parasites that tend to fatally affect finches. Beyond prevalence, the research shows that the loss of natural habitat within more urbanized areas also amplifies the severity of the gastrointestinal infections that afflict the songbirds. My poor Swomee-Swans...
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Dangers of All-Glass Living: Report Details Heat Gain in Glass Buildings
As glass towers continue to fill-in New York City’s skyline, it’s easy to be jealous of the wealthy elites and their glossy homes in the clouds. While those floor-to-ceiling windows offer some killer views, they may also pose serious health threats to those inside the glass curtains. According to a new report by the Urban Green Council, people living in all-glass apartments could experience dangerously high temperatures during a summer blackout—similar to the one experienced after Hurricane Sandy. On the first day of a potential power outage, temperatures inside one of these sky-high fishbowls could rise to nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit. By the seventh day, they could reach triple digits (see chart below). There's more bad news—these buildings don’t fare much better in the winter. The study finds that “between two buildings that are otherwise equivalent, the one with more window area will be colder during a winter blackout.” That Slanket isn't looking so funny right about now. And for all the money tenants are paying for those floor-to-ceiling windows, it seems that they’re kind of over the views. An earlier report by the Urban Green Council found that 59 percent of window area in all-glass apartments is covered. Inside these glass houses—curtains drawn—most residents are just watching Netflix like the rest of us. But to be fair, considering all the new glass construction in New York, their view probably isn’t so much a soaring skyline, but an intimate look into their neighbor's living room across the street. Turns out it's not so lonely at the top after all.
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Michael Bloomberg Appointed UN Climate & Cities Envoy
bloomberg-speaks-01 Just one month after leaving office, Michael Bloomberg (pictured) has been appointed a United Nations special envoy for cities and climate change. According to Reuters, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Bloomberg will help “raise political will and mobilize action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change.” The former mayor is Johannesburg, South Africa this week for the fifth biennial C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Mayors Summit. Bloomberg is the President of C40’s board, which is a “a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This year’s conference is focused on creating liveable and sustainable cities. (Photo: Spencer T. Tucker )
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Mayors, Philanthropies Team Up for Energy Efficiency Blitz
A team of mayors and nonprofit foundations said Wednesday that they’ll spend enough retrofitting major U.S. cities to save more than $1 billion per year in energy costs. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation pledged $3 million each year for three years to provide technical advisers for 10 cities across the country: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The City Energy Project, as it’s called, is intended to cut 5 to 7 million tons of carbon emissions annually, or roughly the amount of electricity used by 700,000 to 1 million U.S. homes each year. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation will help the cities draft plans to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency—a process the group said should not take more than one year. Chicago’s participation could lower energy bills by as much as $134 million annually and could cut about 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the mayor’s office. In a prepared statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the investment would create jobs: “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable City,” Emanuel said, “which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.” Last year Illinois tightened its building code and Chicago ordered large buildings to disclose their energy use. In Chicago, like many of the nation’s older cities, large buildings eat up much of the city’s energy—together the buildings sector accounts for 40 percent of primary energy consumption in the U.S. While energy efficiency has long been recognized for its financial opportunity, major banks have only recently begun to invest. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he hopes City Energy Project will connect building owners and private financiers, bringing more money to large-scale efficiency initiatives.
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Can Lake Dredge Help Toledo's Riverfront Shine?
The Toledo Shipping Channel is the most heavily dredged port in the Great Lakes. Each year massive barges haul up to one million cubic yards of mud and debris, scooped from the bottom of Lake Erie at the mouth of the Maumee River, to elsewhere in the lake and to confined disposal facilities. “A minor portion” of dredged material is “beneficially used,” according to a sediment management plan supplied to the Toledo Harbor Dredge Task Force in 2012. That’s a missed opportunity, say some environmental advocates and landscape architects like Sean Burkholder, a professor of landscape and urban design at SUNY/University of Buffalo. In February he’s calling for entrants to the North Coast Design Competition to help re-envision Toledo’s waterfront. This year's competition is called “Designing Dredge.” According to the competition:
The city of Toledo is currently reconsidering a series of highly visible landscapes along its river waterfront.  These sites are either undergoing construction due to the installation of large stormwater mitigation infrastructure or were small dredge storage facilities that have reached design capacity … The competition reaches out to designers and planners of all ages and abilities and calls for ideas that re-envision the role of the riverfront in Toledo and how this new role can embrace the realities of dredging while enhancing the overall quality of public space within the city.
Five sites along the Maumee, totaling more than 170 acres, are available for development. Competition entrants are also asked to design a Dredge Research Site for future research projects exploring the uses of dredge material. About that material—it will be treated and trucked into the sites for landscaping, but the competition details warn its high silt content worsens its drainage characteristics and bearing capacity. Landscape Architecture Magazine has a Q&A with Burkholder about the competition and its implications for development across the Great Lakes region. You can learn more about the North Coast Design Competition at northcoastdesigncompetition.com.