We do not need more vivid reminders that extreme weather events have the potential to cause appalling loss of life and tremendous property damage. The deadly fires that burned through California in November 2018 followed hard on the heels of a series of hurricanes and floods that wreaked terrible human and economic damage from New York to Houston and Puerto Rico. We are becoming increasingly confident that these extreme events are caused by climate change or, at any rate, that climate change makes them significantly more likely. Recently, the Fourth National Climate Assessment warned that climate change will cost the United States economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century. Increasingly, stakeholders in the construction process are recognizing that buildings need to be designed to withstand the climate conditions of tomorrow as well as today. Naturally, this leads to the question of whether there will be a legal liability when design professionals fail to anticipate the conditions brought about by climate change. There are several avenues by which a design professional might be held liable for failure to adapt to climate change. This article focuses on torts and tort-like duties, which represent a significant risk for design professionals. There are other sources of liability, though. Contracts, statutes, and regulations may all impose particular requirements on architects and engineers. Representations that a project complies with certain standards might also generate litigation. For example, in the wake of the recent California wildfires, the state’s largest utility company was sued by shareholders alleging that it was liable to its shareholders for failing to prevent the fires. Tort law is the body of law that governs our duties to others and the damages that may be due if those duties are violated. It is tort law that generally governs lawsuits over medical malpractice, for example, the injured party claims that they should be compensated because the medical professional’s actions fell below an acceptable standard of care and caused their injury. Under tort law, the design professional owes a duty toward those who could foreseeably be impacted by his or her actions—potentially extending beyond those to whom design professional have contractual duties (such as project owners) to include others, such as users or neighbors. Generally, the duty extends only to those who suffer physical injury to person or property—a tenant whose possessions are damaged by floodwater might have a claim against the design professional; the store across the road that loses business due to a building closure very likely does not.
Posts tagged with "Climate Change":
Indonesia’s megacity capital has been sinking and snarled by traffic by years, and newly-elected President Joko Widodo has proposed a solution: moving capital operations to another city. It’s important to clarify that Widodo didn’t mean physically moving Jakarta to another location, such as what happened with the town of Kiruna in Sweden, but rather crowning another capital city, or building one from scratch. "We have to find a location that is really minimal in terms of disaster risks," National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told the Jakarta Globe. "Also, because Indonesia is a maritime nation, the new capital city should be located near the coast, but not necessarily by the sea." Although Jakarta is a booming city of nearly 10 million, it’s also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, according to the BBC. Groundwater pumping has caused the city to sink by 8 feet in the last 10 years, and some parts of the city are sinking at a rate of nearly 10 inches per year. Half of the city currently sits below sea level, and the rise of the neighboring Java Sea puts the city further at risk of flooding. In 2016, Jakarta was also rated the most traffic-congested city in the world, and it’s estimated that these traffic jams cost up to $7 billion a year in lost productivity. Bambang told the Jakarta Globe that the financial services industry would remain in Jakarta, while Indonesia would implement best practices found in other capital cities, such as Washington, D.C., Canberra in Australia, and Sejong in South Korea, in the new capital. A final location hasn’t been chosen yet, but according to the BBC, three options are on the table. The first is moving the country’s administrative functions to an area just outside of Jakarta, while the second is to rezone a portion of Jakarta and concentrate the government’s offices there. Finally, the option favored by President Widodo is that of building an entirely new capital on a different island. The frontrunner is reportedly Palangkaraya, the current capital of Central Kalimantan, located close to the geographical center of the country. Bambang expects that moving the capital could take up to 10 years, but President Widodo must first pass the legislation through the House of Representatives before the project can begin.
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.
Some of New York’s tallest towers are doing the most harm to the environment. Although buildings larger than 25,000 square feet only represent two percent of the city’s stock, according to the Urban Green Council that minority is responsible for up to half of all building emissions. Now the New York City Council is finally cracking down on the worst offenders, and New York will soon become the first city in the world to constrain large building emissions through hard limits. Yesterday the council passed the eight-bill Climate Mobilization Act, a legislative package that some are comparing to a New Green Deal for New York. The Climate Mobilization Act, which Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign, would set increasingly harsh limits on carbon emissions for buildings over 25,000 square feet beginning in 2024. According to the Urban Green Council, New York City produces 50 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and buildings account for approximately 67 percent of that—meaning buildings over 25,000 square feet produce 35 percent, or about 13 million tons of carbon dioxide, a year. The legislation covering the affected 50,000 buildings will roll out in phases. This year, an Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance and an advisory board will be created at the Department of Buildings to both regulate and enforce the new standards. When the law fully takes effect in 2024, emissions from qualifying buildings will need to be reduced 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Climate Mobilization Act then takes things one step further and requires that these same buildings slash their emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Why are large buildings such energy hogs? Lighting, heating, cooling, and tech requirements, combined with inefficient equipment, all constrained within leaky envelopes, have combined to create a perfect storm of waste. Retrofitting these massive buildings to use or waste less energy is projected to potentially create thousands of jobs for architects, energy modelers, engineers, and construction workers, as everything from inefficient windows to HVAC systems will need to be replaced. For those structures that can’t be brought up to code on schedule, their owners can offset a portion of their emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits. If an owner still isn’t in compliance, they can be hit with an ongoing fine based on their actual emissions versus the cap. The real estate industry had been a vocal opponent of the measure, arguing that it would place an undue burden on both it and tenants. “The overall effect is going to be that an owner is going to think twice before she rents out any space: ‘Is the next tenant I’m renting to going to be an energy hog or not?’” Carl Hum, general counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), told the New York Times. “There’s a clear business case to be made that having a storage facility is a lot better than having a building that’s bustling with businesses and workers and economic activity.” Still, those fears appear unwarranted. Part of the Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance’s job will be to work with landlords and tenants and issue variances for buildings with higher energy requirements.
New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, took to New York Magazine to lay out an ambitious $10 billion plan to protect Lower Manhattan from the worst effects of climate change. The city will also be advancing $500 million in capital projects right away to beef up the coast with grassy berms, esplanades, sea gates, and by elevating existing infrastructure; but the most surprising measure is an initiative to extend the tip of Manhattan another 500 feet into the East River. Both initiatives are the result of the Lower Manhattan Climate Resilience Study released today as part of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) project, which is meant to examine the risks and challenges posed by climate change. The study found that by 2050, 37 percent of Lower Manhattan would be susceptible to storm surges, while by 2100 that number would move to 50 percent as sea levels rose six feet. Twenty percent of Lower Manhattan would be vulnerable to daily tidal flooding by that time as well. For an area that holds more than ten percent of New York City’s jobs, and produces ten percent of the city’s gross economic output, flooding on the scale seen during hurricane Sandy would be devastating. The report also identifies heat waves, extreme precipitation events, and the gradual encroachment of groundwater (which would eat away at the neighborhood’s below-ground electrical and transportation infrastructure) as catastrophic threats. After running through a gamut of different flood mitigation approaches, the report advocates extending the shoreline to prevent flood waters from reaching critical buildings and infrastructure sites as the optimal solution. Requiring buildings to implement individual-level flood mitigation measures would result in a piecemeal, non-standardized application, and building hard storm barriers would impede views and access to the waterfront. Mayor de Blasio expects that building into the East River could cost up to $10 billion. “Over the coming years, we will push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet,” wrote de Blasio in his NY Magazine op-ed, “or up to two city blocks, into the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms and the higher tides that will threaten its survival in the decades to come. “When we complete the coastal extension, which could cost $10 billion, Lower Manhattan will be secure from rising seas through 2100.” As for funding such an ambitious project, the mayor admitted that the city wouldn’t be able to go it alone, but that President Trump also wouldn’t be willing to contribute. He then called on Democrats to make the project part of their national agenda, to work towards allocating federal funds, and to fast-tracking the extension. Alongside the resiliency study, the city also released the third iteration of their Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which architects and planners can use to future-proof their projects. Starting in the spring, the city will begin holding public engagement meetings on all of its resiliency capital projects and the in-progress Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan. The input gathered will help guide the city on which district should receive the first phase of the plan.
“The way we cool our buildings right now is totally wrong,” said Indian architect Monish Siripurapu in a video produced the United Nations' Environment program. The words are bleak, but arguably true; the electricity and hydrofluorocarbons most modern cooling systems demand ironically warm the planet overall while they cool our conditioned spaces. On top of that, with global temperatures rising and worldwide populations growing, demands for cooling are only increasing. More eco-friendly options are urgently needed, and Siripurapu’s New Delhi–based firm Ant Studio has proposed an affordable, scalable, sustainable, and aesthetically appealing solution to the problem of air conditioning. Ant Studio’s mission is to combine “art, nature, and technology,” and its temperature-regulating solution is designed to be as much an art installation as a cooling system. The Beehive, as the system's first iteration is called, was built to ameliorate high-temperature conditions for laborers at the Noida, Uttar Pradesh–based manufacturer Deki Electronics, where generators and other equipment output their own heat, adding to high outdoor temperatures. The Beehive is part of a larger exploration by the firm that leverages terracotta tubes and water as part of a low-energy cooling system. The Beehive, so-named for its honeycomb-like structure, follows an Indian tradition of using earthenware to cool water. “Traditional architecture has so much wisdom,” said Siripurapu. The ancient process has been wholly modernized, with tools such as computational fluid dynamics modeling, as well as the addition of low-energy water pumps and, if needed, electric fans. But instead of using fans with the Beehive installation, Ant Studio’s cooling device was placed right in front of the exhaust vents of the diesel generator near where workers at the factory were active. This was able to drop the “scorching” air being expelled from the generator from 122 degrees Fahrenheit to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, while lowering the overall temperature in the area and reportedly consuming 40 percent less energy than other cooling systems, not to mention using no refrigerants. The cooling system consists of arrays of open terracotta cylindrical cones (designed in such a way to maximize surface area and fired at “mid-level” temperatures to maintain the clay’s ability to absorb moisture from the air) over which water is poured. The water, which adheres to the clay, naturally lowers in temperature due to evaporative cooling, which in turn cools the air passing through the tubes. The water can be recycled throughout the system, requiring only infrequent topping off, and biofilms of microalgae that grow on the clay surfaces can actually aid in air purification, according to the firm. Further, as explained in an informational video from the firm, “all materials are recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable.” While the Beehive at Dika Electronics took on a particular nature-inspired form, the system can be designed in all manner of shapes and sizes, and is inherently modular, making fabrication and assembling on-site simple. The overall hope with the project is to devise a system that is “functional and visually appealing at the same time.” Ant Studio views the cooling systems as a work of sculpture as much as a functional tool. The terracotta cooling systems also could have broader social impact. Besides being a cheap, energy-efficient way to cool factories and public spaces, the craft required to manufacture the tubes creates local employment and skill-building opportunities. It also keeps alive traditional manufacturing techniques that provide a unique, hand-hewn character that industrial cooling systems certainly lack. The clay-based materials also mean a net reduction in embodied energy for these cooling systems. Ant Studio has also proposed a smaller system which they’re calling ETHER, a cooling device for personal use and small spaces that resembles something like a cross between a Dyson fan and an ancient artifact. Ant Studio’s cooling projects were one of the twelve winners of the United Nations’ Asia-Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge and have been nominated for the Clean Energy Challenge from What Design Can Do, a “platform” and series of global conferences on design. Nominated teams are given the “opportunity to improve their project” with the final winners to be announced on March 6.
As temperatures continue to plummet in New York, it may not be a total surprise that a giant iceberg has found its way onto the city's streets. Last week, the Garment District Alliance bared its latest interactive art installation, Iceberg, which can be found at the Broadway pedestrian plazas between 37th and 38th Streets. The installation, composed of jagged metallic arches that illuminate and make noises evocative of melting ice as visitors walk through them, was created by ATOMIC3 and Appareil Architecture in collaboration with Jean-Sébastien Côté and Philippe Jean. The work was inspired by actual icebergs and is intended to chronicle the life cycle of a floe, from when it first breaks off the edge of a glacier to when it ultimately melts due to climate change. Part of the motive behind creating the installation was to acknowledge the significance of climate change and global warming, and how they will continue to worsen if people don't make more environmentally-conscious changes to their lifestyles. “This is an astonishing installation that transforms Broadway into a gleaming, interactive experience for pedestrians, while reinforcing an important environmental message,” said Garment District Alliance president Barbara Blair in a statement. Despite the serious message that the piece tries to convey, it appears to be a fun addition to the streetscape, where visitors can playfully interact with the structure, as well as pose for a photo-op. Aside from the arches flashing different colors and emitting loud “drip” noises as people pass under them, the arches make thunderous crashing sounds every so often to indicate an iceberg calving. The energetic spectacle draws in large crowds to the already bustling Garment District, just a few blocks south of Times Square. This isn’t the first time the sculpture has been unveiled to the public; it made its first debut at the 2012 Luminothérapie festival in Montreal. The installation is part of the year-round public art program, “Garment District on the Plazas,” and it will be on view through February 24.
Concrete is perhaps the most prolific and malleable construction material in the world, but our continued dependence on it may be contributing to climate change more than was previously known. The English international affairs think tank Chatham House recently released a report that attributed approximately eight percent of the planet’s annual carbon dioxide emissions to concrete production. The chemical processes used to create cement, burning limestone and clay in a high-temperature kiln and grinding the result, contributes the greatest share of emissions (though the collection of sand, a commonly used aggregate, has its own problems). With the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) complete, a “rulebook” for enacting the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was agreed on by the 23,000 international delegates present. Even with a guide in place for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the problem with concrete is that demand is only expected to rise. Currently, the world produces 4.4 billion tons of concrete annually, but that number is expected to rise to over 5.5 billion tons by 2050 as poorer countries rapidly urbanize, according to the Chatham House report. For the concrete industry to fall in line with the Paris Agreement’s targets, emissions will need to fall 16 percent from current levels by 2030. The report argues that target is already an ambitious goal. The production of Portland cement, the kind most widely used today, has remained largely the same since the 1800s. Limestone and clay combine in the kiln to form carbon dioxide and “clinker,” a substrate then mixed with limestone and gypsum to create cement. According to Chatham House, research into “alternative clinker” and low-carbon production methods has thus far been slow going. Less energy-intensive kilns, new types of clinker, carbon capture technology, and switching to renewable energy during the production process will all be necessary “to achieve CO2 reductions consistent with at least a 50 percent chance of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100," according to the BBC. Timber, which sequesters the carbon dioxide absorbed by trees over their life, has slowly but surely made strides in replacing concrete in some projects. High-rise timber buildings have gotten a green light in Oregon, and continued research into carbon-neutral (or negative) projects is continuing apace.
The ongoing threat of climate change and hazardous air quality in urban environments continue to foster sustainable elements within architectural design, ranging from the installation of photovoltaic panels to rainwater harvesting mechanisms. But what if a facade curtain could directly capture CO2? Responding to this challenge, London-based practice ecoLogicStudio, led by Claudio Pasquero and Marco Poletto, unveiled Photo.Synth.Etica at Dublin’s Climate Innovation Summit 2018. The large-scale installation is capable of absorbing two pounds of carbon dioxide per day with the help of an injected algae solution. Photo.Synth.Etica consists of 16 approximately 6.5-by-23-foot bioplastic modules. For the design of the modules, the team interpreted a breadth of data charts stemming from carbon trading transactions, rationalizing them into the welding pattern located between the two layers of bioplastic. Spanning the height of two levels, each module is laced with a coiling void that is injected with micro-algal cultures treated to produce luminescent shades at night. The density of the algae biomass is customizable and can be altered for desired light transparency. The mechanics behind the installation’s air filtration are fairly straightforward: unfiltered air rises from the base of the facade through the cylinder of photoreactive algae, interacting with carbon-consuming microbes. Once captured by the algae, the biomass can be cultivated as a raw material for the production of bioplastics similar to that used for the curtain modules. According to the design team, this particular module “is particularly suitable for retrofit as it is very lightweight, soft, adaptable, and does not require heavy substructures to be installed.” Additionally, ecoLogicStudio has developed higher-end ETFE models of the algae-injected curtain for new construction. Currently, the firm is researching a mass-market prototype that will target the large shed or warehouse typology, with an aim “to cover the large surfaces of malls, distribution centers, and data centers.” Research for the project goes back nearly a decade, including the similarly air-filtering Urban Algae Canopy unveiled at the 2015 Milan Expo. ecoLogicStudio is scaling up their technology with the intention of marketing the new prototypes in 2019.
The United States Department of the Interior issued a notice late last month signaling its intent to "jump-start development" in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), part of a 23-million-acre stretch of oil-rich natural habitat that makes up the largest tract of undisturbed land in the United States. The notice, the latest effort by the Trump administration to increase oil exploration and mining activities on ecologically sensitive federal and tribal landscapes, “envisions clean and safe development in the NPR-A while avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” The Washington Post reported that it will take “about a year” to create a new plan for extracting oil reserves from NPR-A, according to Joe Balash, assistant secretary of land and minerals at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The 11-million-acre NPR-A site represents roughly half of a larger wildlife refuge originally set aside by President Warren G. Harding in 1923. It also falls within the ancestral homelands of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaskan Natives, an indigenous community that uses NPR-A lands to hunt porcupine caribou herds that frequent the area. Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told The Washington Post, “The [Trump] administration has made my people a target. We will not stand down. We will fight to protect the porcupine caribou herd…every step of the way.” The preserve represents a vital habitat for the porcupine caribou that use the area to birth and nurse their young, and for the many migratory bird species that roost in the region over the summer. It is estimated that NPR-A and surrounding tribal lands could hold up to 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. BLM has started a 45-day comment and review period for the proposed plan, which comes after new oil and gas auctions in Wyoming, Montana, and Utah, according to reports. Those efforts follow President Trump’s downsizing of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama previously had increased in size, and come on the heels of a new federal mandate that calls for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the east of NPR-A, as well. The increasing scale and rapid pace of resource extraction under the Trump Administration represent the culmination of a nearly 40-year effort to open these lands to exploitation and comes as the administration scrambles to set into motion a last-ditch move to negotiate lucrative land leases with private parties. Once those leases are set, it will be harder to prevent resource extraction in those areas, even under a different administration, so current officials are racing against time to sell off the rights in the event voters do not re-elect the president in 2020. This admittedly short-sighted effort is representative of the administration’s push to refashion the Department of Interior into a broker between the federal government, which controls millions of acres of pristine but resource-rich lands, and profit-driven private industry. The trend also represents a larger belief that business interests run ahead of environmental concerns, a priority that was highlighted over the weekend as the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in rejecting a 2017 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to reduce the amount of global temperature rise associated with anthropogenic climate change.
Next year’s XXII Triennale di Milano couldn’t come at a better time. Curated by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s Paola Antonelli, the exhibition focuses on the one-of-a-kind ways designers are tackling one of the world’s biggest contemporary problems: climate change. Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival introduces the concept of restorative design and analyzes how humans interact with the natural environment. “A healthy concern for the future of our planet and of our species should come as no surprise," said Antonelli in a statement, "and yet the Broken Nature team feels thankful for the eager and consistent restorative design that is at the core of [this event]...It allows us to keep believing in the power of design to help citizens understand complexity, assess risks, adapt behaviors, and demand change.” Running from March 1 to September 1, 2019, the international showcase will bring together thought-provoking commissions from around the world that sit at the intersection of art, industry, and politics. Special projects will be on view by Formafantasma, Sigil Collective, as well as Neri Oxman and the MIT-based Mediated Matter Group, among others. Scientist Stefano Mancuso will present the immersive exhibition, The Nation of Plants, which will explore the role of botany in helping to solve the world’s vast ecological issues. It was recently announced that Italian architect Stefano Boeri will lead the global event as its new president. He aims to reinstitute the traditional roots of the 85-year-old Milan Triennale as a collaborative design event that centers on modern day issues. The 2016 event, which was the first Triennale held after a 20-year hiatus, didn’t follow the former format that encouraged such widespread cross-disciplinary collaboration. The Architect’s Newspaper spoke with Antonelli about what it means now that the Triennale is back, and why next year’s thematic exhibition is particularly pertinent for cities in Italy and beyond: AN: Broken Nature is a total revamp of the 2016 Milan Triennale. Can you talk about the ways in which the 2019 event will be different? Paola Antonelli: Hopefully it will exist in the same vein of the ones that happened over 20 years ago. The 2016 event was a loose collection of design innovations while the Triennales held before the 21st century very much connected to what was happening in the world. That’s how I think about Broken Nature. We’re creating the opportunity for architects and designers to participate in a dialogue and contribute to the world’s most urgent crisis: the future of the environment. What makes it different is its attempt to connect a network of efforts. Very often you have these events where the curators know each other, but they make something new and original individually. I believe in originality, of course, but I also believe in collaboration. If we’re talking about emergency as the central focus, we might as well join forces. I would like Broken Nature to become not an umbrella, but an embrace for all these efforts, and for curators to complement each others’ efforts. With this theme of climate change and protecting the environment, we have to join forces in order to be taken seriously. What was the inspiration behind giving science as much of a platform as design? PA: I began this exploration 10 years ago with the MoMA exhibition, Design and the Elastic Mind. We put designers and scientists in conversation to discuss recent changes in tech, science, and social habits, and how people can deal with those changes through thoughtful design. The idea for Broken Nature was birthed in 2013 as a proposal for another exhibition at MoMA that didn’t work out. It never left my mind, because soon after that, new solutions and ways to address change emerged out of this growing urgency to save ourselves and the earth from major environmental threats. For the Milan Triennale, we’re not gathering curators to put together new works necessarily. The National Bureau of Expositions will handle organizing the various pavilions by other countries. I am curating part of the exhibition myself, and we’re asking designers worldwide to share projects that they’ve already been working on for some time. We’re looking for eco-visionaries who have already helped start a dialogue on restorative design and how humans can better connect with nature.
What role has public engagement played in the process of putting together this event? PA: We’ve done public symposia on Broken Nature already, which has helped not only spread awareness but organize our ideas and prepare content. Some of our contributors have already written essays about their projects, which we’ll use toward a book later that sums up our learnings. The symposia have also helped us test out a few ideas to see if they will work out on the national stage. What else should we know going into next year’s 7-month-long triennale? PA: Overall, we’re hoping people will be puzzled and inspired by the exhibition, but we do have three main desired outcomes for it. First, we’re doing this not only for the architecture and design community but for the Milanese citizens because we know they’re interested in design. We’re looking to them as the agent of change to exercise pressure on institutions and change behaviors. We hope citizens will come to the show and leave with a short-term sense of what they can do in their everyday lives to be restorative. Second, we want people to leave the building knowing we live in a complex world, so our actions need to be thoughtful as we move forward in interacting with nature. Third, we want people to have a long-term vision. We tend to always think of our children and our children’s children when it comes to caring for the earth. But beyond that into the third generation of humans, it’s hard to psychologically imagine what it will be like. We hope the exhibition will help people put the far-out future into perspective. Leading the curatorial effort alongside Antonelli for XXII Triennale di Milano are Ala Tannir, Laura Maeran, and Azzurra Muzzonigro. Laura Agnesi will act as lead coordinator for the event, while Marco Sammicheli will handle international relations.View this post on Instagram
The hot July sun hit the grooves of the farmland barreling past our bus windows as we approached Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos, California. Envisioning sunburns and muddy hikes through the furrows, we—the two dozen landscape design, engineering, and architecture professionals that make up the Van Alen Institute Climate Council—were about to visit the farm as part of a three-day expedition in Northern California to consider how design thinking could impact the way this farm and farms like it plan for climate change. Van Alen launched the Climate Council in 2018 as a platform for practicing design professionals and climate change aficionados to convene for twice-annual, three-day expeditions in regions across the U.S. Through tours, discussions, social gatherings, and hands-on charrettes, our trips provide members with a congenial setting for learning and reflection away from the hectic pace of everyday business. Right at the beginning of this inaugural trip, the Climate Council’s expectations contrasted dramatically with the realities of modern agriculture. Instead of weathering watermelon fields, we found ourselves in a comfortable boardroom. Farm executives welcomed us with cut melon samples and a PowerPoint presentation of the farm’s history, challenges, and technology. Over the soft hum of air-conditioning and with his adolescent son beside him, Cannon Michael, the farm’s president and CEO, shared the impressive facts of his large-scale operation: 11,000 acres, 14 crops, and six generations. Bowles has an advantage that it shares with a small group of farms in the area: Their history of utilizing water from the San Joaquin River provides senior rights to surface water. But with that seniority comes an increased responsibility and stewardship. Their on-staff agronomist schedules crop irrigation daily with care for every drop, logging and adapting to changes in climate on the spot. Michael proudly told us of the precision and care that Bowles uses to manage its water supply amid California’s mounting water crisis. “In times of drought, farmers are often blamed for overusing water,” Michael said. “The reality is, it’s not in a farmer’s best interest to waste water, as we only want to use the exact amount that the crop needs—improper water management has a negative impact on crop production. California is an expensive place to do business, and we must carefully monitor all our inputs and costs, water being a primary one of them. It is also a fact that producing the food and fiber we all rely on every day takes water. Where these products are produced is of critical importance. Not all farms are held to high standards of environmental and ethical production—California leads the way in the world.” Bowles’s commitment to precision and innovation unraveled the Climate Council’s anticipated mission and sent us on a new track of questioning in the days that followed. After visits with a strawberry farmer, a food distribution company, a tomato processing plant, and more, we started asking: What if cities had intricate systems dedicated to tracking inputs and outputs as accurately as these farms? We had set out on our trip thinking we would consider how design could impact the future of food production and distribution, but instead, we realized that cities had at least as much to learn from modern agricultural practices. Van Alen Climate Council Twice a year, the Climate Council travels to the same region—the first visit for exploration, the second for strategizing and discussing pressing climate issues using an interdisciplinary, systems-based approach. We offer professional advice to our partners and hosts, and aim to share lessons learned with other regions, both through further council travel and via members’ professional practices. The council’s purpose is rooted in Van Alen’s mission as a design organization that seeks to understand and demonstrate how design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. The council also provides support and funding for Van Alen’s broader climate-related work. For more than a decade, we have created cross-disciplinary design and research projects that investigate issues of climate change across the country, from the sinking Lower Mississippi River Delta to the hurricane-battered eastern coasts. We are presently working in Greater Miami to help communities protect themselves from rising sea levels, using a design approach to make the region more socially equitable and economically resilient. In selecting the inaugural topic for the Climate Council to explore, co-chairs Claire Weisz and Mark Johnson commented, “We wanted to look at food as the first subject with this council. It’s all-encompassing. It’s something designers don’t get to talk about very often but that ultimately impacts us.” Even designers who work in cities have a vested interest in learning more about the role of agriculture in our society. At a panel conversation during our program, Mary Kimball, the director for the University of California, Davis’s Center for Land-Based Learning (and a partner in developing the council’s California program), reminded us that more than two-thirds of Sacramento’s regional farmland specialty crop jobs are in urban environments. Even though we typically associate agricultural jobs with rural labor, food distribution and packaging centers require resources that are almost always located in urban environments. So much of the food economy surrounds people in urban spaces every day, but we just don’t see it. Similarly, many of the challenges that farmers face in today’s economy are relevant to city dwellers. Time is of the essence On our first day in California, council members met David John, the business strategist at General Produce Company, a distribution center located 10 minutes from the central business district of Sacramento. As we walked through dozens of icy storage rooms, John told us that from the time of arrival to the time of departure, almost all of the fresh fruits and vegetables are present in the facility for less than 48 hours. The center runs 24/7, with days off only on Christmas and New Year’s. When asked about the built environment of the facility, John said that many of the workers adjust rooms or shelving as needed with changes in supply, but that it is difficult to allow for changes because they take time away from moving product. This distribution center, like a vital transit system in a big city, cannot take a day off. We surmised that systems thinking, like that used in transportation engineering, could be used to create more flexible environments in food distribution centers, along with more adaptable storage facilities. The berry farmer’s dilemma Following a brief meeting with the president of the Strawberry Commission of California near Salinas, our council climbed through coastal strawberry fields owned and operated by Tom AmRhein of Naturipe, Inc. AmRhein presented us with a pressing issue that berry farmers are facing in the area: The median home value in Salinas is more than $400,000. With minimum wage for farm laborers at $11 an hour, an enormous gap exists between the incomes of berry pickers and the supply of affordable housing in the area. As a result, AmRhein said that as many as five different families may share a home together in the valley, bringing housing density to the level of some of the nation’s biggest cities. As we downloaded our findings from Tom, the council considered what kind of affordable housing solutions could designers, working with migrant communities, dream up for rural laborers and their families. Moreover, with climate change making weather patterns and farming yields more unpredictable than ever, what kind of housing solutions would provide stronger, more stable, and adaptable shelters in this harsh environment? What’s next? When asked about innovation in agriculture, our program collaborator Kyeema Zerbe, deputy director of the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food & Health (IIFH), said, “The IIFH prides itself on making uncommon interdisciplinary connections to catalyze innovation across food, agriculture, and health. Collaborations like those with Van Alen help facilitate exploration of systemic issues and view prevailing challenges from new local and regional perspectives. By delving into the intersections between design, agriculture, and innovation, we can begin to imagine a safer, more sustainable and secure food system.” Van Alen believes that climate change is an all-encompassing phenomenon. In such politically divided times, the organization seeks opportunities where designers can work under the partisan radar to generate true collaboration between cities and their surrounding regions, inviting professionals from all backgrounds to innovate. The Climate Council’s experience in Sacramento is an example of how nontraditional collaboration and open-mindedness can lead to enlightened discovery. And it’s just the beginning. On its third day in California, Climate Council members huddled pensively around drafting tables at the UC Davis Department of Landscape Architecture. Over the hours of charrette that followed, they revisited the issues that arose during this trip: How could farm feedback loops inform urban design? What role does governance play in the lack of balance of inputs and outputs in major cities? How can interdisciplinary design professionals enhance the security and resilience of existing rural communities that support our farm industry? Together, we started envisioning answers to these and other questions and made plans to return to Sacramento in early 2019 with design concepts to address them. When we go back, we intend to continue our conversations with local farmers, community members, and other stakeholders. We know there are opportunities for collaboration and implementation; we just need time together. We are onto something.