Posts tagged with "Climate Change":

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AIA urges Congress to address the effects of coronavirus on the architecture profession

On March 19, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) president Jane Frederick and CEO Robert Ivy sent a letter on behalf of the organization to Congress regarding the economic impact that the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, will have on the architecture profession with suggestions for an economic stimulus package. Representing around 95,000 members, making it the largest design organization in the United States, the letter implores Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to provide temporary relief measures for business owners and to make a long-term investment in 21st-century infrastructure. To address the already-felt economic impact of the pandemic on building design and construction, the first initiative requests an investment in Small Business Interruption Loans for businesses under 500 employees. Providing relief in the short run, the letter contends, will allow employers to avoid layoffs while covering costs associated with payroll, rent, and other obligations in the immediate term. “Furthermore,” the letter reads, “the federal government should suspend the collection of business taxes, including payroll tax, for the duration of the pandemic.” The second initiative speaks to both the current needs and future threats facing America’s built environment, including climate change and sea-level rise. “This global pandemic has laid bare the preexisting resource shortage currently facing many of these facilities,” the letter reads. “Looking to the future, the World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that climate change will contribute to worsening storms and more frequent pandemics. Buildings must be resilient in the face of these disasters while also not contributing to the underlying problem by generating greenhouse gas emissions and unhealthy air quality. We must expect more from the built environment than ever before.” The letter estimates that the government should invest a minimum of $300 million over five years towards the construction of resilient and sustainable public buildings. These two measures, the AIA argues, will “provide necessary relief in the short-term, reassurance to global markets, and will help prepare this country for the challenges ahead.” Congress has not yet offered a response. The letter was sent to Congress only four days after the AIA announced that it would postpone its 2020 National Conference in Los Angeles to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
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When the glass cracks at the Glass House, how is it replaced?

The Glass House, Philip Johnson’s renowned personal residence in New Canaan, Connecticut, recently replaced the oversized glass panes of its iconic exterior after cracking due to thermal stress. The home, part of a 14-building compound on the bucolic 49-acre site, now functions as a historic house museum run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally completed in 1949, the Glass House features floor-to-ceiling plate glass exterior walls held in place by steel stops and black-painted steel piers of stock H-beams that expressed the mass-produced, industrial materials employed for its design. In the summer of 2019, one of the home’s 18’-0” x 7’-10” panes of existing glazing cracked due to thermal stress. The stress was caused by temperature differentials and a lack of movement within the original steel frame, said Ashley R. Wilson, FAIA, the Graham Gund Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the lead architect for the glazing replacement project. While the replacement of original building fabric is often a contentious topic in the field of historic preservation, Wilson noted that the glass that was replaced was “likely an early-generation replacement” because it was 3/8” annealed glass, meaning that it was heat-strengthened glass—a technology not available yet in the late 1940s. The original glass, Wilson pointed out in conversation, was likely a single pane of 1/4” polished plate glass, per 1948 drawings, and would have been “beautifully clear and flat, but fragile.” Although the team was not replacing the original glass, the project was not without complexity. The new glazing, provided by Canadian glass manufacturer Agnora, needed to meet ANSI safety standards, accommodate wind load (particularly challenging because of the glass’s large dimensions), avoid overloading of the existing steel supporting rail, and, of course, visually match the original design intent as closely as possible. To accomplish these goals, the selected glass was slightly thicker, at 9/16” rather than 3/8”, and laminated with an inner layer of PVB for safety, said Wilson. To avoid potential corrosion of the steel and clouding of the glass in case the inner PVB layer gets exposed to moisture, the team added weeps to the glass pocket. The removal of the existing glazing and install of the new presented a new set of challenges: The old glass was prone to more cracking, requiring extra care in its removal. In order to extract the glass, the steel stops also needed to be removed. The steel frames were cleaned, prepped, and painted before the system was reinstalled. Because construction took place in November 2019 to minimize conflicts with tours and programming, the workspace also needed to be heated and protected from the elements, explains Wilson. What’s more, she noted, “the west wall glass had to use a crane to lift the glass unit over the building,” Wilson contends that the thermal stress that caused the glass to crack was not due to extreme temperature swings due to climate change but rather to “but an inherent weakness and limitations of 3/8” thick glass at such a large size.” But despite the unique nature of the Glass House—and its oversized glazing units—there are clear lessons to be learned from the project about considerations when replacing glass at midcentury buildings. “At the Glass House, care was taken by the preservation team to analyze the replacement glass options, thickness, performance, and installation to match the original design while improving performance and complying with current safety codes,” said Wilson. While the replacement project focused more on safety and appearance rather than sustainability goals, it did take advantage of how glass technology has evolved since the 1940s and 1950s. More broadly, new glazing products such as IGUs and more effective, longer-lasting sealants can significantly improve energy efficiency for mid-century buildings, allowing for better buildings that are more highly adapted for what the 21st century will bring—global warming or otherwise.
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Michael Wang explores the multiverse in The World Around

In 1964, Julio Cortázar published his famous short story Axolotl, the tale of a man living in Paris fascinated by an aquatic creature that he observes in the aquarium of the Jardin des Plantes. The axolotl, a slow-moving amphibian that spends its entire life in a larval stage, and seems almost like a plant or a mineral, looks like it came from the prehistoric ages. The story’s protagonist starts to understand the different spaces and temporalities embedded in the axolotl: Both the man and the axolotl seem to share the same universe, but, in fact, their bodies encompass different notions of their surroundings, tearing them apart. They don’t share the same universe because the way they can relate to their environments and their temporalities are unreconcilable. Yet they coexist. They are part of a multiverse. In 2017, the artist and architect Michael Wang gave the axolotl a main role for his project Extinct in the Wild at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Wang showed the mutual dependency of these multiverses shared by different species and the ideologies behind them. The axolotl is now an endangered species that has vanished from its natural habitat and lives almost exclusively under artificial conditions in zoos and aquariums, in scientific facilities for research, and in homes as exotic pets. Humans are responsible for their disappearance in the wild, but they also owe their continued existence to human care. This relationship attests to the complex understanding of how the Anthropocene has affected a multispecies shared environment and the need to comprehend its challenges. It is not enough to build an immediate response to the climate crisis that comes from human beings or to come back to an “original” state of harmony, but a structural change that surpasses an anthropocentric view—with human beings and their standard of living as the center. It is necessary to build a notion of the world that takes into account the agency of other species. The conception of a multiverse and the mutual dependency of species has been the center of Wang’s work for the last few years, presented at The World Around in January of this year. In Extinct in New York (organized by Swiss Institute, where the installation permanently resides, and on view at LMCC’s Arts Center at Governor Island in 2019) he introduced a series of plants that had been eradicated from New York City’s landscape. This ecological catastrophe was the result of centuries of hunting, harvesting, and building craziness. As Wang pointed out:When the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, the outflux of wastewater suffocated the seaweeds of New York Harbor. The air changed. Coal smoke poisoned the lichens that had hung from hemlocks; a century later these trees too nearly vanished, plagued by an insect introduced with ornamental plants. Forests of steel rose in their stead, as human habitation stretched skyward.” But Wang doesn’t understand the ecosystem in a dialectic way, based on the binarism of human/non-human confrontations; rather he highlights the new environments created by this relationship. Subways that maintain optimal temperatures for rats; pigeons that found in the skyscrapers a shelter not far from their ancestors’ nests on Mediterranean cliffs; heated living rooms that welcome new flora, etc. The territory, and their inhabitants, are both techno-social recompositions. This project is not about restoration, nor about the idea of a harmonic past. Wang rather conceives it as a life-support system that doesn’t try to reinstate the previous ecosystem where species like Zostera marina (native of the marine meadows in New York Bay) or the Helonias bullata (last collected in Jamaica Bay in 1883) have disappeared from their original habitat. This was also the basis for another project, The Drowned World, that Wang presented at Manifesta Palermo in 2018 (also shown at The World Around). In it, an artificial forest assembled from plants closely related to those of the Carboniferous period grows from the industrial ruins of a gasworks. These plants once formed swamplands that stretched across the globe. Over millennia, their buried remains hardened into the very coal used at the gasworks. As this coal was heated and burned, carbon captured from the air 300 million years ago was again released, and an ancient atmosphere was in part restored. In Wang’s projects, all the violence, the displacements, the uneven balance of powers, and the colonization of the territory are confronted. The world is designed by one species and for one species. But human beings are not self-contained. Their bodies are also part of other species, from the varied microorganisms that inhabit them to the ever-changing habitats they share with other non-human agents. The challenge now is to understand the mutual dependency between species in a multiverse.
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Indonesia’s new capital city will be master-planned by AECOM, McKinsey & Company, Nikken Sekkei

Last August, the Indonesian government announced that the city of Jakarta will no longer be a viable capital city in the near future, given increasing flood risks attributable to sea-level rise. Instead, a new capital city for up to seven million people would be constructed on higher ground in East Kalimantan, a province in the neighboring island of Borneo that the country shares with Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, founder and CEO of Japanese holding company SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are all on the overseeing committee for the ambitious project. Three international organizations—international engineering company AECOM, international consulting firm McKinsey & Company, and Japanese architecture and engineering firm Nikken Sekkei—have recently been selected to develop a master plan for the 988-square-mile property. “[The consulting firms] have experience designing large cities,” said Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, according to The Jakarta Post. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo expressed that the development of a new capital city is an opportunity to create a “smart metropolis” that will be energy non-intensive and beneficial to the country’s economic growth. Additionally, Blair told The Jakarta Post that “It’s going to be a project that doesn’t just mean creating a new capital city, but a capital city that is going to be very special in the way that it's developed with a particular emphasis on it being clean and green and doing the very best for the environment, but also a capital city that will allow the economy of the country as a whole to develop and grow.” A large portion of the budget, currently estimated to be 466 trillion rupiahs ($34 billion), will go towards the development of its 21-square-mile downtown, in which the new presidential palace and related government buildings would be sited. A fifth of that budget will be provided by the state, while the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) have agreed to invest an additional $22 billion through a sovereign wealth fund. While the master planning committee develops a scheme for what the ‘smart metropolis’ will entail, exactly, it will have to be designed in a way that benefits the area’s indigenous Dayak tribe and preserves the abundant natural resources. Construction is expected to begin later this year and the new city will accept new residents as early as 2024.
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UNESCO and Google spotlight climate change’s impact on World Heritage Sites

Last month, Google Arts & Culture launched a new online platform drawing attention to the devastating effect that climate change has had—and will continue to have—on five diverse and vulnerable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The exhaustive and expertly organized initiative, Heritage on the Edge, achieves this through an array of mediums including photography, detailed 3D models, 2D maps and Street View tours, historical information, audio, interactive graphics, and present-day interviews with local conservationists and residents living in the impacted areas. Two of the endangered World Heritage Sites are also brought to life using augmented reality “pocket galleries." Most important, the multimedia platform, which spans over 60 pages and is illuminating as it is devastating, illustrates how people in these five unique locales have come together to protect their most cherished cultural sites against rising seas, extreme weather, coastal erosion, and drought. Describing itself as “one of the most ambitious efforts to date to realize the power of heritage to tell the story of climate change,” Heritage on the Edge was conceived as part of a partnership between Google, California-based nonprofit 3D-surveying firm CyArk, and the Climate Change and Heritage Working Group (CCHWG) of the International Council for Museums and Sites (ICOMOS), which serves as an advisory body for UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. The five featured UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Rapa Nui, the remote Chilean territory also known as Easter Island, where iconic monumental stone statues are suffering damage caused by rising seas; the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, where ancient and ultra-porous landmark buildings are decaying at an increased speed due to more frequent and severe rain events; the pre-Columbian desert city of Chan Chan, Peru, that’s threatened by both flood and drought; the mosque city of Bagerhat, Bangladesh, where salty floodwaters are wreaking havoc on its ancient buildings, and Kilwa Kisiwana, a Tanzanian port city at risk of being destroyed by coastal erosion. “The heritage narrative opens so many angles on climate change—justice, livelihoods, migration, mitigation, identity, loss, impacts, solutions and of course urgency,” Dr. Will Megarry, an archeologist and lecturer in Geographical Information Science at Queen’s University Belfast who coordinated ICOMOS’s participation, said in a statement. “The Heritage on the Edge project touches on all these and more, experimenting with multiple media, from high technology to traditional oral storytelling to make its points.” “While climate change is predominately fuelled by large industrialised countries, it is vulnerable communities and heritage which are most impacted. This is one of the reasons why sites were chosen from across the world,” Megarry added, noting that the project “helps blaze a trail for climate communication.” In total, five ICOMOS CCWG members coordinated the ambitious undertaking. Each oversaw efforts with local stakeholders and conservation experts to bring the platform fully to life through networking, providing climate- and heritage-related expertise and conservation support to site managers, and helping carry out “local training programs to assess site vulnerabilities.” Megarry headed up the Kilwa Kisiwana project; Jane Downes, director of the Archaeology Institute at Scotland’s University of Highlands and Islands coordinated efforts on Rapa Nui; Andrew Potts, the U.S.-based coordinator for ICOMOS and CCHWG, organized in Bagerhat; Milagros Flores, former President of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage, oversaw work in Chan Chan; and Peter Cox, managing director of Carrig Conservation International Limited and president of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Energy and Sustainability, served as lead in Edinburgh. “Above all, the project is a call to action,” wrote Dr. Toshiyuki Kono, president of ICOMOS and professor of private international law and heritage law at Kyushu University in Japan, in an introductory essay published by Google Arts & Culture. “The effects of climate change on our cultural heritage mirror wider impacts on our planet, and require a robust and meaningful response. While actions at individual sites can prevent loss locally, the only sustainable solution is systemic change and the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” Launched in 2011 as the Google Art Project through the Google Cultural Institute Initiative, Google Arts & Culture has partnered with over 1,000 museums, cultural organizations, and heritage groups—the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum among them—to make a countless number of artworks and artifacts digitally accessible to the public using various existing and newly created technologies.
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Grimshaw’s controversial Heathrow expansion deemed illegal

In a massive victory for British environmental activists, Heathrow Airport’s plans to commence construction on a Grimshaw Architects master-planned third runway have been grounded. The Court of Appeal deemed that construction of the third runway to be unlawful for not meeting governmental climate commitments, although work on the controversial $18 billion megaproject, which was planned for completion in 2028, can move ahead if it complies with established climate policy in the future. “Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment. This Govt won't appeal today's judgment given our manifesto makes clear any #Heathrow expansion will be industry led,” tweeted Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in reaction to the news. As British architectural publication Building Design (BD) notes, this is the first court ruling in the world to abide by commitments laid out within the Paris Agreement and could “trigger challenges against other major infrastructure projects in the UK and abroad.” In other words, this is a huge deal with major potential implications on the built environment. The BBC reports that Heathrow’s owner and operator, Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, has vowed to challenge the historic decision. The government, however, will not. Heathrow was one of several major airports in the U.K. and beyond owned by the London-based company formerly known as BAA until it was forced to sell the airports off—Gatwick Airport, Edinburgh Airport, and Glasgow Airport among them—in a monopoly break-up initiated by the Competition Commission. Heathrow is currently Europe’s third busiest airport based on passenger traffic and the seventh busiest in the world. A third runaway would have permitted an estimated 700 additional take-offs and landings per day, according to The Guardian. This, of course, would lead to a sharp uptake in emissions, a factor not entirely accounted for in the expansion plans. “We think the appeals court got it wrong,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a statement. "We have a very strong legal case, and we will be making that very firmly.” Before reaching the Court of Appeal, plaintiffs had their case dismissed by the High Court in May of last year.   While Heathrow officials vowed to keep the battle going, the unified front of climate campaigners that brought the case to the court, with support from various local councils and London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, found the decision to be worthy of celebration. Kahn’s predecessor, current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, also opposed the construction of a third runway, and in a typically flamboyant manner. “This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions,” Will Rundle, head of legal affairs at Friends of the Earth, told the BBC. “It's time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.” “The third runway is already on its knees over costs, noise, air pollution, habitat loss and lack of access, and now Heathrow has yet another impossibly high hurdle to clear,” added John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace U.K., which was another plaintiff in the case. “Boris Johnson should now put Heathrow out of its misery and cancel the third runway once and for all. No ifs, no buts, no lies, no U-turns.” As mentioned, the ruling does not permanently block Heathrow from building a third runway. It simply puts an indefinite pause on the proceedings due to the fact that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) does not abide by the Paris Agreement as required by law. Reads the ruling:
“We have not decided, and could not decide, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake.”
BD reached out to Grimshaw Architects for comment regarding the court’s decision but did not immediately hear back. BD did note, however, that other architects had taken to social media to express approval of the ruling. Grimshaw has been working on a “sustainable but affordable” expansion master plan since 2016, although the push for a third runway—and pushback against it—has been active for over a decade.
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NYC flood barrier project suspended by Trump administration

On January 18, President Donald Trump took to Twitter and made clear his feelings about a proposed $119 billion—later downgraded to $62 billion—proposed seawall with retractable gates that would stretch six miles across Lower New York Bay The system would shield low-lying areas of New York City and New Jersey from the same type of catastrophic flooding unleashed by the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That storm, which wreaked havoc up and down the Mid-Atlantic coastline, resulted in roughly $19 billion in damages in New York City alone. Trump called the idea, one of five flood-blocking proposals being studied by the Army Corps of Engineers, “costly, foolish and environmentally unfriendly.” He went on to claim that the barrier “probably wouldn’t work anyway,” before going on to warn New Yorkers to “get your mops and buckets ready.” In his tweet, an obvious reaction to a New York Times story on the sea wall published the day before, he also misstated the proposed cost of the deluge-preventing defense system to be $200 billion. Just weeks later, a crucial study considering that plan, as well as the four less intensive and expensive proposals, have been abruptly and “indefinitely postponed” by the Corps. As the New York Times reports, the announcement took some of the Corps’ own officials by surprise, while “local politicians and advocates said the decision was stunning at a time when climate change is threatening New York’s future with intensifying storms.” The project was first initiated by the Corps in 2017. Per Gothamist, it was anticipated that they would release a feasibility report as soon as this summer detailing the proposals, costs and benefits, and other information. And, even if a specific long-term plan were to be hypothetically approved and green-lit for federal funding, it could take upwards of two decades to complete such a project. As the Times noted, Trump cannot personally nix ongoing projects within the Corps. Work plans for the agency are jointly decided by Corps officials, the Department of Defense, and the White House Office of Management and Budget, while funding for their projects is allocated by Congress. But considering the previous Tweet, the President’s apparent antagonism toward infrastructure projects that would benefit his hometown, and his apathy toward climate resiliency projects that require federal funding, it’s difficult not to speculate that the move was orchestrated by Trump himself. “We can only speculate, but I think the tweet gives a clue as to the reason,” Robert Freudenberg, vice president for energy and environment with the Regional Plan Association, explained to the Times. “This is a president who gets good headlines for his base out of acting against ‘blue’ states, and there’s a disturbing pattern of stalling or trying to end projects that are important to the Northeast.” “This doesn’t happen,” added Freudenberg. “This is an in-progress study.” Even the Corps official in charge of the project, which only focused on flooding from Sandy-like storm surge but not sea-level rise or stormwater runoff (to some criticism), expressed how abnormal it was for an ongoing project to be shelved and have its funding suddenly halted. “When you’re working on something, you never like to be caught in a position where you’re shut down in the middle before you even finish your mission,” said Clifford S. Jones III of the agency’s New York office. Speaking to the Times, a senior administration official dismissed any notions of a personal vendetta on Trump’s part, and claimed that the Corps’ flood defense study was, in their words, “too expensive and unfocused.” The official went on to claim that the White House “remains committed to helping communities address their flood risks.” Calling the halting of the project “reckless,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has been critical of the project’s limited scope, told the Times that “there is no other study underway at this scale that could give federal dollars to protect our people, our businesses and our ecosystems.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also expressed his dismay with the decision in a press statement: “The administration is being penny-wise and pound-foolish by not funding the studies that allow New Yorkers to prepare for the next superstorm. There was no reason given for these cuts—because there is no answer.”

Helsinki Energy Challenge

In a drastic turn to eliminate coal as the main source of district heating, The City of Helsinki today kicks off the Helsinki Energy Challenge – a global one million euro competition to find the future of urban heating. With the aim to find a solution sustainable in the long term, ideas presented must not rely on fossil fuel or biomass-fired heating.

With the aim of becoming carbon-neutral by 2035 and with coal banned from energy production in Finland from 2029, Helsinki is strongly dedicated to the decarbonization of cities. Several cities already have ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. The City of Helsinki takes things one step further in declaring that it will not rely on biomass-fired heating, making the city’s energy production, not just fossil-free, but truly sustainable.

In line with the strong commitment to decarbonization, Helsinki Mayor Mr. Jan Vapaavuori is taking radical action by launching a global one million euro challenge competition, urging innovators from around the world to propose game-changing solutions for the future of urban heating.

“Solving the urban heating challenge is crucial to reach global climate goals. Cities have a key role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy, and Helsinki is now taking an initiative to lead the way. We invite innovators from all around the world to use our city as a testbed to develop not just fossil-free, but truly sustainable, solutions. Together, we will create the future of heating to fight global warming,” says Mayor of Helsinki, Mr. Jan Vapaavuori.

The goal of the challenge is to find solutions that can be implemented in Helsinki by 2029 and that potentially could contribute to decarbonizing city heating around the world. The City of Helsinki is committed to openly sharing the solutions and know-how gathered from the challenge. Cities such as Toronto, Amsterdam, Vancouver, and Leeds as well as organizations like the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and C40 City Solutions Platform, are already supporting the initiative, to name a few. “Climate change is a global crisis that will not be solved by quick fixes. With over half of the city’s heat coming from coal, we hope that our shift to sustainable energy can help inspire other cities and act as a real-life case that a transition is possible. Taking this next step might lead to a revolutionary breakthrough in our pursuit for a more sustainable city life.” says Mr. Vapaavuori. The scope of Helsinki’s heating system allows for a range of solutions, from large to small scale, but the ideal combination of solutions is yet to be found. The winning proposal could just as well include technological and business model innovations, as it could be a solution requiring system-level transformation. Proposed solutions will be evaluated based on climate impact, impact on natural resources, cost, implementation schedule, implementation feasibility, reliability and security of supply, and capacity. About the Helsinki Energy Challenge: The Helsinki Energy Challenge is a challenge competition, open globally to anyone who can propose a sustainable heating solution for Helsinki – consortiums, start-ups, larger and more established companies, research institutions, universities, research groups, and individual experts. The only requirement is that participants should join the competition as a team. The challenge is open for submissions from February 27, 2020, until May 31, 2020. By early July, finalists will be invited to a co-creation phase, which includes a 3-day boot camp, where they are provided support to develop their proposals, before presenting them to an international jury of experts who will name the winner(s). The winning solution(s) will be presented in November and awarded one million euros.
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A Q+A with Dennis Shelden, RPI’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology new director

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) has announced that architect and entrepreneur Dennis Shelden will be taking over as its director. The academic-industrial research and teaching alliance, focused on using technology to address concerns of “built ecology,” was founded in 2007, and is located across RPI’s main campus in Troy, New York, and in Industry City in Brooklyn. Shelden will be departing his position as an associate professor at Georgia Tech, where he was also director of the Digital Building Laboratory and the School of Architecture’s doctoral program. Previously he held other academic appointments, and worked with Frank Gehry and Gehry Partners for many years before serving as CTO of  Gehry Technologies, which was later acquired by Trimble. AN spoke with Shelden to find out more about the future of CASE and how technology and climate change are reshaping not only how and what architects design and build, but how the industry functions. Drew Zeiba: What are some of the biggest challenges you think architects and others working in the built environment face going into this new decade?  Dennis Shelden: I believe the building industries are entering a period of disruptive transformation similar to those seen by other industries in the 21st century. These changes will impact the “products” of building—the physical buildings themselves—as well as the delivery processes, including the erosion the identified boundaries between the distinct building professions. What do these changes mean for architects in light of the climate crisis? These changes are coming at an urgent time for the built environment, in that so many aspects of [the] climate crisis are either the product of building (such as carbon release, and habitat destruction), or have existential impacts on built systems (rising sea levels, drought, weather). Responses to environmental challenges are not “just” something that building professionals should respond to from an ethical perspective, they are becoming critical drivers of requirements either by legislation or risk response from clients. The challenge for the architectural discipline is, simply put, to rise to meet the opportunities in front of it. These include new opportunities to develop initiatives and take on opportunities in the built environment beyond the scope of architectural services, to generate innovations and to capitalize on the value of new ideas, and to rethink the products we produce and what a building is.  The issue is that architecture as a discipline and a culture has been quite self-limiting and defines itself by what it isn’t (a contractor, and owner, an industrial designer) as much as by what it is. This self-limiting is potentially very risky, as business models for the built environment evolve and as others, such as manufacturers and tech companies, start entering the building industry and capturing pieces of the value chain that have traditionally been architectural services. So in order to meet the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities happening in the built environment, architecture is going to have to rethink what it is, and embrace a much more expansive and heterogeneous definition of practice. What new technologies are you most compelled by or excited for? And what does this mean for CASE? There are a number of interrelated technological advances available to designers. These include the web and cloud computing, data analytics, and environmental sensors, coupled with the sort of automated generative design capabilities from the last era, and in concert with mass production opportunities and access to capital. Together these create a wealth of opportunities to understand and act on transformative innovations in the built environment in the larger context—as integral parts of holistic urban systems and at across scales both larger and smaller than a single building.  This is the opportunity for CASE and the heart of its mission for its chapter: To drive systemic technological and ecological—as well as process and business—innovation in the building industries, in order to reassert the role of design and the built environment as engines for social change in wholly new ways. You’ve worked in a traditional firm and in architectural technology. What role do you see research and R&D taking in architecture within and outside of the university environment? My hope is that CASE can become a new kind of academic venture, with far more direct models of engagement with both the building and tech industries. I think there is a need for not-for-profit centers for innovation that competitive private ventures can’t deliver. And certainly the education of students and development of talent is a key part of what academia offers. But there are a lot of potential new models to consider—from lifelong professional education and embedded research in practice to startup incubation. I am looking for CASE to be a model for exploring these possibilities in active collaboration with the remarkable building professional and tech as well as social, philanthropic, and business organizations in New York City.  What are going to be some of your first steps in this new position? As a first couple of steps, we are developing new professional educational programs in design technology and technology practice leadership, and will be building out a new internship research in residence program where we can drive innovation onto projects together with partnering companies. We are thinking about new ways of leveraging the studio program as a way [of] connecting with building product, manufacturing, and software companies, as well as humanitarian organizations. And in May we will be hosting a symposium on disruptive technologies and organizational models that will relaunch CASE into the New York City community around this expanded agenda.
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Houston launches multi-billion-dollar resiliency master plan

Last Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed plans for a multi-billion-dollar initiative designed to prepare the city against future climate change-related disasters. The 186-page document, Resilient Houston, elaborates on methods the coastal city can adopt to become better prepared for future storms, sea-level rise, and the urban heat island effect. “Houston, as the energy capital of the world, must lead the global energy transition,” Turner writes in the document’s introduction. “If we do not, we will jeopardize our regional economy and prosperity for generations of Houstonians.” To address the 667-square-mile city as a whole, Resilient Houston is divided into five scales: people, neighborhoods, bayous, the city, and the region. Each scale is met with a number of corresponding goals that includes “expanding access to wealth-building and employment opportunities,” “building up, not out, to promote smart growth as Houston’s population increases,” and “transforming city government to operationalize resilience and build trust.” The plan also proposes the planting of 4.6 million trees throughout the city, the removal or replacement of homes in particularly flood-prone areas, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Preparation for Resilient Houston began shortly after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city in August 2017. “One year after Harvey,” Turner explained, “we were not only focused on our recovery, but on the transformative change that comes from thinking and acting holistically to build and grow our long-term resilience.” The city received a direct allocation of $61 million following the development of a climate change resiliency proposal in November 2017 that called for enhanced infrastructure measures and the buying out homes in especially vulnerable areas of the Houston-Galveston region. According to the Houston Chronicle, the plan was pushed forward in the last year thanks to the recent appointment of Marissa Aho as the City’s Chief Resilience Officer last February. Aho previously helped craft a resiliency plan for Los Angeles, a city with a population density and reliance on automobiles similar to that of Houston. With a $1.8 million grant from Shell Oil, Resilient Houston allowed the city to gain membership in the 100 Resilient Cities, a program developed by The Rockefeller Foundation that provided funding, capacity building, and technical assistance for climate change resiliency around the world before concluding in July 2019.
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The oracular visions of Agnes Denes are on display at The Shed

Agnes Denes’s watershed retrospective at The Shed, the sliding art hall at New York’s Hudson Yards, Absolutes and Intermediates (open through March 22), feels at times audaciously oracular. With its global environmental themes, conceptual graphs of the totality of human knowledge, and exaggerated post-human scale drawings, the exhibition speaks to a millenarianism powerfully present today among anyone paying attention. Yet, much of it she conceived a half-century ago. At times, it makes Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion domes and the previous heroic gestures of land art look like frivolous child’s play. “I asked her once how she knew in the early ’60s what we know now about this place, where in the early ’60s you didn’t have phrases like climate change,” said curator Emma Enderby, who organized the show. “She just said that it was there. Scientists were talking about it. You just had to have your ears open and your tentacles out. You had to be reading the texts and reading between the lines.” Before joining The Shed as a curator, Enderby worked at Public Art Fund, where she became familiar with Denes through her landmark Wheatfield—A Confrontation (1982), which the organization sponsored. Back in 1982, Denes planted two acres on landfill dug up from the World Trade Center while the site sat empty waiting to be developed into Battery Park City, arguably her most famous work. Enderby suggested a retrospective, along with the idea of commissioning unrealized pieces, in line with The Shed’s mission to support original cross-disciplinary work. The work is well organized and emphasized thanks to the work of the New York-based New Affiliates, who designed the exhibition. Photographs of Wheatfield staged by a TIME Magazine photographer show Denes standing Moses-like with a staff in the field of golden wheat, the gray towers of Wall Street on the horizon, contrasting the subduing, objectified, and commodification of the built environment with an image of resurgent nature. The figure of a woman projected as a life-giving force alongside one of the earliest human technologies, agriculture, hinted at a possible regeneration of incessant urban verticality and sprawl. “It was insane. It was impossible,” Denes wrote. “But it would draw people’s attention to having to rethink their priorities and realize that unless human values were reassessed, the quality of life, even life itself, was in danger.” The exhibition sprawls through two floors of The Shed’s double-height galleries, taking its title from a radically-scaled parametric chart Denes plotted on a sheet of AT&T Bell Labs graph paper in 1970. Absolutes and Intermediates visualizes nothing less than the history and future of the universe, from its formation to its disappearance into nothing, sweeping through the emergence of human life, the development of abstract reasoning, the creation of superintelligent machines and artificial life forms, and the evolution of a future species of homo sapiens. Expansive, minutely detailed drawings of Denes’s grand alternative systems and condensations of knowledge are displayed in long vitrines—some of them longer than 20 feet—beside study models and video interviews that show Denes as much a thinker as a visual artist. Another uncanny early piece from 1970, Matrix of Knowledge, predicts information overload in ways that are halfway too optimistic, halfway right on the mark. Charted using dialectic triangulation, in which Denes represents interconnected fields of knowledge as intersections of that construct larger geometric structures, she wrote that the sum of accumulated information doubles every ten years, more than the mind can handle. In the future systems will have to be set up to preselect and reduce incoming data, leading to loss of freedom. “Mass media is already making choices for us,” she wrote at the time, “a[nd] specialization is also leading in that direction by trapping valuable data within each specialty where it remains undigested, hindering accurate deductions and combination as the flow of communication is blocked.” A maximalist ecological intervention conceived in 1982, Tree Mountain-A Living Time Capsule—11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years is breathtaking in its ambition and gets a dedicated display room at The Shed. Commissioned on the occasion of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and realized by 1996, 11,000 trees were planted in a gravel pit in Ylöjärvi, Finland, that was being reclaimed from environmental destruction. Each tree was assigned a dedicated custodian, along with a certificate naming its owner. Planted in a swirling pyramidal pattern, Tree Mountain would take on its full meaning over the course of centuries, Denes wrote, changing from a shrine to a decadent era to a monument of a great civilization to benefit future generations. The entire second floor is devoted to a large number of Denes’s conceptual pyramidal drawings, along with three special commissions created for the show. The pyramids are largely thought experiments expressed as drawings on a crazy scale, such as her iteration of Pascal’s Triangle, no. 3 (1974), which extends halfway across the gargantuan Shed gallery, displayed in a glass case, all drawn by hand in painstaking detail. Others use dots, thin lines, and stick figures to sketch out eccentric forms—probability, a flying fish, silk, reflection, a flexible space station—creating pyramids in which slight individual variations result in reverberating distortions in the whole. The gallery commissioned a version of the probability pyramid, Model for Probability Pyramid—Study for Crystal Pyramid (2019) and built it from nearly 6,000 3D-printed corn-based bricks, taking advantage of the venue’s unusual ceiling height and technical capacity. Illuminated from the inside, the crystalline structure stretches to 30-feet-by-22.5-feet at its base and reaches 17 feet in height. As originally conceived, the pyramid would be constructed of 100,000 glass blocks, rivaling the ancient pyramids and carrying mathematical information into the future. Another special commission was a translucent, teardrop-shaped object, also lit from inside, and hovering mid-air. A custom electromagnetic circuit in the base and a magnet within the sculpture suspends the teardrop as if by magic. It’s a model for a monumental architectural structure, a floating city conceived in 1984 as a part of a series of organic forms. The structures reference back to 4000 B.C Egyptian pyramids and were created for a future in which their inhabitants live in space or self-contained floating environments. They’re intended as mandalas that define benevolent destinies: The structures “break loose from the tyranny of being built,” Denes wrote, becoming “flexible to take on dynamic forms of their own choosing. At this point they decide to fend for themselves and create their own destiny.” The other special project, Model for a Forest for New York (2014— ), is a much more recent one: A plan to plant 100,000 trees in a form that looks like a flower from the sky on a 120-acre landfill in Edgemere, Queens, with support from the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. The forest’s conception is also more straightforwardly contemporary, appealing to public health concerns, as it would address asthma problems in the adjacent neighborhood, remove carbon dioxide from the air, and help clean the groundwater. That makes the project somewhat more prosaic, and in a way disappointing—in the same manner as a waterfront berm with a park on top, which suggests the greater truth of her aesthetic project. Well-known ecological artists like Peter Fend have complained for ages that artists are not taken seriously when proposing environmental interventions because they are not trained engineers, and the resultant projects are often wildly out of scale and untested. But with the world as we now know it is coming to an end, be it the current political order or via the climate crisis, Denes’s visionary planetary-scale retorts have a fitting rejoinder: Absolutes and Intermediates suggests the potential of aesthetic imagination—not just quantitative trading and tech engineers—to regenerate it anew.
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Wayne Turett's Greenport Passive House blends North Fork-chic with modern technology

The Greenport Passive House is an energy-efficient project in the harbor town of Greenport, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island. Architect Wayne Turett designed the residence as his own home. Drawing inspiration from the local barn vernacular, the carbon-neutral project was made to show how designers can address the climate crisis without sacrificing contemporary expectations of comfort and style.

Turett considered three key elements in the design of the Passive House: “First, the building envelope, which had to be completely sealed so that there was no leakage of air; then the insulation, to ensure that heat would not escape or cold air enter; and finally, the added elements like roof overhangs that protect the house from receiving too much sunlight in the summer,” he said. As a result of these decisions, the Greenport Passive House consumes nearly 90 percent less heating energy than existing homes and 75 percent less energy than average new construction. The home also benefits from triple-glazed windows and energy-recovery ventilation, which brings in and takes out air.

The home’s exterior is shiplap gray cedar and cement with an aluminum roof. The insulation works in combination with a proprietary sheathing taped to form the air barrier, allowing for an airtight building envelope. The all-electric home is heated and cooled with a duct mini-split system aided by an ERV. Inside, a neutral color scheme and light wood materials along with white walls and upholstery create a bright, airy aesthetic. A combined kitchen, dining, living room, and porch were intentionally programmed on the second level with views to the water. Below, bedrooms and bathrooms are accessed via an outdoor shower to smooth the transition from the site’s sandy shores. As an integrated project, the home fuses Turett’s modern aesthetic with a performative building envelope.

Architect: Turett Collaborative Location: Greenport, New York Contractor: The Turett Collaborative Plumbing: Duravit, Hansgrohe Axor Exterior siding: Fabricated by Vector East Flooring: Heart Pine with Woca White Pigment Oil Hardware: Kenwa, Ranpo, Kwikset HVAC: Mitsubishi Roofing: Atas Aluminum Standing Seam Windows: Bildau & Bussmann by Eco Supply