The Architecture Lobby (TAL) has come out in support of the Green New Deal, the sweeping piece of potential legislation that’s aiming to transform the U.S. economy and help combat climate change and economic inequality. In an official online statement, TAL called on architects, designers, and allies within similar disciplines to support the resolution through four points of action: by reforming practice, redefining resilience, reassessing technology, and re-empowering labor. “In order to tackle decarbonization efforts more effectively, the way we work and the way the profession is structured must change,” TAL argued. “Architects must reject the current model of practice as a service profession responding rapidly to private capital... Architectural work for the Green New Deal must not become another conduit for accumulating wealth at the top.” In other words, architects must look beyond design and at the bigger picture by becoming activists in the industry for smart and equitable collaborations that benefit all. TAL wrote that architects must also refuse to work with clients, manufacturers, or any company whose values “do not support a transformative redistribution of power.” This includes rejecting groups who utilize unfair labor practices, and holding government agencies accountable by both participating in civic processes and policy development, as well as demanding a uniform contact and fee schedule from municipalities. The principles outlined by TAL also encouraged architects to “advocate for carbon neutral affordable housing for all” and help configure new ways to finance such projects other than private development dollars. Additionally, architects must understand that, in the fight against climate change and social injustice, “technology is not neutral,” and it’s important to recognize the power structures behind its development. In the same vein, TAL urged architects to recognize that advances in technology will inevitably change the way the built environment is designed and constructed, so it’s key to “be deliberate about automation in the profession” and make sure any jobs lost are replaced by reskilling, “so that solving one crisis does not cause another.” According to TAL, “there can be no sustainable world without sustainable labor practices.” TAL’s statement on the Green New Deal comes months after the American Institute of Architects issued its support. Around that time, AN spoke with a handful of architects across the country to detail their reactions to the draft legislation and what goals they have for achieving a carbon-free economy, social equality, and more. For TAL’s full vision of architects’ role within the Green New Deal, read more here.
Posts tagged with "Climate Change":
Political chaos is spreading, and climate change is upon us. Meanwhile, populist leaders throughout the world are scapegoating immigrants, trashing environmental regulations and spreading blatant lies. But at the 2019 Venice Art Biennale, one of the world’s most important art exhibitions, artists are fighting back in what may be the largest exhibition of politically subversive art ever shown. Ralph Rugoff, curator of this year’s Biennale, titled the show “May You Live in Interesting Times,” after an apocryphal Chinese “curse” pertaining to periods of danger and uncertainty, which has been cited by politicians ranging from British imperialist Joseph Chamberlain to Hilary Rodham Clinton. In his essay for the exhibition, Rugoff writes that “art can give us tools to reimagine the possibilities of these ‘interesting times’ and so transform this phrase from a curse into a challenge that we can enthusiastically embrace.” Rugoff’s revolutionary agenda is conspicuous for an art exhibition, where the official opening in May also featured glittering parties in Venetian palazzos and a legion of plutocrats and oligarchs. The contrast was especially striking at the Biennale’s main exhibition space, a cavernous brick building known as the Arsenale, in which almost every other artwork appears to be about poverty, sexism, environmental degradation, racism, or political violence. Indeed, at this year’s Biennale, the only thing holding an otherwise disparate show together is the focus on the ills of our time. The main exhibition features the work of 79 artists from around the world and includes sculptures of the growing homeless population in Athens, videos showing Palestinian protestors trying to breach the border in the Golan Heights, and paintings of verdant landscapes that include images of political violence in Kenya. One series of photographs shows half-finished housing developments and piles of garbage outside of Rome. Another series is about the fallout from aspirational housing developments gone bust in India, which according to an accompanying text is linked to, “developers hoardings peddling unattainable dreams.” Capitalism’s failures are rife. One of the first exhibits is a salvo of harrowing nocturnal photographs from the series titled Angst by Soham Gupta, showing disheveled street people in Kolkata, India, whom, as an accompanying text informs us, have suffered “abuse and abandonment.” Their faces display expressions of pain, madness or lust. They are posed embracing one another, dancing wildly, lurching towards the camera or simply sitting quietly in abject loneliness. Gupta gets up close with his camera and shows these spectral characters in a soft light against a black backdrop, revealing a humanity within that you might not otherwise notice. It might be overly ambitious to think that art can help make society more just and compassionate. However, Rugoff is expecting between 180,000 to 600,000 visitors to his show, which runs through November 11th, 2019, and is hoping that it will help change the conversation. He maintains that artists have a unique role in combatting the conspiracy theories and narrow nationalistic messages on social media that increasingly are shaping political discourse. He says that art can reveal hidden or unfamiliar truths in profoundly different ways than can journalism or historical reporting. “We [the public] don’t see things in the same ways that artists do,” Rugoff told me. “They are asking us to hold different images in our minds at one time.” Plato warned about art’s ability to present alternative realities to the body politic, and it seems axiomatic that the more repressive a society is, the more threated it is by artists. Edouard Manet’s painting, Execution of Maximillian, was censored by the French government shortly after it was painted in 1867 because it portrayed the French puppet emperor being shot by a firing squad of Mexican revolutionaries. Fascist regimes and dictators are notoriously fearful of abstract art. Considering that China censored images of Winnie the Pooh because bloggers were comparing the cartoon character’s appearance to Chinese President Xi Jinping, it is understandable that much of the artwork currently being produced in that country is not overtly critical of the regime. But in totalitarian societies, art is politicized even it doesn’t convey a literal political message. “If you are an artist in China today, you are dealing with political import,” Rugoff told me, giving as an example an art installation at the Biennale’s Central Pavilion titled Can’t Help Myself by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, in which an enormous robot with a mop at the end of its arm moves with terrifying jerks as it repeatedly attempts to control a flowing red substance that looks like blood. Currently, in most parts of the world, artists can more directly challenge the system. Several of the most political pieces in the show had their roots in Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, found objects that take on new meanings when signed by an artist and displayed in a museum or a gallery. One is Teresa Margolles’ meditation on the violence engulfing parts of Mexico, which consists of a 39-foot-long cinderblock wall, pockmarked with bullet holes and crested with barbed wire that the artist transported to Venice from the city of Juarez. And just when one is hoping for visual relief from this compelling but disturbing show, one’s view of the canal outside the Arsenale is obstructed by the actual boat from the Mediterranean’s deadliest shipwreck, on which between 700 and 1,100 Syrian refugees went missing. The artist Christoph Büechel transported the rusted wreck, which has a large gaping hole in its side, from Sicily to Venice and titled it Barca Nostra. An accompanying wall text refers to the ship as a “monument to contemporary migration” and as “representing the collective policies and politics that create these kinds of disasters.” A series of prints from the Body En Thrall series by transgender Latina artist Martine Gutierrez shows the artist nude in a series of staged erotic encounters with clothed mannequins, such as one where she is draped across the lap of a figure dressed in a tuxedo with a come-hither expression on her face. Calling to mind Edouard Manet’s notorious Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe in which a naked woman picnics with two clothed men, the prints raise questions of power in regard to Eurocentric standards of beauty, gender identity, consumerism, and a host of other issues that are au courant in cultural studies classes at elite universities throughout the West. The coming apocalypse is also a popular topic at this year’s Biennale. One example is the enormous Eskalation by the German artist Alexandra Birc ken, which is ominously suspended overhead. Here, forty figurines fashioned from black calico and latex look as they are out of one of Dante’s circles of hell—they are shown climbing and hanging off of ladders that ascend towards the vertiginous ceiling of the Arsenale. Wherever they are trying to get to, it doesn’t look good. Another work in the "end of civilization vein" is a sculptural series of large menacing mammals on the verge of extinction by the American artist, Jimmie Durham, who connects human waste with environmental degradation. Durham’s animals look angry and tortured. Their jaws are agape, and teeth bared; wires, cables and dark metal define their forms. They are constructed from contemporary civilization’s detritus, used clothes, discarded furniture, and machine parts. May You Live in Interesting Times is intended to be aggressive and disturbing. We already are living in a post-truth age in which leaders such as U.S president Donald Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro are denying climate change and sanctioning political violence as a justifiable campaign tactic. Rugoff clearly wants his exhibition to make us think harder about our fast-changing world. “Ultimately, what is most important about an exhibition is not what happens inside a gallery,” he writes in his essay for the exhibition, “but how audiences use their experiences afterward to reimagine everyday realities from expanded perspectives.”
Following the election in April of this year of a left-leaning, five-party coalition government in Finland, the country has pledged to institute a wide-ranging increase in infrastructure and welfare spending and to make the country carbon neutral by 2035. If enacted, the transition would make Finland the first fossil fuel-free country in the world. Social Democratic party leader Antti Rinne set the target on June 3 and broke down how Finland would reach such an ambitious goal. The plan to combat climate change involves a full-scale mobilization of the Finnish economy and an overt rejection of the austerity imposed by the former center-right coalition. Rinne emphasized that efforts will stem directly from internal cutbacks and reorganization of national energy sourcing, rather than from outsourcing carbon dioxide emissions via carbon-capture credits in other countries. The plan is slated to be reviewed in 2025. "Building the world's first fossil-free, sustainable society is going to require much more than nice words on paper,” said Sini Harkki, a Greenpeace Nordic representative, “but we're determined to make it happen." The new government will increase public spending by $1.4 billion per year over their incoming term, made possible by increasing taxes by an estimated $828 million—much of that stemming from fossil fuel levies. The government’s plan to address infrastructure and welfare in combination also aims to raise nationwide employment from 72.4 percent (in April of 2019) to 75 percent. Harkki also commented on the “far from perfect” nature of the plan, which will have major implications on the nation’s forestry and peat industries. However, she cited that with the “broad public support” the government and its program has, steps can be taken to refine government actions and win partisan fights. Some parts of the country have already taken even more progressive steps ahead of any official action. A northern town called Li is on track to cut its emissions by 80 percent by 2020 -- 30 years ahead of the EU’s most ambitious targets. Li has ceased using fossil fuels and instead invested heavily in geothermal, solar, and wind energy sources since 2012, with a payoff: The town generates $568,000 in profit each year. On top of this, they are working towards becoming the world’s first zero-waste community, too. The financial success and stability of Li counters a stance by the populist Finns party, who claim that the environmental goals of the country’s left would "take the sausage from the mouths of laborers." The push and pull within the Scandinavian country echoes a worldwide divide, one between economic stability in continuing the status-quo and the risks of system overhaul to address emissions issues around the globe.
The New York State legistlature has passed a wide-sweeping climate mobilization bill, that, if signed by Governor Cuomo as expected, would mandate that New York State go totally carbon-neutral by 2050. Senate Bill S6599, or the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CCPA), has been kicking around the legislature in one form or another for the last three years and has been cited as a precursor to the Green New Deal being proposed on the national stage. After a progressive sweep of the State Senate last year in the general election, the stage was set to pass the wide-ranging bill, which had been held up by Republicans up to that point. The ultimate goal is to create a net-zero, circular economy powered by renewable energy. S6599 requires that the state reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 85 percent of the level it was at in 1990, and to offset the remaining 15 percent through planting trees and wetland restoration. In 2030, the entire state will be required to source a minimum of 70 percent renewable energy and move up to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. While that may seem like an ambitious target, New York State already sources 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power generation. According to the New York Times, the state is preparing to build more offshore wind farms and rooftop solar panels and will ramp up its battery capacity for cloudy and windless days. However, just generating clean electricity won’t be enough. About a quarter of emissions in the state come from buildings, which rely on natural gas and heating oil for heating and cooling, and automobile emissions will still need to be slashed as cars and trucks are converted to run on electricity. Hundreds of millions of dollars will also be doled out for remediation in areas disproportionately impacted by industrial manufacturing. While New York City’s own “Green New Deal” initiative will regulate the construction of new buildings to bring them in line with tighter emissions requirements, the CCPA will need to mobilize thousands of new workers to weatherproof and retrofit every type of building to run on clean electricity. No cost estimate has been given so far, and critics have claimed that the final version of the CCPA was watered down by the governor’s office to exclude important labor provisions. The final S6599 takes aspects of an earlier Climate and Community Protection Act but has eliminated job training initiatives in low-income, climate-vulnerable neighborhoods. Additionally, funding the retraining of workers in fossil fuel industries was cut, as were fair wage provisions for workers in the renewable energy sector. The actual nitty-gritty details on how the CCPA will be implemented will be left to a future 22-person “climate action council” to decide. The council will be made up of experts and elected state officials with knowledge on everything from renewable energy, construction, health, labor, and ecology, and will be further supported by working groups with specialized knowledge.
Human-driven climate change is threatening the coastal areas that nearly half of the world calls home with rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms. While dams, barriers, dredging, and artificial reefs are sometimes used to address these “forces of nature,” these strategies come with their own drawbacks and, in some cases, significant environmental and ecological impacts. Researchers at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, in collaboration with Invena, a Maldivian organization, have proposed a solution that is inspired by nature. Called "Growing Islands," their project uses wave energy to grow sand formations in a way that mimics natural sand accumulation. The hope is that over time, sand can “grow” into new islands, beaches, and barriers that can protect coasts from erosion and save islands like the Maldives that are under threat of disappearing under rising seas. The Growing Islands project uses sand-filled 10-foot-by-10-foot canvas bladders with biodegradable 3D-printed interiors that use energy generated by waves to create new protective sand formations to rebuild beaches and act as “adaptable artificial reefs,” according to the lab’s website. The site goes on to explain: “By harnessing wave forces to accelerate and guide the accumulation of sand in strategic locations, and adapting the placement of the devices to seasonal changes and storm direction, our approach aims to naturally and sustainably reshape sand topographies using the forces of nature.” This past winter, the lab and Invena installed these devices off the Maldivian coast and are collecting data by way of on-the-ground measurements, drones, and satellite imagery. They hope to create an affordable, sustainable solution to protecting island nations—many under threat of disappearance—and coastal towns and cities from encroaching water. More dramatically, the lab also imagines that this process could be leveraged at a larger scale to create entire new islands over time.
In case you’ve missed it, the world is ending. There’s war, displacement, drought, famine, rising seas, sinking cities, faster winds, and a frightening U.N. report suggests irrevocable, possibly humanity-ending results if we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent of 2010 levels by 2050. Artist Josh Kline wants to give us a vision of this un-future. In Climate Change: Part One, Kline has transformed Chinatown gallery 47 Canal in Manhattan into a dystopian funhouse, one that reflects and refracts our world—and its possible undoing—back at us for unnerving effect. Through the first door, which features the stars of a mangled American flag peaking through plastered-on sand, you’ll encounter an irregularly shaped green table mounted with a lit vitrine. Against the nearest wall are a series of large, whirring industrial freezers. The tarp floors make a slight, sticky sound underfoot. This table is one of three bearing names that read like euphemisms for the current state of catastrophe capitalism: Transnational Finance, Technological Innovation. In this one, Representative Government, models of various seats of power—the White House, the Reichstag, rendered in Potomac River mud and placed against a satellite photo of Washington, D.C.—slowly drown under the water of melting miniature icebergs. The freezers sustain the chunks of ice just enough that the submergence is painfully slow, taking place over the month-and-a-half of the show's run. As we know, cooling a small space puts out a great deal of heat elsewhere, rendering the gallery quite warm. Other vitrines hold different building typologies, like skyscrapers rising together from an imaginary Manhattan made from all the world's tallest buildings. The Burj Khalifa and the Chrysler Building aren’t in the same city, and there's no iceberg floating and melting in New York's Upper Bay, but you get the idea. The real-life ice may be far away, but water, and the planet, is a continuity. An ice shelf north of Greenland crashing into the sea has implications that reach far further than the Arctic Circle. Through the doors there are other, unenclosed tables, with pink soy wax in the shape of insurance buildings and suburban homes melting down tubes that collect and direct the colored sludge into buckets below. Waste is not hidden, as everything is a system. The doors, each named after a degrees Celsius, with a second parenthetical appellation, are themselves artworks, but also serve their usual purpose. Some rooms, arranged together like a cartoon hallway from a Scooby Doo villain's mansion, can only be entered through a singular door, some an array of doors. They present a false sense of choice, and all lead to the same room, each degree of difference still resulting in the same ruins. The checklist is very clear about origins, at least for some of the more “natural” materials: beach sand from New York City, Shenzhen, and California; desert sand from Texas and the Sahara; steel powder from China. The flags, too, have origin stories, however misleading they might be. We might imagine that the nylon flags desecrated and pasted onto the doors with paint and sand and kelp may represent Germany, the U.S., China, and so on, but they are likely to all be from somewhere else, maybe the same factory, possibly located in none of these countries. To the tentacles of global commerce, borders are long gone. For the refugees of climate disaster and resource wars, the same can’t yet be said. The doors, with their disfigured flags, are meant to represent the dissolution of borders and nations that Kline predicts climate change and its cascading ramifications will bring about. They also represent our willful participation in the house of horrors-style drowning disasters shown in each of the different rooms as we open and close them. Even when faced with three doors, the sense of choice is false: each opens to the same room. Whether our actions raise global average atmospheric temperatures by 2º C (Dutch, Belgian, French, and German flags, all compressed with Sahara Desert sand—a Colonial Chain Reaction) or 3º C (a mashup of the Union Jack and Japanese flags along with kelp and chlorella) or 5º C (American and Russian flags, Potomac River mud), we’ll still find ourselves in too deep, so to speak. Particularly resonant are the banal and domestic scenes. Situated in hermetically sealed versions of the fume hoods from your college chemistry class painted in subdued, aesthetically-pleasing shades of urethane paints with lighting to match, are scenes with dollhouse miniatures, submerged underwater (or really, cyanoacrylate glue and epoxy). They depict sorrily-stocked grocery stores, bland offices, and suburban home interiors, but their titles are not so bland: Erosion, Inundation, and Submersion. Disintegration isn't loss, it’s transformation. Even as rising water washes away the mud of the miniature buildings, that same dirt just is transported elsewhere, but formless. Matter is conserved, even if our environment is not. What once was just becomes something else, and with us gone, who will be there to name it or know the difference anyway? Things happen on scales too large for us to know, or to know to even ask questions about. Kline shows us this, plainly, perhaps even at first propagandistically. In this show alone, the interlocking problems of political power, globalization, financialization, housing, architecture, technology, and climate change are all put on display. But there’s no real call to arms here, just a documentation of the future present. But it does make one have to ask: If this is Climate Change: Part One, what happens in part two? Climate Change: Part One 47 Canal 291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor, New York Through June 9, 2019
A group of 17 architecture firms from across the United Kingdom, including Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, released an open letter affirming their commitment to heading off climate change and building a more equitable future for their profession. The planet is in "twin crises," the letter declares, under the heading "UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency." The full list of founding signatories, all 17 of which are RIBA Stirling Prize winners, is as follows: Alison Brooks Architects; Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, AL_A, Caruso St John Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, dRMM, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Foster + Partners: Haworth Tompkins, Hodder + Partners: Maccreanor Lavington, Michael Wilford, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Stanton Williams, WilkinsonEyre, Witherford Watson Mann, and Zaha Hadid Architects. Together, the group declared that as the construction and maintenance of buildings account for 40 percent of the world’s energy-derived carbon dioxide production, the architecture and construction industries have a responsibility to change their practices. Their list of demands compiles practical changes that can be taken to mitigate further climate change, and to stem the ecological destruction that comes with new construction and urban sprawl. “For everyone working in the construction industry,” reads the Architects Declare statement, “meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behavior. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities, and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.” Those measures include collaborating with engineers, clients, and contractors throughout the project’s lifecycle to reduce waste: retrofitting older, existing structures instead of razing them for new construction whenever possible; enacting whole-lifecycle carbon and occupancy analysis; minimizing waste; sharing knowledge with colleagues whenever possible on best practices; incentivizing climate change and biodiversity loss mitigation through awards, and many others. At the time of writing, 155 U.K.-based firms had signed the pledge. Earlier this week, Foster + Partners became the first architecture studio in the world to sign on to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, meaning that all of their projects would be carbon neutral by 2030.
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.
Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace.Tort suits alleging liability for failure to adapt to climate change are unusual, but there are signs that they may be becoming more commonplace. An Illinois insurer recently filed (and then dropped) lawsuits alleging that various state municipalities were responsible for payouts because their stormwater management plans did not anticipate increased rainfall that caused flooding. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, plaintiffs argued, with some success, that it was foreseeable to the US Army Corps of Engineers that a navigation channel would change the local microclimate in ways that exacerbated hurricane damage (St. Bernard Par. Gov't v. United States, 121 Fed. Cl. 687, 721 (2015), rev'd on other grounds, 887 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2018), petition for cert. filed, No. 18-359 (Sept. 9, 2018). Tort-like duties may arise in other contexts. Contracts might impose tort-like duties upon design professionals. For example, an architect whose contract specifies a useful life for a building might have a duty to anticipate the effects of climate change during that timeframe. Similarly, statutes can impose tort-like duties and may even be enforceable by private plaintiffs—a not-for-profit was recently found to have the standing to sue an oil company over allegations that its vulnerability to flooding made it incompatible with “good engineering practices” under the Clean Water Act. So, what is the standard of care? Simply put, design professionals have a duty to exercise the care of a reasonable practitioner in the location. Unfortunately, complying with this simple standard can be tricky, and the door is often open for someone to argue after a problem develops that the architect or engineer did not exercise the required level of care. The best way to minimize the chances of that door being opened is to pay careful attention to local best practices.
Compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard.Building codes are one potential pitfall. While failure to comply with local building codes can lead to a finding of a per se (i.e., automatic) violation of the design professional’s duty, compliance with local codes does not insulate the design professionals from liability if their peers are building to a higher standard. Design professionals would be well-advised to be aware when local codes are outdated or backward-looking. For example, most states’ building codes do not account for sea-level rise. Similarly, relying on locally available climate data or projections may not be enough to protect the design professional from liability. Today, an architect in New York would have access to well-founded floodplain maps that take into account the potential impacts of climate change. However, this was not always the case. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, many communities’ FEMA maps dated back to 1983. In this situation, it would be more difficult for a design professional to claim that reliance on official floodplain data was reasonable. And this is a significant problem—a 2017 government audit found that 58 percent of FEMA floodplain maps nationally were out-of-date. Further, although New York City benefits from an additional set of FEMA-drawn maps that anticipate the impact of rising sea levels, this is not the case nationally, meaning that even a brand-new floodplain map represents the chance of being hit with a flood in the last century rather than the next one. Practitioners should also be aware of codes governing public development. Future plaintiffs could argue that they are admissible to attack or to buttress expert opinions on the prevailing standard of care for private development. Our practitioner in New York should be aware of the city’s new Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which identify climate change risks and appropriate resiliency interventions for city projects—such as raising machinery when building in a potential floodplain. New York is not alone—various other state and local bodies, such as Boston, have developed or are developing similar standards. The Illinois lawsuits discussed above relied, in part, on rainfall predictions in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. Similarly, plaintiffs may argue that various nonbinding standards show prevailing practice. Industry bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers are attempting to develop such standards, and the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board has published standards for engineers adapting to climate change. There is also the risk—as some design professionals have experienced with LEED certification—that undertaking to comply with otherwise nonbinding standards could create legal obligations. Our climate is changing rapidly. Design professionals already have plenty of incentives to make sure that our buildings and infrastructure are ready. A further incentive is that it reduces the risk of tort liability. Larry Dany is a partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP where he leads the Construction Industry Practice Group in New York City. He helps clients across the construction industry resolve a wide variety of complex business and legal challenges through planning, contract negotiation and drafting, dispute avoidance, claim management, arbitration, and litigation from inception through jury trial in state and federal courts across the country. Nicholas Boyd is an associate at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. He advises corporations, financial services companies, and state agencies on complex business and civil litigation matters. His practice has a particular emphasis on antitrust disputes, class actions and construction lawsuits.
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.