Concrete is perhaps the most prolific and malleable construction material in the world, but our continued dependence on it may be contributing to climate change more than was previously known. The English international affairs think tank Chatham House recently released a report that attributed approximately eight percent of the planet’s annual carbon dioxide emissions to concrete production. The chemical processes used to create cement, burning limestone and clay in a high-temperature kiln and grinding the result, contributes the greatest share of emissions (though the collection of sand, a commonly used aggregate, has its own problems). With the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) complete, a “rulebook” for enacting the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was agreed on by the 23,000 international delegates present. Even with a guide in place for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the problem with concrete is that demand is only expected to rise. Currently, the world produces 4.4 billion tons of concrete annually, but that number is expected to rise to over 5.5 billion tons by 2050 as poorer countries rapidly urbanize, according to the Chatham House report. For the concrete industry to fall in line with the Paris Agreement’s targets, emissions will need to fall 16 percent from current levels by 2030. The report argues that target is already an ambitious goal. The production of Portland cement, the kind most widely used today, has remained largely the same since the 1800s. Limestone and clay combine in the kiln to form carbon dioxide and “clinker,” a substrate then mixed with limestone and gypsum to create cement. According to Chatham House, research into “alternative clinker” and low-carbon production methods has thus far been slow going. Less energy-intensive kilns, new types of clinker, carbon capture technology, and switching to renewable energy during the production process will all be necessary “to achieve CO2 reductions consistent with at least a 50 percent chance of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100," according to the BBC. Timber, which sequesters the carbon dioxide absorbed by trees over their life, has slowly but surely made strides in replacing concrete in some projects. High-rise timber buildings have gotten a green light in Oregon, and continued research into carbon-neutral (or negative) projects is continuing apace.
Posts tagged with "Sustainability":
Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will be home to a new affordable housing unit as part of the collaborative work between Glavovic Studio and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), an organization that delivers medical care and services dealing with HIV/AIDS to over one million people worldwide. Fort Lauderdale–based Glavovic Studio plans to transform one-and-a-half city blocks into a green, multi-functional neighborhood for locals to enjoy, all within walking distance of South Florida’s New River. The 3.4-acre design concept called “ON3RD” strives to tackle the nation’s affordable housing and homeless crises by providing fast access to cheap and environmentally friendly housing for low-income individuals. The “affordable residential development campus” will contain a 15-story residential tower, parking garage, and two preexisting service buildings owned by AHF. With the growing number of workers and residents in the area, as well as the steady increase of homelessness generally in the United States, there has been a rising demand for pedestrian and transit-friendly environments in downtown Fort Lauderdale, especially those that incorporate greenery, support infrastructure, and urban open space. Glavovic Studio sought to create a community that reflects the existing fabric of Fort Lauderdale, sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades. The firm made sure to include multiple landscaped plazas, terraces, and micro-gardens in the site plan, contributing to the idea of a wholesome, walkable, urban space. While the housing units are designed to tie in seamlessly with the existing fabric of the city, its various zones and neighborhoods will provide visitors with a sense of being in a “city within a city.” The L-shaped residential building that serves as the focal point of the site will house 680 modular micro-apartments, including 260-square-foot-units and 400-square-foot-townhomes on its first four floors. These unit types were chosen primarily because they can be built efficiently using basic construction methods, and they include prefabricated interior bathrooms and kitchens, repeated window wall systems, and standard floor plates, all of which can be built off-site and installed into the building with ease. To diminish the building’s massive scale, its protruding balconies fluctuate at various angles to make it seem as though the structure is composed of a series of interconnected, smaller buildings. Glavovic Studio, which views sustainability as a core part of its philosophy, will layer the building with decorative masonry breeze blocks, which will not only give the structure a sense of texture and depth, but also regulate its exposure to sun and shadow in order to provide each unit with an abundance of shading and cooling. Because the breeze blocks will reduce the need for air conditioning systems, they will save energy and drastically lower the monthly electric bills for the residents. The jutting balconies provide shade and further lower the room temperatures of each unit, a necessary feature for South Florida's hot and muggy climate. “Working with AHF, we have looked far beyond architectural solutions to include political, social, and strategic approaches as well, including community partners and the public on affordable housing issues,” stated Margi Nothard, founder of Glavovic Studio, in a statement. “The ultimate goal is to create a model for a sustainable, economically viable and dignified solution to this entrenched problem.”
The city council of Spokane, Washington, has adopted a new ordinance that would make it the second city in the state after Seattle to set the goal of being powered entirely with renewable energy by 2030. The so-called Fossil Free Spokane initiative will create a new Sustainability Action Commission in the city that will update Spokane’s Sustainability Action Plan to include a specific climate action roadmap aimed at reducing its fossil fuel consumption down to zero. The plan aims to do so by deploying a mix of community-benefitting sustainable energy initiatives that include creating a low-income solar program, expanding regional access to clean transit, and working with local utility providers to transition to renewable generation methods. “Creating an electrical grid from 100 percent renewable energy is urgent, but requires collaboration across all sectors,” said Spokane council member Breean Beggs during a recent meeting. Beggs added that work was already underway with local utility Avista to “create a pragmatic and cost-effective approach to upgrading Spokane’s electrical grid.” The pledge will bring the number of American cities vying for 100 percent renewable energy generation to 79, a group that includes large, medium, and small-sized cities, including Salt Lake City, Utah, Sarasota, Florida, St. Louis, Missouri, San Diego, California, and Concord, New Hampshire. These cities are all aiming to derive all of their energy from renewable resourced by 2030 or 2032, according to the Sierra Club. At the county level, nine counties have made the pledge, including Multnomah County, Oregon, Buncombe County, North Carolina, and Pueblo County, Colorado. The state of Hawaii has signed on to a similar promise, as well. Though it might seem like a pie-in-the-sky effort, five smaller American cities have already hit this lofty goal. Those cities are Aspen, Colorado, Burlington, Vermont, Greensburg, Kansas, Rock Port, Missouri, and Kodiak Island, Alaska. A recent report by the environmental group CDP found that over 100 cities worldwide generate a majority—over 70 percent—of their power from renewable sources, up from just 42 in 2015. The report found that 40 cities worldwide are entirely powered by clean energy and that investment in renewable energy sources was highest across Europe, Africa, and Latin America, where billions of dollars in recent clean energy investments are remaking the energy portfolios around the world following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
A study released by the nonprofit Regional Plan Association (RPA) last week found that temperatures in New York City’s busiest subway stations are soaring and that the average temperatures hover around 94.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Although temperatures climbed past 104 degrees at the Union Square station on 14th Street, solutions are stymied by the design of each station, aging infrastructure, and the trains themselves. The RPA surveyed 10 of the busiest stations in New York and found that the sweltering temperatures were exacerbated by the heatwaves that much of New York (and the world) have been experiencing this summer. The constantly late trains aren’t helping commuters either, as passengers have been forced to wait for longer periods of time on the platforms. Why exactly are these stations so hot? As the Village Voice explains, the city’s busiest stations are often its oldest and their design precludes centralized climate control; this is also the official reason given by the MTA. The trains themselves output a large amount of heat as well, both through their air conditioners as well as braking. Each full train weighs around 350 to 450 tons depending on the make and length, and the kinetic energy required to brake is converted to heat when a train stops at a station. The hottest stations surveyed were where trains idled the longest. The Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop in Tribeca was unsurprisingly featured as well, as the 6 train makes its last stop there then idles before departing on its uptown route. When WNYC surveyed 103 of New York’s stations during the July 2015 heatwave, the Brooklyn Bridge stop clocked in at 107 degrees. For its part, the MTA has pledged to keep the trains running more efficiently to reduce the time passengers have to wait on these overheated platforms. While the MTA tests new communication and signal technologies that could improve wait times and braking efficiency, New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford has pledged that most of the subway system will use communications-based train control by 2030. Still, as the climate warms, these types of heat waves are only going to become more common, and the fixes required to keep the city’s subway stations tolerable are solutions that will require long-term investments on par with the MTA's other sustainability initiatives.
A recent article by Stateline, a nonprofit news service that reports on state policy, says that deconstruction could be a viable source of jobs and building materials in cities with aging downtowns like Baltimore or Portland. The article follows Brick + Board and Details Deconstruction, two Baltimore nonprofits trying to create a viable business model out of taking apart derelict structures and reselling the materials for new construction projects around the country. The concept relies on the appeal of reclaimed materials, usually for rusticized finishes. Both groups also hire and train released convicts in the hopes of preparing them for other jobs in the construction industry. As the article describes, these and similar initiatives have encountered a tough road to success. It's much cheaper to demolish buildings, as opposed to taking them apart piece by piece, and many structures don't offer the kind of charming materials customers are looking for. Still, the idea has potential for cities that are struggling with both abandonment and unemployment. Rust belt cities like Detroit have hundreds of empty homes that are both eyesores and public safety hazards, and such cities have large populations of unskilled workers in need of employment. Deconstruction initiatives could kill two birds with one stone—the trick is just getting the financial side to work. For designers concerned with building waste and sustainability, groups like Brick + Board offer materials with positive social narratives and visual appeal. Check out the original article for more information on resources in your area.
With buildings responsible for about 47 percent of electricity usage in the U.S., making buildings more efficient should be a top priority in combatting climate change. New York City has already pledged to retrofit its older buildings and slash CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but with the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, such action has been left to cities and states to undertake voluntarily. At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September, businesses, investors, and local and state leaders from across the country will convene to discuss ways to decarbonize the economy and reach a carbon neutral U.S. by 2050. The AIA has announced that it will be sending a delegation headed by President Carl Elefante, FAIA, to represent architects at the summit and come back with a set of scalable best design practices. The AIA members attending will be part of the organization’s sustainability-oriented Committee on the Environment (COTE) and other climate change-related groups. The AIA will also be sponsoring two public events during the summit: Carbon Smart Building Day on September 11 and Climate Heritage Mobilization on September 12 and 13. The summit is meant to in part build momentum for COP24 in December, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Still, even if radical decarbonization guidelines are agreed upon at the summit and adopted by the AIA and business leaders in attendance, such a shift likely wouldn’t be enough to reach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s target of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celcius. The Paris Agreement and temperature targets are only reachable if the world were to produce negative emissions and sequester CO2 on a massive scale, a technology that’s still several years away. Still, the AIA has pledged to continue pursuing its sustainability and environmental health goals, as seen in its recent call for a blanket ban on asbestos in building products after the fracas last week.
As I drive down into the future lakebed, the terrain on either side of the gravel road becomes haggard and unkempt. Signs of the area’s past as farm and ranchland are evident, but shrubs and gnarled trees have grown high to create a deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape. This is the future site of Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir, a 16,600-acre lake soon to be constructed in rural Fannin County that will provide water to the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), serving Dallas suburbs in Collin, Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall, and Hunt Counties. This lake recently received its permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, making it the first major reservoir in Texas since Lake Gilmer was constructed in 1999. Reservoirs provide the majority of Texas’s drinking water. Texas has been building reservoirs since 1893 (Lake Austin), with the majority created in the 1940s through the 1960s. There are currently 188 in the state, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In the Dallas area, with the limited availability of river water and an aquifer too low to be practical on a large scale, reservoirs have been the main strategy for providing water to a growing region. During a recent visit to Bonham, the Fannin County seat and nearest town to the proposed lake, a passive acceptance of the forthcoming project was evident among a number of residents. There are those who oppose it, most notably the landowners whose land will soon be flooded. However, in rural unincorporated areas, there are few options for organized resistance when a powerful water authority decides to plant a reservoir in your backyard. Yet the impact on Fannin County extends beyond the boundaries of the lake itself. The NTMWD is required to mitigate the habitat destruction caused by the new reservoir by creating new habitat nearby. Thus, an area slightly larger than the reservoir has been purchased to this end. In total, 33,441 acres of private land has been appropriated from local landowners (5 percent of Fannin County). This situation in Fannin County magnifies a common but overlooked tension in the field. Despite the extreme impact, large-scale water infrastructure is strangely absent from the architectural conversation. Architects employ water conservation and collect stormwater at a building scale, but, like most, take the availability of water for granted. They know their project simply has to tap into the existing water main in the adjacent street. Yet the construction of buildings is an extremely water-intensive process, regardless of the water-efficient fixtures they specify. A significant amount of water is used during the production of concrete, with yet more added at the building site. To complete the curing process, concrete requires approximately one pound of water for every three pounds of concrete. Unfortunately, little data is available for water use in construction sites in the U.S. Furthermore, under current infrastructural constraints, cities have no capacity to provide the resources for their own sustenance. Most cities do not generate power or harvest their drinking water within their boundaries. In light of this, cities can be seen as having a parasitic relationship with their surrounding rural areas. The ugly and unpleasant realities of power generation are located far out of sight of the cities themselves, and the inundation of private land for drinking water is undertaken in rural areas because, after all, they have plenty of land. This leeching of resources from the countryside enables cities to exist, but it is a reality that the design profession should begin to address. In February 2018, the residents of the NTMWD used an average of just under 3,000 gallons per capita. A few months earlier, in August 2017, the water use was approximately 6,200 gallons per capita, which equates to 200 gallons per day per resident. Watering St. Augustine lawns accounts for much of that summertime use in this suburban water district. While the NTMWD champions the new reservoir as critical to its supplies, it will only meet the demand for the year 2022 through 2040, a span of 18 years. At that point, additional reservoirs will be required. While Texas is a large state, land is still a finite resource, and new prime reservoir locations are very limited. Climate change also poses problems for the continued reliance on reservoirs. Record-breaking drought in 2011 meant nearly all the reservoirs were significantly below capacity, with some municipalities enacting mandatory water conservation measures. Future droughts will be harsher, posing severe challenges to water provision. As architects strive to address the challenges of building in our current environment, a knowledge of the complex and connected relationship of water to development and construction is important. Architects and planners, water officials, and more will need to be creative in solving the complex problem of providing water to future populations. While American cities have not yet had to deal with the scale of catastrophic water shortage that occurred in Cape Town, South Africa, it should give us all pause as a similar situation in North Texas is quite possible.
GreenerBuilder, hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is a one-day conference and expo convening hundreds of general contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers, design professionals, advocates and policy makers to discuss key green building trends, new research and emerging technologies in the building industry. GreenerBuilder unites all of the key players to discuss how the built environment can help California and the entire Pacific region meet ambitious climate change mitigation and energy conservation goals. Speakers include experts in green construction, architects, project managers, engineers, code experts and representatives from USGBC. Topics of discussion will include the latest trends in green building such as CALGreen building code updates, net zero energy, affordable housing, climate change, resiliency and public health. The conference is designed for those involved in construction, engineering, architecture, city planning and LEED project management. Register Today at greenerbuilder.usgbc.org
Yale University and Gray Organschi Architecture have designed and built a self-sufficient tiny house for UN Environment and UN Habitat, and the building is on display in UN Plaza in Midtown Manhattan until August 11. The Ecological Living Module contains 215 square feet of occupiable interior space and carves out another 16 square feet for a rear mechanical closet. The unit uses passive lighting and moisture collection, structural cross-laminated timber (CLT), food-growing green walls, and sun-tracking solar panels to shrink both the building’s embodied energy and resource needs. According to UN Environment, housing construction worldwide uses 40 percent of all resources produced every year and accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention the conflicts being fought over rapidly dwindling materials like sand). The module was commissioned just in time for the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, to illustrate the idea that sustainable urbanization can only be accomplished if buildings minimize their contribution to climate change. The Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture and Gray Organschi worked together to design and install the module in only four weeks. The building was fabricated partially in New Haven and partially in Brooklyn and assembled on the UN campus amidst heavy security and tight construction restrictions. In order to balance maximum sun exposure with thermal comfort, the module was designed with New York’s specific micro-climate in mind. The dramatically-sloped building is clad in dark cedar planks and is home to two cascading “farm walls”, one on either side, and Gray Organschi claims that in New York the home can produce over 260 servings of vegetables. Plants were used inside as well in the loft area, and a living wall in the upper loft area purifies air for the inhabitants. “Structure was used as finish,” explains Gray Organschi founding principle Alan Organschi. The same pale CLT used to support the building was left exposed inside to create all of the finished surfaces, from countertops to stairs. The timber was sourced from the northeastern U.S. and sequestered more carbon than the effort used to harvest it. The team optimized daylighting in the building by carving strategic cuts into the back and roof. An Integrated Concentrating Solar Facade was installed to both reduce the amount of incoming sunlight and harvest solar power; an array of tiny panels track the sun’s movement and focus light on the minimally-sized solar receivers. The team wanted to build a system that could be assembled with the least amount of effort, and that would use the minimal amount of toxic materials to create. After August 11, the Ecological Living Module will be partially disassembled and brought to San Francisco; the structure was built narrow enough to be towed by truck. After that, the module will be flown out for demonstration in Quito, Ecuador, and then Nairobi, Kenya.
The public-life think-tank Gehl Institute with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released guidelines for the design of places that promote public health. The Inclusive Healthy Places Framework is "a tool for evaluating and creating inclusive, healthy public places that support health equity.” The report specifies that the design of public spaces is integral to the physical and mental well being of local communities and proposes that these spaces are tools for fostering inclusion, accessibility, and shared social values. In the report, four principles are highlighted in the design of public spaces: Context, Process, Design & Program, and Sustainability. Context refers to data such as local demographic characteristics, socioeconomic and environmental health, predictors of exclusion, and preexisting community assets. Process refers to types of civic engagement, participation, and social capital that can be used within a region. Design & Program tackles the accessibility, diversity of usage and of users, and safety and security of the space. The last principal, Sustainability, touches on community stability, collective efficacy, and adaptability of spaces in the long term. Gehl Institute, a New York City-based non-profit that builds on Danish architect Jan Gehl’s work, rethinks how spaces change our “experiences, perceptions, and needs," and focuses on issues of social and environmental justice. The Institute wants to bring the discussion of health into the design of public spaces across the U.S. The full report can be viewed at this link.
On May 17, 2018, BSA Space will premier NatureStructure, a global overview showcasing more than 30 architectural and design projects that work in harmony with nature to heal and restore ecosystems and make cities more resilient and sustainable. Curated by Scott Burnham, the creator of Reprogramming the City, with exhibition design and curatorial assistance by Samantha Altieri, NatureStructure will feature a vast array of international projects that weave built projects with nature and natural functions to enable cities and regions to function as living systems. The works on display include the US premiere of the Delfland Sand Motor, a feat of engineering that uses coastal tides to distribute sand along the coast of the Netherlands to reverse erosion and protect against sea level rise; Pop-Up, a revolutionary parking garage by Denmark’s Third Nature that rises in the city scape as its base absorbs rainwater overflow; and 3D printed reefs and seawalls by Australia’s Reef Design Lab to repopulate Sydney Harbor sea life and counter the depletion of reefs in the world’s oceans.
Amaravati, the new state capital of Andhra Pradesh, India (formed in a recent redrawing of state boundaries), is set to rise as a sustainable smart city, and Foster + Partners will master plan the green “spine” running through its administrative core. The 134-square-mile city is being positioned as one of the “most sustainable in the world” according to Foster + Partners, thanks to widespread solar power, electric vehicles, dedicated cycling routes, and shaded paths to encourage walking. The city was strategically positioned on the banks of the River Krishna for easy access to fresh water, and water taxis have been floated as mass transit options. The 3.4-mile by half-mile stretch that Foster + Partners will be planning holds the city’s central governmental complex, including the design of several administrative buildings, and most importantly, the legislative assembly and the high court complex. The green spine will be at least 60 percent occupied with either greenery or water, and Foster + Partners claims that the area, centered in a city with a strong urban grid, was inspired by Central Park and Lutyens' Delhi (an area of New Delhi designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens). The legislative assembly building will sit inside of a large freshwater lake at the spine’s center and appears to be floating over the water’s surface. Keeping the Hindu principles of vastu shastra in mind, the building dramatically spikes 820 feet towards the sky at its core and creates an internal void. The space below inside of the assembly building will be used as a courtyard, while visitors can climb a spiral ramp to a cultural museum and viewing gallery on the upper levels. The high court complex is located off of the spine’s central axis, and the building’s stepped, dome-shaped roof references Indian stupas; domed buildings typically containing Buddhist relics. Generous overhangs encourage natural, passive cooling throughout, and the programming is made up of concentric circles of circulation spaces and rooms. The public-facing sections will be at the exterior rings, while the most sensitive and private areas will be located at the heart of the court complex. A mixed-use neighborhood has been planned for the area closest to the river’s edge, structured around 13 public plazas, each representing a state district in Andhra Pradesh. Sir Norman Foster was recently in Amaravati to survey the site and discuss the project’s next steps. “We are delighted to be working with the Chief Minister and the Government of Andhra Pradesh to help them realise their ideas for the People’s Capital and to build a clear and inspiring vision for the governmental complex at Amaravati,” said Foster in a press release. “The design brings together our decades-long research into sustainable cities, incorporating the latest technologies that are currently being developed in India.”