7 Ways Architecture Can Tackle Global Warming

Architecture is one of the key drivers of climate change. Between construction and the energy required to keep buildings up and running, the industry is responsible for nearly half of the carbon emissions in the U.S.. Technologies and energy-savvy design can lower emissions, and in some cases, even generate energy. But scale proves a significant challenge. One off-the-grid tiny house won’t put a dent in the world’s carbon emissions.

O-14, a Dubai tower by RUR Architecture, is covered by a concrete exoskeleton that creates a chimney effect, pipping hot air up through the three-foot-deep space between the perforated shell and the building's glass windows, keeping the interior cool. As more areas of the world face desert-like conditions due to climate change, this kind of passive climate control could be used to reduce buildings' carbon footprint.
O-14, a Dubai tower by RUR Architecture, is covered by a concrete exoskeleton that creates a chimney effect, pipping hot air up through the three-foot-deep space between the perforated shell and the building’s glass windows, keeping the interior cool. As more areas of the world face desert-like conditions due to climate change, this kind of passive climate control could be used to reduce buildings’ carbon footprint.
Rachel Armstrong of AVATAR (Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research) investigates "living architecture," using synthetic biology as a building tool. In Venice, Italy, she proposes using light-activated algae to build an artificial limestone reef under the canal city to keep it from sinking. As the Earth warms, coastal cities are at risk of disappearing under sea level rise. Venice won't be the only city that needs propping up.
Rachel Armstrong of AVATAR (Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research) investigates “living architecture,” using synthetic biology as a building tool. In Venice, Italy, she proposes using light-activated algae to build an artificial limestone reef under the canal city to keep it from sinking. As the Earth warms, coastal cities are at risk of disappearing under sea level rise. Venice won’t be the only city that needs propping up.

Scale is the issue explored in a new book called Global Design, drawn from the global warming-focused New York University project of the same name. In it, architects Louise Harpman and Mitchell Joachim along with Peder Anker of NYU’s environmental studies department explore climate change solutions from the design world, both completed and conceptual. In contrast to the one-off starchitecture that disregards environmental impact for iconic glory (supertall glass towers in the middle of the desert come to mind), the book celebrates modern architects and researchers who, in both a local and global sense, are working with nature, not in spite of it. The projects address local concerns, but in a warming world, are applicable on a wider scale—innovations like algae that can boost a sinking city, concrete plazas that reflect heat to keep temperatures cool, and skyscrapers that passively combat heat.

Architecture Research Office's New Urban Ground, a proposal commissioned for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, would create a system of wetlands along the shores of Manhattan to manage water runoff and create new public space. This natural approach to combating flood waters could be used in any waterfront city.
Architecture Research Office’s New Urban Ground, a proposal commissioned for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, would create a system of wetlands along the shores of Manhattan to manage water runoff and create new public space. This natural approach to combating flood waters could be used in any waterfront city.
Cuac Arquitectura collected 45,000 used milk cartons to construct its Tetrabrik Pavilion in Grenada, Spain, stretching the boundaries of what architects can do with recycled material. Earning a world record for the largest structure made with recycled material in 2013, it proves that our temporary installations need not be a waste of resources: after its two-week run, the entire structure was taken to a recycling plant. Plus, the labyrinth lends a much-needed sense of fun to the sometimes stodgy world of sustainable building.
Cuac Arquitectura collected 45,000 used milk cartons to construct its Tetrabrik Pavilion in Grenada, Spain, stretching the boundaries of what architects can do with recycled material. Earning a world record for the largest structure made with recycled material in 2013, it proves that our temporary installations need not be a waste of resources: after its two-week run, the entire structure was taken to a recycling plant. Plus, the labyrinth lends a much-needed sense of fun to the sometimes stodgy world of sustainable building.
Lava Laboratory for Visionary Architecture's concept for an outdoor plaza in the carbon neutral Middle Eastern eco-utopia Masdar City features solar-powered umbrellas that move with the sun and release heat when night falls. It creates usable public space in the midst of an extreme climate, which no doubt will play an important role in cities in the future.
Lava Laboratory for Visionary Architecture’s concept for an outdoor plaza in the carbon neutral Middle Eastern eco-utopia Masdar City features solar-powered umbrellas that move with the sun and release heat when night falls. It creates usable public space in the midst of an extreme climate, which no doubt will play an important role in cities in the future.

“Our overarching aim is to develop a language of design that can create productive relationships between local problems, individual accountability, and the urgent environmental challenges posed by global warming,” the authors write in the book’s introduction. Because the root causes of climate change are both local and global—fracking may be linked to earthquakes in Oklahoma, but the larger issue is the worldwide dependence on oil—”we must try to operate at several scales simultaneously,” Global Design argues.

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SLA's Copenhagen plaza for a Swedish bank is made of concrete folded to reflect heat radiation, keeping the area cool during the summer. The City Dune provides a much needed public space for the city's harbor front. The simple but innovative method of passive climate control could easily be replicated in other communities around the world.
SLA’s Copenhagen plaza for a Swedish bank is made of concrete folded to reflect heat radiation, keeping the area cool during the summer. The City Dune provides a much needed public space for the city’s harbor front. The simple but innovative method of passive climate control could easily be replicated in other communities around the world.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spatial Information Design Lab monitored the city's air quality with mobile sensors in backpacks worn by journalists and researchers, visualizing the extent of Chinese pollution. That data was then used by planners and public health advocates. The project represents an activist approach to climate change planning, circumventing government inaction. Global Design is available here for $38.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Spatial Information Design Lab monitored the city’s air quality with mobile sensors in backpacks worn by journalists and researchers, visualizing the extent of Chinese pollution. That data was then used by planners and public health advocates. The project represents an activist approach to climate change planning, circumventing government inaction. Global Design is available here for $38.

 

This article originally appeared in Fast Company.

 
 



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