Earth’s urban population is expected to increase 84% by 2050. With this current rate of expansion into the world’s biggest cities, it becomes increasingly important that we focus on how to create sustainable, clean environments for future generations that are born in urban settings. What are we supposed to do? Aren’t polluted cities today just going to become worse over the next few decades?
The average modern skyscraper does not have any on-site renewable power sources, isn’t connected to a “smart energy system” that allows each tenant to observe their day-to-day energy consumption, does not take advantage of natural lighting, and ceaselessly wastes water everyday. Thus, due to the lack of foresight and care for sustainable design, most buildings in our metropolises are expending huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. If we want to properly plan ahead, we must start developing innovative self-sufficient buildings, that not only use some renewable energy, but thrive off of it completely. Below are a few examples of commercial buildings that are (and are about to be) pushing ahead in the sustainable design arena.
The Bullitt Center
This “living building,” located in Seattle—one of the cloudiest spots in America—runs off of solar panels attached to the roof, which harness the energy needed for heating, cooling, and electricity. How well do these photovoltaic solar panels work? Paul Schwer, president of PAE, the Bullitt Center’s engineering team, estimates that the solar roof will produce so much power that it will “offset electricity use for about a dozen neighboring houses.” And this is in an area that’s notorious for rainy, gloomy weather around the clock. What else makes this spectacular structure “living?”
After frequenting the Bullitt Center’s bathrooms, you might feel a bit strange. That’s because instead of water flushing down your precious biowaste here, foam slowly takes it underneath to mysterious vats below. All of the 24 toilets located inside this building are connected to ten giant aerobic composters that are located in the basement of the beast. After the giant, Prius-sized bins have effectively created compost and are full, trucks come to clear them out and combine the mix with other mulch from the county.
If the Bullitt Center passes the intense net-zero energy certification program, named “The Living Building Challenge,” it will be the first commercial tower ever to achieve this award.
Boeri Studio, located in Milan, definitely had the “sky is the limit” motto on their mind when they built this vertical forest. More than 100 different species of trees and greenery surround these two biophilic residential towers. Each building supposedly has enough room to hold an area equal to 10,000 square meters of forest. How will this diverse greenery survive—who or what takes care of it?
The Bosco Verticale will use a greywater recycling system to feed the trees and plants. This means that water taken from showers, sinks, and excess runoff will be filtered through a system and shot into the vertical forest’s domain. Photovoltaic solar panels integrated into the buildings will provide power. Of course, however nice these high-tech green technologies may work, they aren’t powerful enough to take on the master gardener role themselves. This is where a specialized maintenance company takes over, which will apparently keep the forest in good health throughout the year.
When this vertical garden is finally complete, the microclimate it has created will filter dust, create natural humidity, absorb CO2, and use shade to keep the tenants cool.
The Shanghai Tower
Because of rapid industrial expansion in China, major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have become so polluted that people living there must walk around with surgical masks to mitigate breathing in the toxic air. Whether or not it’s believable right now, officials in China claim that green technology can help overcome their country’s pollution problem.
The Shanghai Tower, with plans to open in 2015, will demonstrate how sustainable design can help to reduce its carbon footprint by 34,000 tons per year. After completion, China’s tallest skyscraper (2,074 feet) will be encased in a double-glass façade that’s supposed to drastically reduce energy use for heating and cooling. This glass “skin” will also provide natural lighting to its nine “sky lobbies,” which are massive open areas that will house greenery and gardens, provide fresh air to occupants, and behave as buffer zones where indoor air will be expelled outside the structure. This behemoth is also equipped with multiple on-site power sources. A natural gas-fired cogeneration system will provide electricity and heat to the lower floors, while wind turbines located above will power the upper floors.
Dan Winey, the managing principal for the design firm that created this beautiful superstructure, says that the Shanghai Tower is “the greenest super high-rise building on earth at this point in time.” Will structures like this one start a surge in the eco-building trend in China—possibly creating a my-city-is-greener-than-yours mentality? Ho Tong Yen, the Singaporean CEO of the development company in China’s eco-city, Tianjin, seems to think so. Yen told the Economist that Chinese officials used to brag about their cities GDP growth at conferences—now, however, they brag about how green their cities are.