Terraform Earth

What do you get when you cross Skyscrapers with Parks?

Fora.tv recently posted a speech by Dan Winey, the Managing Principal for the Asia Pacific Region with Gensler, about another sustainable building design for a tower in Singapore. It uses an outer skin to relieve wind load and house 14 story atriums at multiple levels. It captures rainwater, graywater, and possibly blackwater for a water demand reduction of 40%. Wind turbines at the top and geothermal at the bottom. And a greatly reduced need for structural materials with less wind load.

I expect that this kind of design will happily accommodate the new materials technologies like fullerenes and carbon nanotubes, which have been tested at 60 to 100 time stronger than steel. [e.g. nanotube reinforced plastics, carbon nanotube reinforced aerospace materials]

One potential I don’t see discussed very much is that these stronger, lighter materials could also become smarter. CNTs (Carbon NanoTubes) and nanotubes of various other compositions have shown remarkable versatility. I am reading articles about nanotubes conducting electricity, acting as solar PV cells, photoreceptors, LEDs, peizeoelectrics, etc. So a CNT toughened plexiglass might also serve as a display, inform a building monitoring system of structural stress, and collect some electricity from sunlight.

Larry Niven long ago suggested the notion that our buildings might approach space ships in some design aspects. Right now we would like to see a building that can capture energy from its surroundings, operate a nearly closed environment within the building, and withstand the scale of threats on faces in space. The same way we want a shuttle to hold up against a micro-meteorite impact, we would also like our buildings to be less threatened by truck bombs, suicide planes, anthrax envelopes and food poisoning scares.

When I read articles about recycling greywater, I never read about water’s potential for slowing bullets & shrapnel. A biological waste water remediation system could also make the occupants safer from terrorist attacks. I think I would really appreciate an algal farm in between me and an explosion. How much is that worth in the ROI planning? Civil engineering and architecture need to adopt Amory Lovins’ approach of making the design challenges more inclusive, less myopic.

– ecogeekdan


William McDonough, achitect, author of Cradle to Cradle

A follow up on William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, whom I referred to in a prior post. Time magazine named him “Hero of the Planet“. I saw him speak at Stanford on Oct. 15th. He hit his main points from the earlier podcast, but with new detail and data. (Links below.) He discussed eco-efficiency within architecture, civic planning, general manufacturing processes

He states a goal we should conditionally adopt:

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, water, soil and power, economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.”

I say conditionally, because we don’t know now what we will know in the future. We may need to modify this as time goes one. And overcommitment to any one philosophy is a bad idea. It could then be called an ‘-ism’, like socialism, capitalism, or ecologism. That last one’s from McDonough, who adds that an ‘-ism’ is fundamentally out of balance, leading society inevitably towards troubles. He advocates a balance, where society maintains an equilibrium between being ecological, economical and equitable.

During the Q&A phase, I asked who he would like to see as a Presidential adviser on the subjects of sustainability and energy, he suggested John Holdren, Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. He was also on an science advisory committee for President Clinton. My impression from casual research on Professor Holdren is that he would bring a balanced approach in advising for sustainablity while reminding everyone of the value of expertise. We need to undo and more the efforts of the Bush administration to devalue science in our culture. One of our dire needs right now is for government to get advice from true experts on how to best direct the limited resources of our declining economy towards climate change mitigation, prosperity and equality.

McDonough also said he would like to see substantial activity at the federal level aimed towards building and vehicular efficiency, sustainable energy, improving infrastructure, etc.

Scary Facts:
~ In the North Pacific Gyre, the large scale vortex flow in the North Pacific driven by the Coriolis effect, there is a ratio of plastic to plankton of 6 to 1.
~ 48% of the anthropogenic carbon since the industrial revolution has gone into the oceans. This has dampened the atmospheric global warming effects, but we are raising the acidity of seawater. Historically, the Ph has been between 8.8 and 8.2 according to the Ross Ice Shelf cores. We are currently at 8.06 and it could reach 7.9 by 2099. At 7.9 Ph, calcium carbonate goes into solution, meaning that none of the creatures that make shells will be able to do so. This will create a huge die-off at the bottom of the food chain, creating more die-offs further along the food chain. In other words, massive extinctions and a potential end to the fishing industry.

A few of the examples he sited during his talk:

~ Better Place: CEO Shai Agassi has a vision of oil independence for Isreal by employing plug-in electric vehicles with batteries that can be swapped at service stations for trips longer than a single charge. ~ Wiki article

~ Could we just lift farmlands up onto the roofs of buildings, so that the city integrates farms rather than displacing them? McDonough + Partners worked on a plan with the city of Liuzhou in China to implement his Eco-Efficiency standards into an upcoming expansion of the city. All the new apartment buildings will have rooftop gardens & solar panels, and the local sewage treatment plant will provide fertilizer and 20% of the local cooking gas.

~ For the green roof of the Gap HQ in Redwood City, they planted native grasses of the area, taking a first step in reversing the trend of developers reducing the native habitats of local birds and incects.

~ For the roof of a Ford truck plant in Michigan, they made a 10 acre green roof that captures the rainwater that would have had to be cleaned by a waste treatment plant. They saved money immediately, and their roof is consuming CO2 and providing habitat.

McDonough + Partners, architectural firm
MBDC, a green chemistry firm

Balancing Economy, Equity, and Ecology Through DesignOct. 15, 2008 – at Stanford, audio & some video
Speech at the Feb. 2005 TED talks, MP4 download
Cradle to Cradle Design, a talk on Feb 11, 2003 at Stanford, audio