New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared that skyscrapers made of glass and steel “have no place in our city or our Earth anymore”. He argued that their energy inefficient design contributes to global warming and insisted that his administration would restrict glassy high-rise developments in the city.
Glass has always been an unlikely material for large buildings, because of how difficult it becomes to control temperature and glare indoors. In fact, the use of fully glazed exteriors only became possible with advances in air conditioning technology and access to cheap and abundant energy, which came about in the mid-20th century. And studies suggest that on average, carbon emissions from air-conditioned offices are 60% higher than those from offices with natural or mechanical ventilation.
As part of my research into sustainable architecture, I have examined the use of glass in buildings throughout history. Above all, one thing is clear: if architects had paid more attention to the difficulties of building with glass, the great environmental damage wrought by modern glass skyscrapers could have been avoided.
Heat and glare
The United Nations Secretariat in New York, constructed between 1947 and 1952, was the earliest example of a fully air-conditioned tower with a glass curtain wall – followed shortly afterwards by Lever House on Park Avenue. Air conditioning enabled the classic glass skyscraper to become a model for high rise office developments in cities across the world – even hot places such as Dubai and Sydney.
Yet as far back as the 19th century, horticulturists in Europe intimately understood how difficult it is to keep the temperature stable inside glass structures – the massive hothouses they built to host their collections. They wanted to maintain the hot environment needed to sustain exotic plants and devised a large repertoire of technical solutions to do so.
Early central heating systems, which made use of steam or hot water, helped to keep the indoor atmosphere hot and humid. Glass was covered with insulation overnight to keep the warmth in, or used only on the south side together with better insulated walls, to take in and hold heat from the midday sun.
The Crystal Palace
When glass structures were transformed into spaces for human habitation, the new challenge was to keep the interior sufficiently cool. Preventing overheating in glass buildings has proven enormously difficult – even in Britain’s temperate climate. The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park – a temporary pavilion built to house the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851 – was a case in point.
The Crystal Palace was the first large-scale example of a glass structure designed specifically for use by people. It was designed by Joseph Paxton, chief gardener at the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Estate, drawing on his experience constructing timber-framed glasshouses.
Though recognised as a risky idea at the time, organisers decided to host the exhibition inside a giant glasshouse in the absence of a more practical alternative. Because of its modular construction and prefabricated parts, the Crystal Palace could be put together in under ten months – perfect for the organisers’ tight deadline.
To address concerns about overheating and exposing the exhibits to too much sunlight, Paxton adopted some of the few cooling methods available at the time: shading, natural ventilation and eventually removing some sections of glass altogether. Several hundred large louvres were positioned inside the wall of the building, which had to be adjusted manually by attendants several times a day.
Despite these precautions, overheating became a major issue over the summer of 1851, and was the subject of frequent commentaries in the daily newspapers. An analysis of data recorded inside the Crystal Palace between May and October 1851 shows that the indoor temperature was extremely unstable. The building accentuated – rather than reduced – peak summer temperatures.
These challenges forced the organisers to temporarily remove large sections of glazing. This procedure was repeated several times before parts of the glazing were permanently replaced with canvas curtains, which could be opened and closed depending on how hot the sun was. When the Crystal Palace was re-erected as a popular leisure park on the outskirts of London, these issues persisted – despite changes to the design which were intended to improve ventilation.
These difficulties did not perturb developers in Chicago from building the first generation of highly glazed office buildings during the 1880s and 1890s. Famous developments by influential architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, such as the Crown Hall (1950-56) or the Lakeshore Drive Apartments (1949), were also designed without air conditioning. Instead, these structures relied mainly on natural ventilation and shading to moderate indoor temperatures in summer.
In the Crown Hall, each bay of the glass wall is equipped with iron flaps, which students and staff of the IIT School of Architecture had to manually adjust to create cross-ventilation. Blinds could also be drawn to prevent glare and reduce heat gains. Yet these methods could not achieve modern standards of comfort. This building, and many others with similar features were eventually retrofitted with air conditioning.
Yet it’s worth noting that early examples of glass architecture were not intended to provide airtight, climate controlled spaces. Architects had to accept that the indoor temperature would change according to the weather outside, and the people who used the buildings were careful to dress appropriately for the season. In some ways, these environments had more in common with the covered arcades and markets of the Victorian era, than the glass skyscrapers of the 21st century.
Becoming climate conscious
The reality is that the obvious shortcomings of glass buildings rarely received the attention they warranted. Some early critics raised objections. Perhaps the most outspoken was Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who in the late 1940s launched an attack on the design of the UN Secretariat, arguing that its large and unprotected glass surfaces were unsuitable for the climate of New York.
But all too often, historians and architects have focused on the aesthetic qualities of glass architecture. The Crystal Palace, in particular, was portrayed as a pristine icon of an emerging architecture of glass and iron. Yet in reality, much of the glass was covered with canvas to block out intense sunlight and heat. Similarly, the smooth glass facades of Chicago’s early glass towers were broken by opened windows and blinds.
There’s an urgent need to take a fresh look at urban architecture, with a sense of environmental realism. If de Blasio’s plea for a more climate conscious architecture is to materialise, future architects and engineers must be equipped with an intimate knowledge of materials – especially glass – no less developed than that held by 19th century gardeners.
The world’s fourth largest cement company pledged on Monday to bring its emission reduction targets in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, in a first for the industry.
HeidelbergCement, which employs some 58,000 people in 60 countries, committed to slash direct emissions by 15% per tonne of its products by 2030 from 2016 levels.
The construction behemoth also committed to cut indirect emissions, for example from its electricity supply, by 65% a tonne within the same time-frame.
“The commitment, which is part of the company’s wider vision to realise CO2-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest, is a powerful signal that the built environment is transitioning towards a zero-carbon future,” said Jennifer Gerholdt, corporate engagement director at We Mean Business, a coalition of companies promoting climate action.
“It’s also vital for the decarbonization of entire economies, given concrete is the most widely used man-made substance on earth, one of the hardest to decarbonize and in growing demand due to rising population and urbanization.”
The move comes as the number of new buildings is tipped to grow in the coming years, in particular in Africa and Asia. This rapid expansion will test a 30% energy intensity improvement in buildings by 2030, required to put the industry on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, according to the IEA and UN Environment.
Rima Alsammarae report on Middle East Architect of 9 April 2019 that “Jordanian architect and artist Ammar Khammash is a 2019 laureate of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, along with four other architects including Dr Werner Sobek, Ersen Gursel, Rozana Montiel and Jorge Lobos.”
Created by architect and scholar Jana Revedin in 2006, the international award recognises five architects each year who have contributed to sustainable development and created innovative and participatory approaches to meet societal needs.
According to the award’s website, Khammash was recognised for his dedication to interdisciplinary scientific research, as well as his artisanal and artistic approaches to architecture.
Khammash’s projects include the Wild Jordan Center, the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation, the Darat Al Funun workspace and the Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman, as well as the Church of the Apostles in Madaba. His approach involves the use of locally-sourced, natural materials to achieve context-relevant designs.
“It appears that there is a growing international trend to put architecture back on the track of social and environmental responsibilities, and away from being a hostage of powerful visual output that publishes well in the media,” he said. “Our philosophy and methodology of approach is entirely based on the role of architecture in solving problems, finding creative ways to co-exist with the larger context, which includes society and nature.”
Currently finalising two ecolodges in Jordan (one in Yarmouk Reserve and the other on the hot spring of Al Himmeh in Mukhaibeh), Khammash and his team are also working on a number of competitions in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He noted that the award will help him further his approach and convince clients who see things differently.
“The recognition from this prestigious award will help me change the mentality of clients, politicians and students,” he said, “ensuring that architecture retains some degree of modesty and symbiotic relationship to people and nature, instead of overwhelming, overpowering and outsmarting the very reason we need to build for.”
Khammash will be speaking at the award’s symposium, to be held in Paris in May.
Noting some progress in greening the global construction industry, the United Nations environment agency (UNEP) co-released a report on Friday at the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland, sounding the alarm on the need for “dramatic action” to reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s critical we have a big change over the nextcouple of years in how we do buildings and construction”, said Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP. “We only need to look at the current norms andquality of many buildings to see that we can do so much better,” she said, emphasizing that “we need to raise the bar in energy-efficient, green buildings and far better practice in construction.”
Currently, buildings account for close to 40 per
cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 36 per cent of all energy
consumption. In the report, which was co-authored by the International Energy
Agency (IEA), UNEP warned that “dramatic action will be needed
by governments, cities and business if the global buildings and construction
sector is to cut its carbon footprint in line with international agreements.”
The development of new techniques, tools, products
and technologies – such as heat pumps, better windows, stronger insulation,
energy-efficient appliances, renewable energy and smarter design – has enabled
emissions to stabilize over the past few years.
There are other encouraging signs. Several property, construction, cement and steel-manufacturing firms are among the 500 companies (representing trillions of dollars in revenue) which have aligned their emission reduction targets with the Paris Agreement; and the 71-member private sector network, the World Green Building Council non-profit organisation, is advocating for all buildings to emit zero net emissions by 2050.
There is huge potential to reduce the current level of emissions, but action has been too slow, environmentalists say. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, hosted by UNEP, is targeting a 30 per cent energy use improvement in the buildings and construction sector.
Buildings are ‘key driver of energy demand’
What will make things even more challenging, is that the number of new buildings is anticipated to grow rapidly in the coming years, especially in the urban areas of Africa and Asia.
“Buildings are a key driver of energy demand, and developments within the sector such asthe growing uptake of air conditioners are having a bigimpact on energy and environmental trends at the global level,” saidDr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, which is an autonomous intergovernmental organization.
If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills –Dr. Fatih Birol
The new report highlights a major gap between the amount of money spent on energy efficient solutions and the rapidly growing amount invested in building construction and renovation. “If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills,” warned Dr. Birol.
In particular, the data raises a red flag over the sharply rising demand for cooling systems and air conditioners; linked with improving living-standards in developing countries coupled with rising temperatures in many parts of the globe, due to climate change. Since 2010, the energy used by cooling systems has increased by 25 per cent and there are now more than 1.6 billion air conditioning units in service.
One of the commitments of the Paris Agreement isfor countries to develop and scale-up their own national climate action plans but, to date, only 104 plans mention specific actions to enhance energy-efficiency in buildings, building codes and energy certifications. Veryfew tackle the issue of construction materials – such as steel and cement – and the carbon emissions involved in their manufacturing.
Another area of action recommended by the report is the need for building standards to evolve towards buildings that are more resilient in the face of climate change and extreme weather events, such as storms and hurricanes, floods, high winds and soaring temperatures.
As we enter a more environmentally-conscious age, we are inevitably building more ecologically responsible and sustainable cities. Creating buildings with the lowest possible energy consumption and carbon emission production, while still being aesthetically pleasing, is a challenge bringing together great minds to change the way we think about our living and working spaces. Here are some of our favorite sustainable architectural projects coming out of Shanghai, Paris, Dhaka, and Barcelona.
The green hill
Shanghai, a wealthy city of 24 million people, has a varied complexity serving as a microcosm that contains a lot of what modern China is all about. Shanghai is also the city where Thomas Heatherwick is building his ambitious vision with the 100 Trees Complex in Shanghai, an immense project that will cover 300,000 square meters and transcend the mere notion of being just another skyscraper block in the Chinese metropolis. When completed, the building will house schools, residences, retail units, offices and a hotel within its nine floors and three-story basement. It will also comprise over 400 terraces, many set with plant beds and trees, to enhance the “3D forest” effect and encourage outdoor meetings and recreation. The city’s residents are already calling it their version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and we added it to our to-go list in 2018.
The vertical forest
France has swathes of vast woodlands, but not a single vertical forest. Italian architect Stefano Boeri aims to change this with his Forêt Blanche on the outskirts of Paris, a 54-meter-high tower fashioned from stacked wood and glass cubes with thickly planted edges. The facades of Forêt Blanche will be covered by 2000 trees, shrubs and plants, with a green surface equivalent to a hectare of forest, 10 times the surface area of the lot on which the building sits. Once finished, the site will host residential apartments on the high floors, offices and commercial services in the lower part, with a mix of terraces and balconies on the four sides of the tower. The east and west facing side will allow the passage of sunlight all day, giving natural illumination and ventilation to the apartments and an exceptional panorama on the landscape of central Paris.
The floating university
Among the densest megalopolises in the world, Dhaka’s rapid urbanization has resulted in the displacement of the city’s water bodies, vegetation, open and civic spaces by buildings and industries. Woha Architects will try to remedy this by building a floating university in the Bangladesh capital.
Sited on an urban lake, the vision is to present an innovative and sustainable inner city campus that exemplifies tropical design strategies in response to the hot, humid, monsoon climate of the region while demonstrating the sensitive integration of nature and architecture. Drawing inspiration from the Bengal basin’s Sundarbans mangrove forest that have separate ecosystems above and below tidal level, the design strategy is to create two distinct programmatic strata by floating the Academia above the lake and revealing a Campus Park below, thus reflecting the synergistic coexistence between mankind and mangrove. This approach minimizes the building’s footprint over the lake, and further maximizes space for facilities while opening up the ground level to activity generating interaction spaces and effective additional park land that creates an imageable milieu for a vibrant campus life.
Re-greening downtown Barcelona
If you have ever visited the Catalan capital, you know how warm, noisy, polluted, and busy it gets, especially in summer, when plenty of tourists visit to escape from their routine and catch up on some of the sun and brilliant Catalan atmosphere. The city has already proved its commitment to the environment, wanting now to move away from car hegemony and turn secondary streets into “citizen spaces” for culture, leisure and the community. The administration plans to create several micro projects that merge into green inner-city corridors by moving entire streets underground and banning cars from the center to create the necessary space for new parks. The city has even purchased industrial land for this goal of creating 108 hectares of new green space up to 2019. To involve the entire community, there are cash prizes for the most sustainable ideas from the citizens.
The Beam Magazine is a quarterly print publication that takes a modern perspective on the energy transition. From Berlin we report about the people, companies and organizations that shape our sustainable energy future around the world. The team is headed by journalist Anne-Sophie Garrigou and designer Dimitris Gkikas. The Beam works with a network of experts and contributors to cover topics from technology to art, from policy to sustainability, from VCs to cleantech start ups. Our language is energy transition and that’s spoken everywhere. The Beam is already being distributed in most countries in Europe, but also in Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Japan, Chile and the United States. And this is just the beginning. So stay tuned for future development and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Medium.
According to Bloomberg, by 2040, 54% of all new car sales will be for Electric (EVs). Millions of them will then take a good portion out of oil demand and remove millions of barrels of transport fuel every day. It adds that the most significant factor in the EV surge is what’s under the hood, i.e. lithium-ion batteries.
An International Monetary Fund blog post by Christian Bogmans and Lama Kiyasseh dated August 13, 2018, reveals some basics on the sought out Electric Vehicle (EV).
Electric car charging station in Berlin, Germany: prices for lithium and cobalt—key ingredients in rechargeable batteries—are rising due limited supply and growing demand for electric cars (photo: Jens Kalaene/Newscom)
The surge in demand for electric cars has been fueled in part by the falling costs of lithium-ion batteries—driven by technological progress—which power everything from electric cars to smartphones.
Lithium and cobalt are critical components in batteries for electric cars. The rapid growth in the demand for rechargeable batteries has now driven up these raw material prices, and given rise to concerns about potential cobalt and lithium scarcities that could slow the rollout of electric vehicles.
The price of cobalt is expected to remain high due to limited supply and growing demand.
The price of lithium carbonate increased by more than 30 percent in 2017. Even more staggering is the upswing in the price of cobalt, which has risen by 150 percent between September 2016 and July 2018. And as shown in our Chart of the Week from the April World Economic Outlook, cobalt price booms are not without historical precedent.
Unlike lithium, the price of cobalt is expected to remain high due to limited supply and growing demand. In 2016, more than 50 percent of the global supply of cobalt came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Cobalt prices have also been volatile due to insecure supply chains. The chart also shows that since 1915 there have been four price boom episodes. Those during 1978–81 and 1995–96 elicited sharp responses: world production grew by 54.1 and 36.1 percent in 1983 and 1995, respectively, significantly higher than the 50-year average of 4.8 percent. The uptick in prices since 2016 and futures prices for 2018–19 suggest that history may be repeating itself and production could yet again accelerate, at least temporarily. Indeed, cobalt prices have come down somewhat in recent months, following strong production increases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and reduced demand from China.
Several developments could, however, limit this price volatility. These include increased recycling of cobalt and new primary production mining techniques.
Perhaps most important, battery technology is continuing to improve and could bring the surge in cobalt prices to a halt. One of the leading alternatives to the lithium-ion battery concept—the solid-state battery—would mean smaller and more-energy-dense batteries that do not need cobalt.
Continued research and innovation in this area could spur further progress in the development of electric vehicles and portable electronics.