Wasteful, damaging and outmoded: is it time to stop building skyscrapers?
11 & 12 Jul 2020
Tall buildings are still deemed desirable, even glamorous, but experts are drawing attention to the high environmental cost of building them.
If no one ever built a skyscraper ever again, anywhere, who would truly miss them? I ask, because the engineer Tim Snelson, of the design consultancy Arup, has just blown a hole in any claim they might have had to be environmentally sustainable. Writing in this month’s issue of the architecture magazine Domus, he points out that a typical skyscraper will have at least double the carbon footprint of a 10-storey building of the same floor area.
He is talking about the resources that go into building it, what is called its “embodied” energy. Tall buildings are more structurally demanding than lower ones – it takes a lot of effort, for example, to stop them swaying – and so require more steel and concrete. In London, which is mostly built on clay as opposed to Manhattan’s rock, they require ample foundations. Snelson also mentions “in-use” energy consumption and carbon emissions – what is needed to cool and heat and run lifts, which he says are typically 20% more for tall than medium-height buildings.
Skyscrapers often indicate corruption. What they are not are markers of progress
If all this might seem pretty obvious, it’s good to have calculations to attach to a hunch. And tall buildings are still sold on the basis that they are good for the environment. Mostly the argument is about density – if you pile a lot of homes or workplaces high on one spot, it is said, then you can use land and public transport more efficiently. There’s some truth in this, but you can also achieve high levels of density without going above 10 or 12 storeys.
Every now and again you get a one-off skyscraper design that makes play of its environmental features. The Gherkin, where cooling air was to flow through spiralling internal atria, was an early example. Strata SE1, the south London tower with three wind turbines at its top was another. Often these don’t perform as promised. Even when they do, they’re fighting to overcome the self-inflicted environmental handicap of being tall buildings in the first place.
They have got away with it in part because embodied energy hasn’t until recently been paid as much attention as energy in use. It has been deemed acceptable – by the building regulations, by architects, by the professional media – to rip untold tonnes of matter from the earth and to pump similar tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, in order to produce magical architectural devices that might, if all their wizardry were to function as promised, pay back some of their carbon debt some time in the next century. By when it might be too late.
There’s another meaning to “environment”, which describes personal rather than global surroundings. In this respect, it’s a bit of mystery why towers are thought desirable: you typically progress from a windy and inhospitable plaza to a soulless lobby, to a long lift ride, to another lobby, to a flat that has to be fortified and sealed against strong winds, to a balcony (if you’re lucky) with a similarly embattled relationship to nature. Good design can mitigate at least some of these deficiencies, but good design is weirdly hard to find in new tall buildings.
Skyscraper apartments are sold on the view, with prices rising the higher you go up a building, which can indeed be spectacular. But this visual buzz goes with a range of sub-optimal physical experiences, which have been made that much less attractive by the spread of a virus that seems to thrive in air-conditioned and enclosed spaces. Architecture is not just about things you can see.
Meanwhile, towers continue to be built. An annual survey by the independent organisation New London Architecture has found that in the capital 525 buildings of 20 storeys or more are in the pipeline – either under construction, approved or going through the processes of planning applications. Other British cities, including Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, have succumbed to the belief that there is something glamorous about this well-worn and old-fashioned building type.
In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a concrete stump stands in the desert that may or may not turn into the world’s first kilometre-high tower, its progress having been stalled by the arrest on corruption charges of its patron, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in 2017. If it is ever completed, it will not be a sign of economic dynamism, as might have been said of the 20th century’s skyscrapers in New York and Chicago, but of the ability of a few members of an authoritarian society to accrue vast wealth for themselves.
In Britain, tall buildings are signs of failed planning, which finds it hard to discover the space for more sustainable and humane ways of building homes. In Gulf states (and indeed in Britain, to the extent that dirty money often goes into tower projects), skyscrapers often indicate corruption. What they are not are markers of progress. Advertisement
Tim Snelson puts it well: “While the collective progression of civilisations over centuries is still largely measured by the ability to build bigger, faster and taller, we have come to the point where we must put the limits on ourselves and apply our forces to the challenge of building sustainably, above all else, or risk destroying the very future that will hold our legacy.” Quite so. And why, really and truly, would you want to live in one of these things?
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world. As such, developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade. As per the AMEinfo published on 3 July 2020, this interesting essay is worth reading, especially since it might affect the MENA region countries.
Developing countries could lose out as automation competes with low-cost labour
WTO: Future of global value chains depends on China’s industrial strategy and the global adoption of 4IR technologies
UNIDO: Developing countries must bolster local capabilities with new technologies and skills to become more integrated into global value chains
mPedigree: African SMEs enter global value chains as virtual technologies lower business costs
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world; multinational corporations are already considering repatriating some manufacturing production as a result of the unprecedented disruption the pandemic has caused to global value chains; developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade.
Xiaozhun Yi, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), highlighted that more than a third of the predicted decline in world trade brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a rise in trade costs and temporary disruptions to transport and logistics.
He stressed that the future structure of global supply chains depends on whether the pandemic accelerates two key trends that have been underway for several years. These include China moving up the value chain due to its industrial strategies or rising labour costs, and the increasing adoption of labour-saving technologies in modern manufacturing. “We believe that this pandemic may accelerate the trend of production automation and we know that this trend may reduce some opportunities in low skilled manufacturing,” Yi said.
However, he added that governments of developing countries can still attract multinational companies by introducing measures to limit trade costs, such as lifting tariffs and minimising travel restrictions and border controls.
Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Special Advisor, Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), agreed that automation erodes the comparative advantage that low-cost labour gives developing countries over developed countries and this could lead to production being brought closer to the headquarters of transnational corporations that are at the head of global value chains. In response to this shift, developing countries should accelerate efforts towards more regional integration, allowing them to expand markets and trade more with their neighbours, said Ugaz Estrada.
However, Bright Simons, Founder and President of Africa-based technology company mPedigree, said COVID-19 has affected regional trade in Africa as much as global trade and that in some cases regional trade is more impacted. He cited a number of barriers to expanding regional trade within the continent, including high transportation costs, which can make it more expensive to trade within Africa than to trade internationally. “It’s not that easy, even if you wanted to, to maintain a sourcing regime that involves cutting yourself off from global value chains,” he said.
Simons added that the capacity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa to export had been constrained for many years by stringent standards requirements and supplier certification programmes in developed countries, particularly in Europe. However, he added that technologies are now emerging that can streamline these processes and reduce the cost for all businesses.
“What virtual capabilities now enable is to reduce the cost of skills importation, so we have had situations where certification bodies are now able to conduct end-to-end audits online,” he said. “That cuts costs by as much as 95% and this for the first time makes it possible for some SMEs to meet these demands and be able to export overseas.”
Under the theme – Glocalisation:Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Global Value Chains, the third edition of the internationally recognised Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit will virtually, for the very first time, bring together high-profile thought-leaders and business pioneers from around the world to shape the future of manufacturing, discuss the impact of pandemics on global value chains, and highlight the role of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies in restoring economic and social activities. At the top of the #GMIS2020 virtual edition agenda will be the topic of digital restoration – how 4IR technologies are helping to restore the global economy and overcome unprecedented challenges.
(Ethnic Media Services) — For generations, millions of Americans whose roots lie in the Middle East and North Africa — MENA — have essentially become invisible people because the Census Bureau has denied requests for their own racial category.
“Legally, in America, I’m classified as white,” says Dr. Hamoud Salhi, associate dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, CSU-Dominguez Hills. “I was born in Algeria, which is part of Africa, so technically I could declare myself as African American, but I can’t.”
Palestinian-American Loubna Qutami, a President’s postdoctoral fellow at U.C. Berkeley specializing in ethnic studies, says that since MENA doesn’t have a classification of its own, it legally falls under the white category.
MENA populations have their own specific needs for health care, education, language assistance, and civil rights protection, but they have no way to advocate for themselves because numerically they are folded into the category of white Americans.
To change this, Dr. Salhi, Dr. Qutami, and other MENA leaders have been mobilizing their communities to participate in the 2020 census, encouraging people to write in their ethnicity. They spoke with other experts and activists on a May 13 two-hour video conference organized by Ethnic Media Services on the historical, linguistic and political challenges that make the MENA population among the hardest to count in California.
Geographically, MENA populations live on three continents — from the border of Afghanistan south to the tip of Africa — and in 22 nations in the Middle East alone, with numerous subgroups such as Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians.
“North Africa is actually a concept that the French gave to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, which they colonized,” says Dr. Salhi. The neighboring countries of Egypt and Libya were added later.
Because of their shared Arabic language and Islamic religion, people in the United States from North Africa were lumped together with people of the Middle East to form the MENA acronym.
For decades, the Census Bureau has turned down requests to add MENA to the official category of races, currently white, black or African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.
The result, says Dr. Qutami, artificially props up the white population count, which has been in decline, while suppressing the count of MENA residents who don’t identify themselves as white. According to the 2015 Census Bureau’s “National Content Test – Race and Ethnicity Report, “As expected, the percent reporting as White is significantly lower with the inclusion of a distinct MENA category when compared to treatments with no MENA category.”
California mirrors the challenge to the MENA population of geographic size and diversity, says Emilio Vaca, deputy director of the state’s Complete Count Committee, which directs census outreach. The Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey reported that 11 million of California’s 40 million residents, about 27 percent, are immigrants.
“That’s equivalent to the entire state of Georgia,” Vaca emphasized. At home, most of those immigrants speak one or more of 200 languages other than English.
Homayra Yusufi, from the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, broke down the face of diversity in just one San Diego neighborhood that her organization serves: “We have 45 different national origins — from MENA, Asia and Latin America — who speak more than 100 languages in the 6.5-mile City Heights district, a distinct community of refugees and immigrants.” Educating and motivating these groups to participate in the census is a way to engage them in the civic life of the wider city.
Historical necessity — what specific immigrant groups have done to survive — also plays a role in the MENA undercount. Up until the mid-20th century, only whites could own property, and only “free white immigrants” could become American citizens.
To survive and advance, Middle Eastern immigrants successfully petitioned the federal courts to be allowed to identify themselves as white in 1920. North African immigrants, as members of the MENA population, got pulled along and found themselves legally classified as white as well.
The discriminatory policy for citizenship and property ownership favoring whites-only ended with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. But even then, MENA communities found it difficult to raise funds and mobilize calls for action to address their needs. They didn’t know where their fellow compatriots were located and couldn’t raise official numbers to request funds and resources.
“We were helpless. In many instances, we had to generate our own data,” says Dr. Qutami.
Over the years, the Census Bureau has never clearly answered why they’ve refused to include the MENA classification, despite concluding, in a 2017 report, that “the inclusion of a MENA category helps MENA Respondents to more accurately report their MENA identities.”
The bureau again turned down the 2018 request for the 2020 census. Karen Battle, chief of the bureau’s population division, announced in a public meeting on census preparations that “We do feel that more research and testing is needed.”
MENA advocates believe filling out the 2020 census is the only way to avoid another undercount. Without doing this, Yusui says, “our communities will continue to be invisible and left in the margins because data really matters.”
Gaining services customized to MENA’s needs is only part of what’s at stake. So, too, argues Yusufi, is building power. MENA populations then can elect individuals “who reflect the needs of our communities and hold lawmakers accountable” when they stigmatize MENA communities.
Kathay Feng of the nonpartisan watchdog Common Cause emphasized that participation in the census is the first step to representation. In America, resources and rights are accorded by representation based on the number of residents at all levels, from the state down to the municipality, in proportion to the total population.
“Everyone is counted, regardless of immigration status or whether they are registered voters or not,” Feng said, “because all residents pay taxes in one way or another, and most immigrants would eventually become citizens in the long run.”
Every 10 years, immediately after the decennial census submits population data, electoral districts are redrawn. In California, which has been at the forefront of redistricting reforms, the old practice of allowing legislators to draw district lines based on which populations are sure to vote them back into office — known as gerrymandering — was replaced in 2009 by independently selected commissioners. Nine other states have followed California’s lead.
But, Feng emphasized, to be effective and to ensure their voices are heard, residents have to be engaged at the local level. And this year, there is a danger that anti-immigrant forces will restrict the residents who count in redistricting to voters only.
“In the city of El Cajon, San Diego, we faced a lot of discrimination, especially when the Syrian refugees arrived. Our children got bullied in school but the schools didn’t want to adopt any bullying policy because we don’t have representation,” said Dilkhwaz Ahmed, executive director of License to Freedom. “Representation is very important to us as a Kurdish community, as refugees, and as immigrants.”
Emilio Vaca is optimistic that California can meet the undercount challenge: “As of May 11, California has a self-response rate of 59.6 percent, which is above the national average of 58 percent.” This is all the more impressive, Vaca noted, given how the pandemic has affected outreach.
Many of the speakers on the call testified to the ongoing efforts to shift to virtual outreach and “drive by” caravans and taking the census to where the people are.
“We had a food bank event for the Middle Eastern and Muslim community in south Sacramento that attracted more than 2,000 families who came by cars, and we actually engaged with them about the census in every single car,” said Basim Elkarra, executive director of CAIR in Sacramento. “Many were recent refugees.”
The 2020 census form doesn’t include the MENA racial category, but Question 9 allows respondents to write in “MENA” and their specific ethnicities such as Lebanese, Palestinian, Algerian or Kurd.
Being visible in the 2020 census, the speakers agreed, will lay the foundation for the next few MENA generations to build on what this generation has started.
This article originally published in the May 25, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
GivePower is launching containerized, solar-powered water desalination and purification plants in Mombasa, Kenya and La Gonave, Haiti this quarter. Like GivePower’s debut solar-powered microgrid desalination plant, which went live in Kiunga, Kenya in 2018, these new projects will operate with Tesla’s powerwall battery storage technology.
At launch, both of the nonprofit’s new solar water farm projects will produce a maximum of 75,000 liters of water a day by coupling a 50-kW solar system with 120 kW-hrs of Tesla batteries; together this solar plus battery system will power two low-wattage, reverse osmosis desalination pumps that run simultaneously to ensure continuous operation.
When developing solar-powered desalination projects, pinning down the point at which the technology and the operating model make economic sense is key because the one of the biggest challenges with solar desalination is the amount of energy that it takes to desalinate sea water. Often, this outsized energy need means that a plant requires a larger solar array, which increases the cost of the project.
“We need to see that [these philanthropic] projects are economically viable – that these projects can continue to operate without ongoing funding from donors to keep the systems operational,” said Kyle Stephan, GivePower’s vice president of operations. In addition to building solar water farms, GivePower trains local technicians to operate the plants.
GivePower’s solar water farm systems cost just over $500,000, and they have a 20-year expected lifespan.
Commercial applications for GivePower’s solar water farm technology are not in the pipeline currently, according to Hayes Barnard, CEO of GivePower.
When it comes to developing commercial off-grid, solar-powered desalination systems for water-stressed communities, industry officials see solar microgrid players as particularly well placed to offer solutions.
Drought, saltwater intrusion and climate change are intensifying the need for solutions that use renewable energy to address water scarcity. Simultaneously, falling PV prices and energy storage innovations are making solar-powered desalination solutions more appealing.
So far, all of GivePower’s solar water farms are coastal well-based desalination plants. This is because 98% of the world’s water is in the ocean, and 73% of the world’s population live in coastal areas, where well water is susceptible to becoming brackish, Barnard noted. Additionally, off-coast solar desalination plants’ intake processes are expensive, and coastal well-based solar water farms do not stress underground aquifers.
For its project on La Gonave, which is off the coast of Port-au-Prince, GivePower is applying international building code seismic requirements for its solar water farm’s concrete foundation, and it is building a solar canopy that is capable of withstanding a category-four hurricane.
Initially, the nonprofit focused on providing solar-powered lighting to schools without electricity in the hope that this would open up educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. But quickly it became clear that helping communities achieve water security was key to addressing this issue because often girls were often missing school because their days were spent fetching water, according to Barnard, a GivePower co-founder. GivePower became an independent organization in 2016.
Last week GivePower’s solar-powered desalination technology received the UAE’s Global Water Impact Award for innovative small projects.
As Yalies continue to push for greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus, the student organization advocating for the creation of a MENA Cultural Center held a launch event Thursday.
While there are only four institutionalized cultural centers at Yale, the Middle Eastern and North African Students Association has advocated for MENA to become the fifth cultural center for the past two years. Spearheaded by members of the Arab Students Association and other cultural groups, the association is still in the midst of advocating for full-fledged cultural center status from the University. With support from the Yale College Council, the club plans to proceed in the meantime with programming similar to that of existing cultural centers.
Thursday’s MENA “Welcome Mixer” was intended to connect students and faculty who identify as Middle Eastern, as North African or who are interested in the region. The event was the club’s second official event since becoming a formally registered student organization last semester.
“[Last year], I started thinking about why a MENA house did not exist on campus to act as a [homey] umbrella for various students on campus who did not identify with the existing four institutionalized cultural centers,” MENA Co-Presidents Shady Qubaty ’20 and Yasmin Alamdeen ’21 said in a joint email to the News on Monday. “After all, breaking up the MENA region into an ‘Asian’ identifying region in the [Asian-American Cultural Center] and an ‘African’ identifying region in the [Afro-American] House disregards the social and cultural realities of Middle Eastern and North African identifying persons.”
Approximately 40 people attended the welcome mixer, including undergraduate Yale students, a student from Gateway Community College in New Haven and Jackson Institute World Fellows. They served a wide array of food, including treats from the MENA region such as baklava and grape leaves. The desserts came from Havenly, a startup bakery created by Yale students that employs refugee women in New Haven.
Qubaty and Alamdeen explained that the cultural house project first started to gain attention at the YCC Elections Debate in 2018, where Qubaty introduced the idea of a fifth cultural center to each of the candidates. They added that each candidate then incorporated the initiative into their platform, starting the YCC’s involvement in advocating for the MENA club.
According Qubaty and Alamdeen’s email, three questions related to the MENA club received a “nearly [unanimously]” positive reaction on the 2018-2019 YCC survey, motivating Qutaby and Alamdeen’s team to move forward with the project. Since then, they explained, the club has secured a base room at 305 Crown St., which is also next to the AACC and La Casa Cultural.
Qubaty and Alamdeen also emphasized that the momentum gained since receiving the official endorsement of the YCC signals that a MENA cultural center is “no longer just the demand of [their] association, but one concerning Yale’s official undergraduate student government.”
They added that this “huge step forward” has provided a YCC-based task force that has helped facilitate contact and advocacy on the prospective cultural center’s behalf.
“In addition, we have managed to garner the support of countless faculty members and are now in the process of forming an advisory board for the club consisting of Yale Alumni who are very passionate about this proposal,” the email said. “In that respect, we will have students, faculty and alumni all heading in the same direction.”
YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 said that while MENA is “still in the process of advocacy that started last year,” the first step in establishing an official cultural center has already been achieved.
According to the email, Qubaty and Alamdeen characterized the process of achieving formal recognition as “very sticky” and one that “involves a lot of bureaucracy that is not just related to funding.”
They noted that the establishment of the other cultural houses took decades and that Yale administration has to be convinced that demand for a new cultural center is “real.” The email also explained that from there, the Administration will have to form a committee devoted to discussing its need and its feasibility “which takes time.”
Still, Qubaty and Alamdeen emphasized that formal recognition is “definitely possible” and that they “will not stop pushing” for a MENA house to be established.
Zakaria Gedi ’22, communications chair for the MENA Students Association, told the News that there is a large group of students who could be served by a MENA house and that this need applies “especially for a first-year who is trying to find their identity and make friends of similar heritage.”
Onur Burcak Belli, a Turkey-based journalist and Jackson Institute World Fellow at Yale, attended Thursday’s event and told the News that she was “really disappointed when [she] learned you don’t have a particular place to represent an area that has a lot to do with U.S. politics.”
She is proud of the students who have pushed for the establishment of the MENA Cultural Center and hopes to send a message that people living in the MENA region “are much more than victims.”
As the MENA Students Association does not currently have their own space, the Welcome Mixer took place on the first floor of the Asian-American Cultural Center.
So vital is education to the future of society, billionaire Jack Ma has just stepped down from Alibaba to focus on it. But does it matter where you go to be educated?
The former teacher, who studied for a BA in English at Hangzhou Normal University, told the World Economic Forum he was rejected from Harvard Business School 10 times, but it didn’t deter him from building a world-beating company.
Asia’s top two universities – Tsinghua (23rd) and Peking (24th) – are both in mainland China. With 81 institutions, China is also the fourth most-represented nation in the list for the fourth year in a row.
The ‘THE’ says: “Overall, China’s universities have improved in the areas of citation impact, share of international staff and share of international co-authorship over the past year, driven by higher levels of funding.”
There are 11 more Iranian universities ranked this year, taking its total up to 40, and new regions whose institutions join the list for the first time this year include Brunei, Cuba, Malta, Montenegro, Puerto Rico and Vietnam.
These are the top five:
1. University of Oxford
Topping the rankings for the fourth year in a row, Oxford prides itself on having an ‘international character’. It’s first overseas student, Emo of Friesland, was enrolled in 1190. Today, 40% of its faculty are from overseas.
Among its famous alumni are 30 modern world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Indira Ghandi and the current British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
2. California Institute of Technology
Despite having an unusual anti-growth model, Caltech has risen three places to take the second spot this year, thanks to an improvement in its score for international staff.
“We try to get better, not bigger,” says its president, Thomas F. Rosenbaum.
Along with MIT, it’s one of just two institutions in the ranking to achieve a score of more than 80 out of 100 in all five areas: teaching, research, citation impact, knowledge transfer and international outlook.
3. University of Cambridge
Like Oxford, Cambridge is a ‘good all-rounder’, but this year it slips from second to third place. It’s called home by more than 18,000 students – including 4,000 international students from more than 120 countries.
It also boasts more than 100 libraries, which hold 15 million books.
4. Stanford University
Stanford has also dropped one place this year, to fourth.
Like the other two US institutions in the top 5, MIT and Caltech, is known for its technology focus.
THE says: “Companies founded by Stanford affiliates and alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion annual revenue – which would be the 10th largest economy in the world.”
Among them are Google, Nike, Netflix, Hewlett-Packard and Instagram.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT rounds off the top five this year. Major scientific discoveries and advances accredited to the university include the development of radar, the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the discovery of quarks, and the invention of magnetic core memory, which enabled the development of digital computers.
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