Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly

Glass skyscrapers are a great environmental folly that could have been avoided: Henrik Schoenefeldt, University of Kent.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly
New York restricts the growth of glass skyscrapers.

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.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyThe UN Secretariat building. United Nations Photo/Flickr., CC BY-NC-ND

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.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyPainting of Queen Victoria opening the Crystal Palace in London, 1851. Thomas Abel Prior/Wikimedia Commons.

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.

A timeline of the temperature in the Crystal Palace, May to October 1851. Henrik Schoenefeldt., Author provided

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.

Chicago glass

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.

Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental follyChicago’s Crown Hall. yusunkwon/Flickr., CC BY-SA

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 Conversation

Henrik Schoenefeldt, Senior Lecturer (US: Associate Professor) in Sustainable Architecture, University of Kent

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more:
A short history of tall buildings: the making of the modern skyscraper

The Conversation

The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

Sustainable Architecture: The Beauty Behind Energy-Efficient Buildings

November 10th, 2018 by The Beam 

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.

By The Beam Editor-in-Chief Anne-Sophie Garrigou

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.

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Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Rima Al Sammarae wrote on November 4th, 2018 about how life carries on in the Palestinian territories, notably for a certain Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University.  Here is, courtesy to Middle East Architect how:

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses working with Peter Zumthor and persevering under a 29-year travel ban

“The most important and difficult competition that I have ever won was the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace,” said Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University. “It was launched by UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the jury was led by Peter Zumthor.”

The project, which was awarded to Habash’s office, called for a masterplan of one of Palestine’s most significant sites — the archaeological park of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho, and included the protective sheltering of the mosaic floors of the Grand Bath Hall, as well as other sensitive areas. During the three-part judging process, Zumthor led the participants around the site, questioning their thinking, allowing them to defend their proposals and engaging in discussions.


Habash with Peter Zumthor, as they worked together on the renovation of the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace

“It was a great opportunity to work with him,” Habash said. “I liked his way of thinking  —  he’s a genius. Later on, when we worked together to deliver the project, I realised we think alike in many ways. And the same thing happened when I met Rifat Chadirji and Rasem Badran, who both judged my graduation project. They really read between the lines and realised my intentions. They didn’t only judge what was on the paper. There was a connection between us, and I think that connection deals with the way we approach context.”

A purveyor of critical regionalism, a term originally coined in 1981 to counter the placelessness and lack of identity of international style, as well as whimsical individualism and the ornamentation of Postmodern architecture, Habash is committed to preserving context and the use of architecture as a political, cultural and social tool.

In a paper she recently published, ‘Architecture as Resistance’, which explores the use of architecture in Palestine as a form of opposition against the Israeli occupation, she wrote, “As architects, we have a social responsibility towards our community as we should be serving them rather than serving capitalist interests. I believe that architecture serves as a catalyst for social processes, at least in the limited context of local communities, and as expressed in the early twentieth century by Hannes Meyer, director of the Bauhaus School of Architecture, who stressed that as designers, we are servants to the community. Our task is a service to the people.”


Habash sitting with Iraqi architect Mohamed Makiya


Propagating her beliefs has not come without consequence. Having suffered a 29-year ban on traveling outside of Palestine by the Israeli government for being an “influence on public opinion”, which has spanned most of her career and was only just lifted in July 2017, Habash has proved to be a local hero of sorts. While she was stripped of regional and international opportunities, she persevered in propelling the field of architecture forward in Palestine.

Between 1986 and 1987, she helped establish the architecture department at Birzeit University, where she continues to teach today. While the university previously only had an engineering department, where architecture-related courses were taught, Habash and her colleagues organised a new curriculum that would, and continues to, bridge architectural philosophies with realistic practice.

“Teaching and my relationship with my students are very important to me,” she said. “And till today, my students tell me that I not only teach them the alphabet of architecture, but also how architecture is a tool for resistance and resilience to achieve sustainable development.”

In addition to co-establishing the architecture department at Birzeit University, Habash also helped launch the Union of Arab Architects, became the first women to head a regional branch of the Engineers Association, which spans Jordan and Palestine, and served as city councilor in Ramallah.


Before and after images of Bdelqader Abdelhadi Palace, rehabilitated by Habash Consulting Engineers

Her time with the Ramallah Municipality occurred between 2013 and 2017, and she led the committee of cultural heritage with the mission to protect the city from rapid development and international franchising.

“The urban expansion of Ramallah has been fast and vicious,” she said. “The city is very appealing for developers because it has always been known as a tourist destination within the region. They started affecting the scenery of the town with their international franchises and branding, and for me, this is horrifying. It is not authentic at all.

“The city was beginning to lose its character. While it’s not possible to stop them — they are big international companies, after all — we led the conversation on the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, which is a treasure for us. It is our essence. We need to protect it and base our development around it.”

Habash’s political engagement has always been managed in parallel with the work that comes in through her architecture office. Her extensive number of projects across Palestine include the rehabilitation of Arraba Palaces and the Old Road, the rehabilitation and addition to St. Nicolas Elderly Bait Jala, the rehabilitation of Mar Afram Children’s Library, the revitalisation of Bethlehem Old Market, Al-Istiqlal Park and the water reservoirs at Deir Istya and Kufur Abboush.

“The challenge of the water reservoirs was that they are located on the highest point of the village, in the middle of the historic centre, and I didn’t want to harm the traditional architecture there,” said Habash. “I designed new buildings to serve new functions, but with the vernacular architectural style so that they harmonise with the surrounding environment. And this is how I deal with all of my projects — I study the context very well and I specify what elements of architecture are used in the specific village.”


Habash working on the model of the Grand Bath Hall of Hisham Palace

At the moment, Habash, who has been shortlisted for a Tamayouz Excellence Award for Women in Architecture and Construction, is nearing the completion of another rehabilitation project — the Vernacular Heritage Pilot Enhancement Project in As-Samou’, located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, just south of Hebron.

Intending to rescue the built heritage of As-Samou’ and revive its weaving-based economy, the project consists of a number of interventions that will enhance the local vernacular architecture, such as the consolidation of 12 traditional ahwash located in the historic centre, and the rehabilitation of a hosh that will create a Cultural and Youth Centre. The rehabilitation of the hosh supports the training and capacity building of young craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas.

“We have renovated many places in Palestine,” she said, “and there are many other institutions here who do similar work. But this project was particularly special for us — the people in the area are very happy and due to their training, they are distinguished from other craftsmen. We gave them this chance, and that feeling is very special.”


Dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world

Dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world

After The dam that threatens a country’s water supply, here is another story about dam building but from a different standpoint. It’s by the BBC’s Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent and dated 5 November 2018.

Large hydropower dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world


Problems at the Oroville dam in California in 2017 saw 10,000 people evacuated – Image copyright Getty Images 


A new study says that many large-scale hydropower projects in Europe and the US have been disastrous for the environment.

Dozens of these dams are being removed every year, with many considered dangerous and uneconomic.

But the authors fear that the unsustainable nature of these projects has not been recognised in the developing world.

Thousands of new dams are now being planned for rivers in Africa and Asia.

Hydropower is the source of 71% of renewable energy throughout the world and has played a major role in the development of many countries.

But researchers say the building of dams in Europe and the US reached a peak in the 1960s and has been in decline since then, with more now being dismantled than installed. Hydropower only supplies approximately 6% of US electricity.

Dams are now being removed at a rate of more than one a week on both sides of the Atlantic.

The problem, say the authors of this new paper, is that governments were blindsided by the prospect of cheap electricity without taking into account the full environmental and social costs of these installations.

More than 90% of dams built since the 1930s were more expensive than anticipated. They have damaged river ecology, displaced millions of people and have contributed to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases from the decomposition of flooded lands and forests.

The Elwha river dam in Washington State was removed in 2011 Image copyright Getty Images


“They make a rosy picture of the benefits, which are not fulfilled and the costs are ignored and passed on to society much later,” lead author Prof Emilio Moran, from Michigan State University, told BBC News.

His report cites the example of two dams on the Madeira river in Brazil, which were finished only five years ago, and are predicted to produce only a fraction of the power expected because of climate change.

In the developing world, an estimated 3,700 dams, large and small, are now in various stages of development.

The authors say their big worry is that many of the bigger projects will do irreparable damage to the major rivers on which they are likely to be built.

On the Congo river, the Grand Inga project is expected to produce more than a third of the total electricity currently being generated in Africa.

However, the new study points out that the main goal for the $80bn installation will be to provide electricity to industry.

“Over 90% of the energy from this project is going to go to South Africa for mining and the people in the Congo will not get that power,” said Prof Moran.

“The people that I study in Brazil, the power line goes over their heads and goes 4,000km from the area and none of the energy is being given to them locally.”

The Hoover dam at Lake Mead in the US has seen water levels decline in recent years  Image copyright Getty Images

 “The nice goal of rural electrification has become completely subverted by large-scale interests who are pushing this technology, and governments are open to being convinced by them that this is the way to go.”

The report points our that the large installations on these great rivers will destroy food sources, with 60 million people who live off the fisheries along the Mekong likely to be impacted with potential loss of livelihoods greater than $2bn. The authors also believe that dams will destroy thousands of species in these biodiversity hotspots.

In Brazil, which gets 67% of its electricity from hydropower, the response to reduced water capacity because of climate change is to build more dams.

With the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, a temporary halt to building new hydro projects is likely to be overturned. Plans for 60 new dams are already in place.

The authors say that with huge pressure on countries to press ahead with renewable energy developments, a mix of energy sources including hydro is the most sustainable approach.

“Large hydropower doesn’t have a future, that is our blunt conclusion,” said Prof Moran.

“To keep hydropower as part of the mix in the 21st Century we should combine multiple sources of renewable energy,” said Prof Moran.

“There should be more investment in solar, wind and biomass, and hydro when appropriate – as long as we hold them to rigorous standards where the costs and benefits are truly transparent.”

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.



Climate Change Fast Growing Threat to World Heritage

Climate Change Fast Growing Threat to World Heritage

The MENA region with its heavy historical background stands very vulnerable to Climate Change Fast Growing Threat. It is elaborated on by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ , deputy director and published in their Climate & Energy Program on July 3, 2018.  Climate Change fast growing threat to World Heritage would at this stage be no more a subject of debate as more and more of the region are exposed to increases in temperatures coupled with desertification. 

The picture above is of Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Lock the Gate Alliance (Flickr)

Climate Change is the Fastest Growing Threat to World Heritage

Nineteen extraordinary places were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list this week, including Buddhist temples in South Korea, the forests and wetlands that form the ancestral home of the Anishinaabeg people in Canada, and the ancient port city of Qalhat in Oman. But amongst all the congratulations and good feeling that comes with adding sites to list of the world’s most important places, there was little or no serious talk about the implications of climate change. Last year, the 21-nation World Heritage Committee, the Convention’s governing body, raised the alarm about climate change and called for stronger efforts to implement the Paris Agreement and increase resilience of World Heritage properties, promising to revise its own decade-old climate policy. In Bahrain, however, the issue received short shrift, making it vital that the Committee make it a key agenda item at its next meeting in 2019.

Climate threats were not anticipated when the Convention was signed in 1972

Added to the World Heritage list in 2018, Pimachiowin Aki in Canada, part of the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabeg people. Photo: Bastian Bertzky/IUCN

Adopted at the General Council of UNESCO in 1972, the World Heritage Convention’s core mission is to protect and conserve the World’s most important natural and cultural heritage. Back in 1972, there was no hint that climate change would become the systemic threat to World Heritage sites that it has since proved. To be inscribed on the World Heritage List, a protected area must demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) under at least one of ten criteria. For example, in the US, the Statue of Liberty is listed under two criteria, as a “masterpiece of the human spirit” and as a “symbol of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights…”. Yellowstone National Park is listed under four criteria, including for its scenic splendor, unparalleled geothermal activity, intact large landscape and role as a refuge for wildlife.

If a site should come under threat from, for example, mining, deforestation or urban development, it can be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, with the possibility of being de-listed if the problems are not addressed. This year, Kenya’s Lake Turkana was added to the Danger List, because of an immediate threat from upstream development of the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia.

Climate change is a major threat to the OUV to many World Heritage properties, but the Danger List does not seem an appropriate tool for addressing the issue, as no one state party can address the threat on its own. Neither does the nomination process for new World Heritage sites require any assessment of whether the OUV may be degraded as a result of climate change. It seems absurd that site nomination dossiers which are extremely detailed, take years to complete and require the inclusion of comprehensive management strategies, have no obligation to include even the most basic assessment of climate vulnerability. Consequently, UCS is working with partners to try and identify ways to better respond to climate risks within the World Heritage system.

Climate change is the fastest growing threat to World Heritage

At a workshop in Bahrain last week, we asked a group of natural and cultural World Heritage site managers from around the globe whether they were experiencing climate impacts at the site where they work, 21 of 22 said yes, and 16 of the 22 described actions they are taking to monitor or respond to climate change  And that makes sense, because we know from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and a host of country and site-level studies that the impacts of climate change are everywhere. But it also drives home the point that this issue is not getting as much attention as it needs at the higher levels of the Convention. Climate impacts are clearly being under-reported by states parties under the official mechanisms of the Convention – the State of Conservation (SOC) reports, and IUCN’s World Heritage Outlook 2 report, published in 2017, identified climate change as the biggest potential threat to natural world heritage and estimated that one in four sites is already being impacted. This also must be an underestimate. In fact, virtually all properties must be being impacted in some way, the key question is how severe the threat to OUV is for each site, and over what time-scale?

UCS, with UNESCO and the United National Environment Program (UNEP) has published 31 representative case studies of World Heritage properties being impacted by climate change, including Yellowstone National Park and the Galapagos Islands. In Bahrain, we heard many new stories about how climate change is affecting World Heritage properties, including for example the immediate risk of flooding and erosion to the Islands of Gorée and Saint-Louis in Senegal, vulnerability to changes in rainfall patterns at Petra in Jordan, and the potential loss of cave paintings & petroglyphs in Tasmania. The historic city of George Town in Penang, Malaysia suffered unprecedented damage from a typhoon in 2017, the kind of extreme storm that the area has not normally had to face in the past.

Map showing highest level of heat stress for the 29 World Heritage reefs during the third global coral bleaching event, Image: NOAA Coral Reef Watch/UNESCO

Although there was a 2014 independent analysis of long-term sea level vulnerability to cultural World Heritage sites that identified 136 out of 700 , the only group of World Heritage properties for which a comprehensive scientific assessment of climate risk has been undertaken, are the coral reefs. There are 29 World Heritage reefs, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Belize Barrier Reef, and Papahānaumokuākea in the Hawaiian archipelago. According to UNESCO’s 2017 analysis (Scott Heron and Mark Eakin, both of NOAA, were coordinating lead authors, along with Fanny Douvere from the World Heritage Centre), coral in 21 out of the 29 properties (79%) have experienced severe or repeated heat stress during the past three years. Projecting impacts into the future, under the IPCC’s RCP 8.5 scenario, with a global average temperature of 4.3C by 2100, twice-per-decade severe bleaching would be apparent at 25 of the World Heritage Reefs by 2040.

Why we need a Climate Vulnerability Index for World Heritage

What is needed is a simple, standardized methodology for top-line rapid assessment of climate vulnerability that would work for all World Heritage sites, whether listed for natural, cultural or mixed values. Such a tool would enable the World Heritage Committee to determine which World Heritage properties are most immediately at risk from climate change, where the problems will likely be in the future, and where resources are most urgently needed for more detailed assessment and monitoring, and to undertake resilience and adaptation activities. The methodology needs to be repeatable so that periodic reviews can be undertaken.

Island of Saint-Louis, Sénégal – a World Heritage site at immediate threat from sea level rise. Photo: Dominique Roger/UNESCO



To meet this need, a Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) for World Heritage properties has been proposed. If adopted by the World Heritage Committee, it has the potential to influence responses to climate change at the World’s most important natural & cultural heritage sites. The concept emerged at an expert meeting on the Baltic island of Vilm, Germany, in 2017, which UCS participated in, and was proposed in the meeting outcome document.  The meeting which was called in response to a decision at the World Heritage Committee in Krakow earlier in 2017 to prioritize climate action and resilience, to investigate the implications for the OUV of World Heritage sites, and revise the Convention’s decade-old climate policy.

At the Bahrain meeting of the World Heritage Committee, the CVI concept was presented at a side event organized by two of the Committee’s three official advisory bodies (IUCN and ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites)) in which UCS participated, and at a meeting of the ICOMOS Climate Change & Heritage Working Group co-organized by UCS at the National Museum of Bahrain. The CVI idea is gaining traction. Its value to the Committee would be that it could help quickly identify thematic groups of properties – such as Arctic sites, coastal archaeology, or high mountain ecosystems – at risk, then provide for a deeper dive into all sites within a threatened category, flagging individual sites in need of urgent action or further assessment at the national level.  Critical for the success of the CVI is that it can be applied to both natural and cultural sites, so that a methodology that works for coral reefs, can also work for earthen architecture or cave paintings.

Outside of the side events and the workshops of the advisory bodies and NGOs, where it was a bigger topic than ever before, climate change was hardly mentioned in the plenary sessions of the World Heritage Committee. Only Committee members Trinidad & Tobago and Australia substantively raised the issue, the latter offering an amendment to the Bahrain decision document which was adopted without objection, and which requires the revised climate policy to be presented at the 43rd Committee meeting in Azerbaijan in 2019. Now there is a window of opportunity for civil society to influence the policy revision, and for the vulnerability index concept to move forward. It’s an opportunity that, if taken, could influence how the World Heritage Convention deals with climate change for decades to come.

via #ClimateChange Growing Threat to World Heritage @ElliottShayne CEO @ANZ_AU #NoNewCoal #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

Revolution in all Trades of the Construction Industry

Revolution in all Trades of the Construction Industry

The Construction Industry is as per Wikipedia defined as differing from manufacturing in that manufacturing typically involves mass production of similar items without a designated purchaser, while construction typically takes place on location for a known client. Construction as an industry comprises six to nine percent of the gross domestic product of developed countries.  This segment of any country’s development is presently undergoing changes that could be perceived as an on-going Revolution in all Trades of the Construction Industry.

In the MENA’s petro-economies, the construction boom of the last 30 years plummeted these last couple of years following the oil price drop related restrictions on investments. Some form of sustainability concern came to be considered more seriously with a view to reducing costs. It has been noticed mainly in the building material production and engineering that most of it is realised. This below reproduced article written by Andrea Willige, Formative Content and published on the WEF website on Friday 3 March 2017 gives us an idea on the latest in the Construction Industry’s on going changes worldwide. The MENA represented by Burj Khalifa that apart from being the tallest built piece of construction, would appear to, apart from also being champion of the selfie taking, add little substance in terms of technological innovation.

6 buildings that are revolutionizing the construction industry

In 1950, the fishing village of Shenzhen in south-east China had just over 3,000 inhabitants. By 2025, this number will exceed 12 million. And Shenzhen is not alone. Urban areas around the globe are growing by 200,000 people per day, and all these people will need affordable housing as well as social, transport and utility infrastructure.

This is the starting point for a new report by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group entitled Shaping the Future of Construction. Inspiring innovators redefine the industry. It highlights six buildings and four flagship projects that demonstrate the innovation in construction that the world needs in order to meet this enormous challenge.

The world’s most sustainable and connected office

Deloitte’s new Amsterdam head office, the Edge, shows how smart building design can provide flexibility and comfort for its occupants while also reducing energy demands.

Producing more energy than it consumes, the Edge is widely regarded as the most sustainable office building in the world. The multi-storey, north-facing glass atrium admits lots of daylight while concrete walls on the south facade absorb heat from sunlight, and solar panels convert that sunlight into energy. A single network controls every technical system in the building, including a network of tens of thousands of sensors placed around the building. The lift, the lighting and cooling systems, coffee machines and towel dispensers, even the robot security guard which cruises around the building at night, can all be controlled and adjusted centrally.

Combined with a hot desk approach to working, the technological flexibility of the building means that its 1,100 workspaces can serve more than 2,500 staff.

How to make healthcare infrastructure smarter

Image: World Economic Forum

When completed later in 2017, the New Karolinska Solna (NKS) University Hospital in Stockholm will have over 12,000 rooms, 35 operating theatres and 17 MRI scanning units. It is considered to be the world’s largest public-private partnership project.

The NKS contract required the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), which provided a single system for designers, contractors and facilities managers to collaborate on. All information relating to the hospital’s design, construction and inventory is stored digitally. Ultimately, BIM data will enable the hospital facilities to be managed comprehensively and serve as a map for 29 automated, guided vehicles which will deliver medical supplies, laundry and other items around the site.

NKS will also be climate-neutral, thanks to its energy-efficient insulation, a geothermal energy plant and the use of food waste for biogas.

How to build social amenities faster and more affordably

Image: World Economic Forum

Creating low-cost housing and social infrastructure is a challenge across the globe. A project to create much-needed courthouses in Tanzania may have shown a way ahead.

The Moladi construction system replaces the cumbersome bricklaying process with an approach akin to injection moulding. Workers erect the building’s frame with reusable plastic panels, leaving wall cavities which – once the windows, doors, wiring and pipework have been put in – are filled with a fast-setting, aerated mortar.

The building process can be monitored by just one qualified supervisor who manages local workmen with no prior construction experience or skills.

The first project, Kibaha District Courthouse, was built for $250 per square metre, which is half the cost of conventional methods. It took six months to complete when it might typically have taken up to three years using traditional methods. On the back of this success, the Tanzanian government has committed to building another 11 district courthouses using this method.

Image: World Economic Forum

The vertical city

By 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities. In many urban centres, there will be a shortage of space on the ground, and expanding outwards won’t be an option. Instead, cities will need to build upwards to accommodate their workforces and residents.

The idea behind the design of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – now a popular tourist attraction – was to create a mixed-use modern skyscraper with hotel accommodation, residential apartments and commercial premises. Not so much a building as a vertical city.

The report credits the realization of this vision to securing the backing of the authorities, including the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum; close collaboration among all contributors; using pre-fabrication to speed construction; and pioneering the use of innovative technologies such as self-climbing cranes.

The Burj Khalifa is now the third most popular “selfie” attraction in the world, after the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Disney World in Florida.

Image: World Economic Forum

The 3D-printed bridge

Image: World Economic Forum

It is hoped that a printed steel pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam will show that additive manufacturing techniques, or 3D printing, can work outside the lab in the real world.

The bridge aims to showcase the technology’s viability and potential to the construction industry, while also contributing to developing a strong supply chain and customer interest in 3D printing projects of this scale.

In addition to speed and time of construction, 3D-printing technology offers environmental benefits, too. Being managed digitally from the design to the production phase, it generates no waste and there’s little need for rework. Materials savings through optimized shapes also mean that 3D printing is a highly eco-friendly technology.

The bridge is scheduled to be printed by the end of 2017 and installed at the beginning of 2018.

Your printed house

In China, meanwhile, Winsun is pioneering large-scale 3D printing. In 2014 it succeeded in printing its first house, and then created a printed housing estate. Since then, it has also delivered the first 3D-printed office building, in Dubai.

Compared with traditional on-site construction, the Winsun process saved about 80% on construction costs and 60% on both labour and waste.

The innovators

In addition to these flagship buildings, the World Economic Forum and BCG also highlight a series of projects pioneering new approaches to construction.

Anglian Water is the largest water and wastewater company in England and Wales (by geographic area). To ensure that the growing need for water and sewerage infrastructure can be met more cost-effectively, sustainably and quickly, Anglian joined forces with a number of its suppliers in the @one Alliance. The alliance tackles construction projects in a collaborative manner and relies on using standardized products and technology to manage the supply chain and associated ecosystem.

The Chinese BROAD group is applying manufacturing principles to the construction of sustainable high-rise buildings. The group builds skyscrapers using pre-fabricated elements such as floor plates and steel columns, which are manufactured offsite and trucked to the building site.

Its “flat-pack” approach to construction has significant time and cost advantages: a 57-storey building was erected in just 19 days, and the cost reduction relative to traditional building methods is estimated at between 20-40%. To top it off, BROAD’s skyscrapers deliver five times the energy efficiency of conventional Chinese buildings.

Image: World Economic Forum

Knowledge transfer is at the heart of Aditazz’s new approach to design: the Silicon Valley start-up proposes to use design thinking and automation from the semiconductor sector and apply it to construction. By automating complicated, often mundane tasks and eliminating errors and omissions in real-world projects, productivity can be improved by around 30%, while cutting upfront costs by 10% and saving a further 10% over the lifespan of the building.

The engineering and construction industries tend to be cautious when it comes to automation and digitalization, so it’s not surprising that the ever-growing amounts of data generated are not always used to their fullest potential.

Uptake is a predictive analytics platform that is hoping to change this. It uses real-time and historical data from heavy equipment as well as weather and environmental information to help construction companies use their equipment better. For example, construction firms can prevent unscheduled downtime, make machinery last longer while also improving equipment dispatching and planning.

Image: World Economic Forum

Challenges for the engineering and construction sector

Compared with many other industries, the construction industry has traditionally witnessed slow technological progress and has remained rather set in its ways. It therefore faces a steep learning curve if it is to meet the requirements of creating ever more human living space fast and in a cost-effective and sustainable way, the report suggests.

The above projects have in common a high level of automation, standardization, collaboration, cross-sectoral knowledge transfer and openness to experimentation. Adopting some if not all of these approaches could be the way forward for the sector.