How did early humans first learn to build? It’s quite possible that it was by observing animals that had already mastered the art. Indeed, when you look at the animal world many birds, insects and mammals are excellent architects and builders.
Beavers are quite literally landscape engineers – they’re being reintroduced in the UK to help fight against the increased incidence and severity of flooding caused by climate change.
Social insects like bees, wasps, ants and termites construct what many have described as the animal equivalents of human cities.
Then there are the animals that carry their homes on their backs – the shells of snails and turtles, for example, are both extensions of and protection for their vulnerable soft bodies.
We might admire and even imitate animal architecture, but when it comes to human-designed buildings, we are usually extremely selective about what kinds of creatures we allow in.
In general, animals are only ever designed for when they are of use to humans – whether as livestock, domestic pets, spectacles to consume in zoos and aquariums, or objects of scientific manipulation in laboratories.
If animals can’t be put to use, they’re usually ignored. And if those animals take it upon themselves to inhabit buildings, they’re invariably regarded as pests and dealt with accordingly.
Examples in the book include spiders spinning their webs in the dark corners of rooms. Swallows finding ideal purchase on brick walls for their saliva and mud-based nest cups. Rats making their homes in the subterranean spaces of the city. And cats and dogs appropriating our furniture and fittings as their own places of rest.
There’s hardly any part of the human-built environment that can’t be inhabited or changed by insects, animals and birds. It’s easy enough to understand how this works in relation to animals that are classed as pets. It’s generally taken for granted that pet owners know how to care for their animals. But it’s much harder to care for animals that are mostly regarded as unwelcome intruders into buildings.
A powerful example of the potential breadth of such interspecies awareness is artist Fritz Haeg’s Animal Estates project, which ran from 2008 until 2013. In nine different cities, Haeg organised events to encourage participation in creating structures that would be attractive to a variety of native species, including bats, birds and insects.
As well as building structures for animals to inhabit, the project also hosted events designed to stimulate interest and knowledge about native animals (and, in many cases, to encourage urban dwellers to make structures themselves). This holistic approach to ecological design aimed to foster more care for animals in cities – animals that would probably otherwise go unnoticed.
Other wildlife-inspired architectural projects include the non-profit organisation The Expanded Environment, which provides helpful online resources on how to care for a much wider range of animals in relation to architecture – most notably in their collaborative design proposals and annual competitions for novel types of animal design.
The material on their website expands ideas about what might be considered appropriate animals for designers to work with as “clients”. Insects appear alongside dogs and cats, birds with lizards and bats with oysters.
Housing the non-human
Ultimately thinking beyond just people is important because all lifeforms create their own environments – and what humans generally call “the environment” is in reality the sum of these creations. Why then does the idea that humans live outside of the environment persist so strongly?
Perhaps, as any therapist will likely tell you, losing a fantasy is always much harder than losing a reality. Yet, as is all too obvious, the persistence of the fantasy of human exceptionalism is now endangering all life on the planet.
It is humans, and humans alone, who dominate every corner of the environment, while at the same time asserting they are actually removed from that environment. If my book has one core aim, it is to encourage readers to think beyond humans in the way we imagine, design and live in our buildings and cities.
French-Lebanese architect seeks pro-climate construction transformation
Lina Ghotmeh has pegged her career on sustainable construction.
The French-Lebanese architect wants to see her industry transformed by drastically reducing the use of concrete — a major CO2 contributor — using more local materials and reusing existing buildings and materials.
“We need to change our value system,” the 42-year-old told AFP last month.
The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry and create buildings that can better resist the impacts of climate change.
But it’s not an easy battle.
The industry accounts for almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.
Ghotmeh, who designed the Estonian National Museum and taught at Yale University, doesn’t advocate for fewer buildings — she knows that’s an unrealistic goal in a world with a growing population.
“That would be like saying ‘stop eating,'” she said.
– ‘Don’t demolish’ –
Instead, we should “keep what already exists, don’t demolish,” but refurbish and retrofit old buildings in a sustainable way where possible.
Building a new detached house consumes 40 times more resources than renovating an existing property, and for a new apartment complex that rises to 80 times more, according to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe).
And then there’s concrete, the main material in so many modern buildings and perhaps the most challenging to move away from.
“We must drastically reduce the use of concrete”, she said, insisting it should only be used for essential purposes, such as foundations and building in earthquake-prone areas.
Some 14 billion cubic metres of concrete are used every year, according to the Global Cement and Concrete Association.
It emits more CO2 than the aviation industry, largely because of the intense heat required to make it.
Alternatives to concrete already exist, such as stone, or making cement — a component of concrete — from calcium carbonate. There are also pushes for low-carbon cement made from iron and steel industry waste.
– Beirut inspiration –
Building more sustainably often comes with a higher price tag — it costs more to double or triple glaze windows and properly insulate a house — but the long-term payoff is lower energy costs.
For Ghotmeh, it’s an imperative investment in our future.
It was her birthplace of Beirut that inspired her to become an architect, spurring a desire to rebuild the so-called “collapsed city” ravaged by war.
In 2020, she completed the “Stone Garden” apartment tower in the city, built with concrete covered with a combed coating, a technique often used by local craftsmen. She used concrete in the construction because of earthquake risks.
The building was strong enough to survive the port explosion in 2020 that destroyed a large part of the city.
And the city continues to inspire her today, even when it comes to climate sustainability.
“Since there is practically only an hour of electricity per day, all the buildings have solar panels now. There is a kind of energy independence which is beginning to take place, by force,” she said.
“Does it take a catastrophe like the one in Lebanon to make this transition?”
The Middle East seems to be facing the heaviest delays in construction and infrastructure, or so it is held in Consultancy-me.
There is still much construction left in the gleaming steel and glass building of Qatar’s Doha Corniche (Google Maps street view picture above), which has stood incomplete and abandoned since 2010. The reasons should not be very different from those elaborated on below.
Middle East faces heaviest delays in construction and infrastructure
23 November 2022
Major construction projects in the Middle East run the highest risk of overruns in costs and delivery, with claims on derailed projects now averaging $154 million per project.
Now in its fifth edition, HKA’s annual CRUX Insight Report sheds light into the state of disputes in the major capital project and infrastructure sector. For its analysis, the global consultancy analysed claims and disputes on 1,600 projects in 100 countries for the period up to July 2022.
The analysis paints a worrying picture for project owners, contractors and other stakeholders. Globally, the combined value of claims stood at $80 billion, while cumulative delays added up to a staggering 840 years.
On average, costs claimed in disputes amounted to $98.7 million per project and more than a third of their capital expenditure (35% of CAPEX). From a time perspective, losses faced are even heavier. Claimed time extensions averaged 16.5 months – equivalent to 69% of the original planned project duration.
“Based on first-hand investigations by our expert consultants around the world, the report puts a number on the huge toll of project overruns on the global economy, our industry and project stakeholders,” said Renny Borhan, CEO of HKA.
The Middle East
According to the report, the Middle East is the world’s most challenging region for realising construction projects, with delays averaging 22.5 months or 83% of schedule duration. The average sum in dispute ($154 million) was more than a third of project expenditure (36% of CAPEX).
In the region, HKA’s experts assessed 380 projects in 12 countries, with the majority of projects in three segments: commercial buildings, onshore oil and gas, and transportation infrastructure.
The prime causes of claims and disputes in the Middle East have been relatively steady for years. Since the first edition of HKA’s CRUX Insight Report, change in scope has topped the list.
“This chief cause is one seen in all regions. Projects are tendered and launched when designs are still immature. Change is inevitable in major construction projects and unless managed, inexorably leads to a wave of claims mounting into disputes,” explained Toby Hunt, a partner at HKA.
Scope change is followed by design information that was either issued late or incomplete, contract interpretation issues, and failure in contract management and/or administration.
Hunt: “Many of the dominant causes of claims and disputes in the region are design-centric and stem from lower levels of maturity in the construction and engineering industry.”
“The high-risk, low-margin contracting model rules in most parts of the Middle East. Risk allocation is skewed by heavily amended standard forms of contract with onerous terms on payments and liability. Often poorly drafted, they tend to include additional bespoke clauses that may have been designed to address problems that arose on previous projects, but conflict with other provisions of the current contract. Claims and disputes over contract interpretation ensue.”
Issues more specific to the region include foreign contractors’ reliance on (poorly) translated versions of Arabic contracts, and a relatively high competition for prestige projects – which results in over-ambitious bids.
Meanwhile, the growing skills deficit (exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic) is putting pressure on delivery, with builders and contractors struggling to recruit skilled employees. However, across the board, deficient workmanship was a far more significant cause of contention in Europe and the Americas than in the Middle East and other regions.
With construction and capital infrastructure activity buoyant in the region as national economies drive their diversification and investment visions, Haroon Niazi, co-leader of HKA in the Middle East, said that lessons being learnt from overruns should be captured and shared among the construction and engineering community across the region.
“Understanding the multiple reasons for distress on capital projects can help project promoters and the construction and engineering industry better mitigate problems on projects, and ultimately help them achieve better project outcomes.”
New figures from GlobalData show that the construction sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is healthier than in most other regions and is continuing to improve.
The MENA region has received an overall score of 0.87 in GlobalData’s January 2022 Construction Project Momentum Index, which provides an assessment of the health of the construction project pipeline at all stages of development from announcement through to completion.
Every construction project in GlobalData’s database is assigned a score of between 5 and -5 based on its current progress, a score that is continually updated over time. These are then weighted by the value of each project in order to arrive at overall scores for countries, regions and sectors.
That score puts the MENA region in third place out of 11 regions, and is an increase on its score from December 2021 (0.62) when it ranked in seventh place.
One reason for the region’s relatively good performance in the index is its energy and utilities sector, which scores 1.21, putting it in first place out of 11 regions worldwide.
The MENA region’s institutional sector, by contrast, has performed somewhat worse, with a score of 0.48 (putting it in ninth place globally).
Within the MENA region, construction projects are proceeding with fewest obstacles in Qatar, which scores 2.15 in the index. The situation in Oman, however, is somewhat less positive, with a score of -0.02.
The improving health of the construction pipeline in the MENA region is partly due to the resolution of issues in the region’s energy and utilities sector, which has seen its score in GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index move from 0.51 in December 2021 to 1.21 in January 2022.
The construction sector is also seeing fewer and fewer problems in Qatar, which has seen its score on the index go from 1.07 in December 2021 to 2.15 in January 2022.
The Construction Project Momentum Index
GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index is based on analysis of thousands of individual construction projects around the world.
Each project is continually monitored for updates, with updates indicating progress increasing the project’s score, while updates indicating delays or cancellations reduce the score. The score always sits between 5, the best possible score, and -5, the worst.
The scores for individual projects are then weighted based on their significance in order to create combined indices for each region or sector.
Events that can reduce a project’s score include the project being cancelled or put on hold, delays, the rejection of applications or tender bids, or the reduction of the project’s scope.
Events that can increase a project’s score in the index, by contrast, include the completion or commencement of construction, the awarding of major contracts, or the approval of applications.
Ben van der Merwe is a data journalist at GlobalData Media, specialising in FDI. He joined from the Reach Data Unit, where he was a fellow of the Google News Initiative. His investigative journalism has previously appeared in the Observer, VICE, Private Eye and New Statesman.
The top featured image is for illustration and is credit to InvestorMonitor
Designs for a green skyscraper that could remove up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere on an annual basis — the equivalent to growing 48,500 trees — was unveiled at the COP26 conference last week.
Named for the world’s tallest trees, the ‘Urban Sequoia’ design is the brainchild of the Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and is based on technologies that are all available for use today.
Each high-rise would employ multiple approaches to sequester carbon, including construction with carbon-absorbing materials, growth of plants and algae (for fuel, energy and food), and direct air capture technology.
The latter would be aided by the tower design’s ‘stack effect’, which would help draw in air to the centre of the building for processing a carbon extraction — while contributing to the building’s net zero energy system.
In fact, the company has claimed, their Urban Sequoia tower design would be capable, assuming a lifespan of at least 60 years, to absorb up to 4 times the carbon released in the atmosphere as a result of its construction.
Captured carbon could be used to produce biomaterials for roads, pavement, pipes and other items for developing urban infrastructure.
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Designs for a green skyscraper that could remove up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere on an annual basis — the equivalent to growing 48,500 trees — was unveiled at the COP26 conference last week Pictured: a city of Urban Sequoias
Each high-rise would employ multiple approaches to sequester carbon , including construction with carbon-absorbing materials, growth of plants and algae (for fuel, energy and food), and direct air capture technology — as depicted
‘We envision a future in which the first Urban Sequoia will inspire the architecture of an entire neighbourhood — feeding into the city ecosystem to capture and repurpose carbon to be used locally, with surplus distributed more widely,’ said Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s senior associate principal Mina Hasman. She added: ‘If every city around the world built Urban Sequoias, the built environment could remove up to 1.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year’ Pictured: modern-day Laos, left, with the firm’s vision of a greener city, right
CONSTRUCTION’S CARBON FOOTPRINT
According to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, ‘the need to transform the built environment is clear.’
Construction presently accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all global carbon emissions — a figure that could easily rise in the future without alternative approaches.
In fact, experts have predicted that, come 2060, an extra 230 billion square meters of building stock will be required in the world’s urban centres.
This, the architecture firm, is where Urban Sequoia comes in — allowing the built environment to turn buildings in to solutions, rather than problems, in the growing climate crisis.
‘This is a pathway to a more sustainable future that is accessible today. Imagine a world where a building helps to heal the planet,’ said Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partner, Kent Jackson.
‘We developed our idea so that it could be applied and adapted to meet the needs of any city in the world, with the potential for positive impact at any building scale.’
‘The power of this idea is how achievable it is,’ agreed Skidmore, Owings & Merrill principal Yasemin Kologlu.
‘Our proposal brings together new design ideas with nature-based solutions, emerging and current carbon absorption technologies and integrates them in ways not done before in the built environment.’
While Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s prototype design is a skyscraper that can sequester up to 1,000 tons of carbon on an annual basis, the carbon capture approaches it uses might be applied to buildings of all types and sizes.
By constructing buildings from materials like bio-brick, biocrete, hempcrete and timber — all of which use less carbon than alternatives, and some of which continue to adsorb carbon over time — it is possible to reduce the carbon impact of construction by 50 per cent as compared to using concrete and steel.
‘A progressive approach could reduce construction emissions by 95 per cent,’ the firm added.
‘We are quickly evolving beyond the idea of being carbon neutral. The time has passed to talk about neutrality,’ elaborated Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partner Chris Cooper.
‘Our proposal for Urban Sequoia — and ultimately entire “forests” of Sequoias — makes buildings, and therefore our cities, part of the solution by designing them to sequester carbon, changing the course of climate change.’
According to the firm, up to 120 tons of carbon could be sequestered per square kilometre (46 tons per square mile) if urban hardscapes were converted into gardens, cities were re-built as intense carbon-absorbing landscapes and streets were retrofitted with additional carbon-capture technologies.
Furthermore, they suggested, this figure could be nearly tripled if these strategies were also applied in parks and other green spaces.
Named for the world’s tallest trees, the ‘Urban Sequoia’ design is the brainchild of the Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and is based on technologies that are all available for use today. Depicted: an illustration of how the tower’s design would allow it to take it carbon dioxide for storage or usage, while also producing products like biofuel
The tower design’s ‘stack effect’ would help draw in air to the centre of the building for processing a carbon extraction — while contributing to the building’s net zero energy system. Pictured: an artist’s impression of the ‘Urban Sequoia’ concept
‘We are quickly evolving beyond the idea of being carbon neutral. The time has passed to talk about neutrality,’ said Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partner Chris Cooper. ‘Our proposal for Urban Sequoia — and ultimately entire “forests” of Sequoias — makes buildings, and therefore our cities, part of the solution by designing them to sequester carbon’
‘If the Urban Sequoia became the baseline for new buildings, we could realign our industry to become the driving force in the fight against climate change,’ said Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s senior associate principal Mina Hasman — a nod to how construction presently accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all global carbon emissions.
‘We envision a future in which the first Urban Sequoia will inspire the architecture of an entire neighbourhood — feeding into the city ecosystem to capture and repurpose carbon to be used locally, with surplus distributed more widely,’ Ms Hasman continued.
‘If every city around the world built Urban Sequoias, the built environment could remove up to 1.6 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year.
With immediate focus and investment in SOM’s prototype, we can start this process now and build the first Urban Sequoia,’ she concluded.
The Urban Sequoia concept was presented by Mr Jackson and Ms Hason in COP26’s Blue Zone on Thursday.
While Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s prototype design is a skyscraper that can sequester up to 1,000 tons of carbon on an annual basis, the carbon capture approaches it uses might be applied to buildings of all types and sizes. Pictured: two architectural cross-sections of the high-rise design, showing how each floor integrates air capture and algae systems
By constructing the buildings from materials like bio-brick, biocrete, hempcrete and timber — all of which use less carbon that conventional alternatives, and some of which continue to adsorb carbon over time — it is possible to reduce the carbon impact of construction by 50 per cent as compared to the use of concrete and steel. Pictured: two architectural cross-sections of the high-rise design, showing how each floor integrates air capture and algae systems
RESEARCHERS USE ‘ARTIFICIAL’ TREES CLEAN THE AIR IN CITIES
By keeping mosses in a container, such as those built by CityTrees, the conditions can be carefully controlled to ensure the plant is always thriving and therefore performing at optimum air filtration
CityTrees – also known as artificial trees – use living plants and different types of mosses to capture toxins and remove pollutants from the surrounding environment to produce clean air.
Mosses, despite being a more primitive lifeform than most trees and flowers, conduct photosynthesis.
This allows them to soak up carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere and produce oxygen.
They can also harbour friendly bacteria which further helps trap pollutants.
By keeping mosses in a container, such as those built by CityTrees, the conditions can be carefully controlled to ensure the plant is always thriving and therefore performing at optimum air filtration.
Each self-sustaining CityTree contains a water tank, irrigation systems and sensors to monitor plant growth and ensure they are healthy. The technology is powered by a combination of on-board solar panels and internal batteries.
Each CityTree which has the pollution-reduction benefits of 275 normal trees.
Similar structures have previously been employed in other cities — including Berlin and Hong Kong — along with temporary trials across London.
Plants also help soak up air pollutants directly. Studies have found that the worst offending air pollution for human health is PM2.5 or airborne fine particulate matter.
These particulates are dangerous because they can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream.
Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.
One study from researchers at Beijing Forestry University in 2017 found ‘foliage acts as a bio-filter of air pollution and improves air quality due to the leaves’ rough texture and large contact area’.
But the issue with relying on regular trees and plants to filter the air and remove carbon dioxide and pollutants is that they themselves are highly dependent on the environment.
If they are not thriving due to disease, drought or vandalism, they will fail to clean the air effectively.
Mosses, despite being a more primitive lifeform than most trees and flowers, conduct photosynthesis. This allows them to soak up carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere and produce oxygen. Plants also directly soak up pollutants
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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