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Tall Green
Gil Friend, 1 May 05

Gil Friend is a systems ecologist and business strategist, and is the CEO of Natural Logic, an environmentally-focused strategy, design and management consultancy. He writes about sustainable business for our Sustainability Sundays.

The folks who did 4 Times Square are at it again with 1 Bryant Park, just a block away -- one of many high rise green projects underway around the planet. No one's stepping up to the bar with anything like Paolo Soleri's "Arcologies" just yet, but, for all the pastoral visions of green futures that people may dream, both the realities of global urbanization and the potential efficiencies that proximity and density can offer tell me that the success and failure of the human enteprise on this planet will depend on whether, how and how quickly we are able to transform cities to live in harmony with nature's cycles.

Fortunately, cycles, scale and harmony are in the design lexicon for 1 Bryant Park. The 54 storey, 2.1 million square foot tower, with Bank of America as joint venture partner and anchor tenant, is shooting for LEED platinum -- the first US high rise with that target.

Bob Fox of Cook + Fox Architects and Leslie Hoffman of EarthPledge (whose Green Roofsbook was released at the conference), spoke about it from the main stage at the EnvironDesign 9 conference held recently in New York.

Project goals include:
* Reduce energy consumption by a minimum of 50%
* Reduce potable water consumption by 50%
* Reduce storm water contribution by 95%
* Utilize 50% recycled material in building construction
* Obtain 50% of building material within 500 miles of site
* Net zero-carbon dioxide building

Among the strategies that caught my ear:
* Storm water capture (rainfall is about four feet per year), water efficiency measures, and grey water reuse will not only reduce flows as noted above, but will earn a 25% reduction in sewer rates from the city. (It's much cheaper for cities to reward efficiency than to invest billions in enhancing and expanding sewage plumbing and treatment infrastructures.)
* On-site cogen system fueled by methane produced by anerobic digestion of the building's food wastes and shredded paper waste. In addition to the obvious energy benefits: reduction in trucking, trucking fuel and traffic congestion. (The building is just a block from Times Square.)

Or have a look at this proposed 26 storey design for the EDITT Tower in Singapore: 55% water self-sufficiency, 39.7% energy self-sufficiency, and vertical landscaping: "Vegetation from street-level spirals upwards as a continuous ecosystem facilitating species migration, engendering a more diverse ecosystem and greater ecosystem stability and to facilitate ambient cooling of the facades."

(Harkens me back to my integrated brownstone schematics at Bucky Fuller's 1972 World Game Workshop, and our attempts to implement -- starting with rooftop farming -- at Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington DC.)

Not quite zero footprint, but headed in that direction. According to Chris Luebkeman of Arup, Great Britain is considering a requirment that all new housing be zero net energy consumers. And you thought your city's mandate of LEED Sliver was bold!

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Comments

I'm still undecided on whether it's actually possible to consider a skyscraper "green".


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 2 May 05

Why? What standards or metrics or decision factors are you using?


Posted by: Gil Friend on 2 May 05

Gil, I think it has mostly to do with the "natural" connotation of "green". Even if something can be low-impact, or even a "living building", the fact that people are living hundreds of feet from the ground in a concrete and steel structure seems to be incompatible with any notion or experience of "natural" for a human being.

I guess that's why I'm still thinking about it.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 3 May 05

Joseph, after living in Manhatten for 4 years I definitely had the same difficulty reconciling the idea of city living as being "natural" for humans. However, I've realized that well designed urban housing actually enables people to live more sustainably than in a rural or suburban area. Energy and water usage is lower for an apartment than a house with a lawn. Widespread public transporation and the city blocks that have resturants, markets, bookstores, etc. in a small radius allow residents to cut down on individual transportation pollution. I realize that city living is not for all; however, if done well it can reduce an individual's ecological footprint.


Posted by: Cat Manzo on 3 May 05

I realize that city living is not for all; however, if done well it can reduce an individual's ecological footprint.

True, but "ecological footprint" is a measure for sustainability, not necessarily one that has anything to do with a human being relating in a "natural" way with reality.

For example, prisons are very efficient (or can be very efficient) by the many traditional metrics of "low impact" living -- low square footage of living space per person, walkable to all daily services, etc. However, no one would consider living as a prisoner as being "natural" or "green".

It's not meant to be a relative measure to something like standard suburbia, either. Rather, are we considering what it means to live more naturally when we speak about "green" design?

It just seems like a lot of people keep missing that important element, which I feel most people yearn for. It's probably one of the most important reasons people move to places like suburbs in the first place -- "living closer to the ground", surrounded by more greenery, fresher air, more quiet, etc. Taken by itself, that is far more natural than living in a skyscraper. We only critique it because of the system of car dependence it's embedded in.

Again, I'm still struggling with these notions, so I don't quite have a solid opinion about all of it.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 3 May 05

"For example, prisons are very efficient (or can be very efficient) by the many traditional metrics of "low impact" living -- low square footage of living space per person, walkable to all daily services, etc. However, no one would consider living as a prisoner as being "natural" or' green'."

Excellent and essential point, Joseph. We can make an "efficient" society, but if most people hate it, it's not sustainable.

In a place like Manhattan, the expense of space demands high density. Skyscrapers seem to solve that problem, and the bedrock underlying Manhattan makes tall buildings feasible. Many people don't know that in much of the world, densities close to Manhattan's are created through relative low-rise, attached, courtyard buildings. Open space is much more private than here, but the scale of the cities is often more humane. Research done in Britain in the 60's showed that, on a given site, one 60-story skyscraper could be replaced by an eight-story development around 25 courtyards, keeping the same density. This "hollow square" form of development can be a viable alternative to skyscrapers, in some situations.


Posted by: David Foley on 5 May 05



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