Sustainability Is about the Engineering of Humanity as Much as about Ecology. Green Alone Is Not Enough.

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by: Idris Mootee

I have been to quite a few so claimed green buildings lately from Chicago to Minneapolis and London to Berlin, I always have questions about these so called green buildings because everytime I asked them questions, I never quite got the answers.

Building account for more CO2 emissions than any thing may be except factories and power plants. There are so much greenwashing by companies recognizing the market value of green and making PR claims. It is easy to say green, but what does it mean? There are so little we know about green. Give you an example, many believe that some material such as wood is more ecological than plastic, no brainer? Wrong. Although a product made with ten kilogram of wood causes fewer emissions than the same product made with the same amount of plastic, sometimes the paint and coating required to preserve the wood are factored in, it can be a very different story.

The above is an energy-efficient building that’s scheduled to go up in Haifa. According to Cory, green building isn’t just the future for altruistic reasons–he believes that an eco-friendly building is more likely to succeed on the market. The SunSail is certainly a wave of the future: it will have its own water purification system for waste water, a ventilation system that takes advantage of the breeze outdoors, maximum exposure to the sun for natural lighting, and a curved surface that is designed to contain photovoltaic cells that will provide 40% of the building’s energy.

Sustainability is best defined as the ability to meet today’s needs without compromising the future or the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Unless this goal is applied to everyone, it’s impossible for us to have a sustainable global society. Sustainability is about humanity as much as it is about greenery and ecology. It includes engineering of Humanity and Socialibility and not just energy efficiency.

Europe is a little bit ahead with countries like Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Sir Norman Foster’s iconic Commerzbank building (not impressive as some may think from the outside) in Frankfurt (built in 1997, still the tallest building in Europe), this nearly 300-meter tall high-rise is actually four smaller buildings, with "sky gardens" ( or green roofs) on many floors and a sophisticated ventilation system for each floor, including natural ventilation within a double-skin building. As planned, it has just gone through a renovation and upgrade at the ten-year mark, adding a new "dynamic façade" element: movable blinds.There are so many innovations designed into that are not easily recognizable.

Foster’s concept creates a low-rise appearance in Frankfurt’s central city, keeping the streetscape pedestrian-friendly. It works well and one enters the building without being aware that it’s a 60-story structure, until one looks up through the glass covering the lobby or the first-floor cafeteria.  

By German law, no office worker can be more than 10 meters from a window, to afford adequate day lighting to each worker. I really like this idea. This makes office buildings need to be longer and narrower than office buildings in North America, in which many workers don’t have access to day lighting and further blocked from windows by their cubical partitions.

Another German innovation is how smartly they deal with “leasable” space, Foster placed all the elevators at the triangle’s three ends, effectively removing them from the core, but allowing completely free views toward the building’s interior, including the "sky gardens." So ordinary workers get Frankfurt’s skyline view from the outer windows and  managers in the inner windows get to look at the sky gardens across the way.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park is probably the greenest in the US. This $1 billion, 54 storey, 1,200 foot tall tower will house 2.1 million square foot of office space. Architects Cook + Fox designed the tower to be extremely efficient so that waste and rainwater is reused, heat from the sun is maximized and office space is flushed with natural daylight. Most of the raw materials used in the construction of the tower are from renewable and recycled sources within 500 miles of New York in line with the ideology of sustainable building practice. It should come as no surprise therefore that this tower has been accredited with US LEED Platinum status, the only skyscraper with that reward.

This is the 803 foot tall Residence Antilia, owned by Indian property mogul Mukesh Ambani. The tower has been designed by Perkins + Will using traditional Vastu design, which means this will be the tallest living wall when completed and act as a large carbon sink in the heart of Mumbai. Not all of the floors will be occupied; some are going to be used exclusively as gardens in the sky. According to Vastu philosophy the central column of the building will angle upwards to symbolize enlightenment. The design is certainly innovative and I do look forward to seeing it when t is completed.

BTW, there will be only one family living here, the mixed use serving as the headquarters for the Reliance Industries with the upper levels being the private home of Ambani so work, play and live in one building, no carbon as a result of driving to work, just press the elevator button. Green for one family?

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