Back before we talked about climate change and the damaging environmental impact of fossil fuels, Fram oil filters introduced an iconic marketing slogan in 1972: "You can pay me now, or pay me later."
The auto mechanic's sage advice 45 years ago pointed out that it's cheaper to take proactive action now than pay more later. This also rings true when it comes to climate change and soaring energy bills.
It's a fact, carbon taxes and higher electricity and gas rates are coming. Our governments need to figure out how to move from words to actions to meet the 2030 net-zero goal for homes and buildings. The time is now.
If you think you've been hit with soaring electricity bills, get ready because the cost of emissions will only get worsen as we begin the work of combating climate change.
In Ontario, greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions have been reduced by a mere six per cent since 1990 -- and, unfortunately, most of that reduction came because of the hollowing out of our manufacturing base. Slow action to date means that over the next 13 years, Ontario must reduce emissions at a rate 10 times faster than over the past 25 years. Other provinces aren't doing any better.
Condominiums are seen under construction in Toronto, July 10, 2011. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
When we talk about climate change, it's easy to point to obvious "sinners" -- cars and smoke stacks. But another one is right in front of us: buildings. Commercial and residential buildings account for 17 per cent of the GhG emissions in Ontario.
We bought the buildings, but did it on the cheap, pushing back the real energy-efficiency costs onto someone else: our future selves. Now is the time to get serious: zero per cent of the cars on the road today will be on the road in 2050, but 70 per cent of today's buildings will still be in use because we can't rebuild our cities overnight. We have to retrofit existing buildings and invest smartly in new ones.
Here's the good news: in the building industry, unlike others, we have the know-how and technology to be a key player in meeting a steep challenge. Building efficiency isn't just low-hanging fruit, it's the fruit that's ripened and ready to fall into our lap.
Changing light bulbs to LED and lowering the furnace a degree at night are important, but largely symbolic: renovation and retrofit are the real game-changers.
We bought the buildings, but did it on the cheap, pushing back the real energy-efficiency costs onto someone else: our future selves.
Conventional homes must be renovated to improve the insulation and draft sealing. We have to install improved window glazing, insulated piping, more efficient appliances and HVAC systems to reduce demand for energy. Then we need to ween ourselves off gas by switching to clean electricity or biofuels for heating and air conditioning.
The choice to retrofit is financially smart. Homes built to the "passive house" standard can reduce their energy use by 90 per cent. But the up-front investment is steep. Making the argument for long-term return on investment is a challenge for short-term thinking and investor-based infrastructure planning.
That's why we need our federal and provincial governments to step up with incentive programs, such as supporting loans for deep retrofits. Ontario's green bank is a good example of how government can support the retrofitting of our building stock.
We also need the financial industry to rise to the challenge with loans that can be repaid with the savings accrued over years. Even a loan repayment period of 10 years might not be long enough if the savings are realized over 20 years on an asset that has a 50-year (or longer) lifespan.
Ontario Association of Architects building in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images)
But talk is cheap.
In March 2014, the governing council of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) approved the retrofit of our headquarters in Toronto, which was originally built in 1992. Our analysis shows that the additional costs of selecting a net-zero retrofit is $1.8 million and will allow the building to become carbon neutral by 2018, 12 years before the 2030 deadline set by U.N. climate agreements. We will reduce our energy use by 90 per cent and install solar panels to generate clean power on-site, the combination of which will generate savings of more than $85,000 a year.
Before accounting for future carbon taxes, this renovation will pay for itself in about 20 years (and that number will drop as the cost of energy rises). The next generation of architects will be left with a building that has low operating costs, helping them in future financial planning.
It's better to pay for it now and reap the benefits than put off the inevitable and feel the pain later. If we can make this decision, so can private developers, governments and homeowners.
The time is now.
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Why craft boring suspension bridges or arched overpasses when humanity is capable of building massive architectural feats like this to cross a river? The impressive, undulating design, destined to function as a pedestrian footbridge over the Dragon King Harbour River in China, is the product of NEXT Architects. The bridge design involves three individual, swirling lanes hovering over the picturesque landscape of Changsha. The rendering won an international competition associated with a new public park in the area last year, and the project is currently under construction. “The construction with the intersecting connections is based on the principal of the Möbius ring,” states Michel Schreinemachers on the NEXT website. “On the other hand it refers to a Chinese knot that comes from an ancient decorative Chinese folk art,” John van de Water adds.
This image of an 80-story skyscraper, imagined by Dynamic Architecture's David Fisher back in 2008, is a far-fetched rendering fit for Dubai's future rich and famous. Why? Because it rotates. The enormous, towering building would have floors that move ever so slightly, completing a 360 degree rotation every 90 minutes. Forget about fighting for an east-facing apartment, the suites in Dynamic Architecture's creation would have all four cardinal directions covered. And it get's better. The building would be equipped with several giant wind turbines that generate electricity for tenants, and penthouse residents would be able to park their car at their apartments thanks to nifty lifts. While we're not sure this design will ever actually come to fruition (it was scheduled to be up and running in 2010), it's certainly a visual feast worth ogling.
In November of 2013, the Strelka Institute announced the winner of a two-stage international competition to design Zaryadye Park, Moscow's first new public park in over 50 years. The winner was Diller Scofidio + Renfro (in collaboration with Hargreaves Associates and Citymakers), who proposed this particularly stunning design based on a theory of "Wild Urbanism," or the concept of a "hybrid landscape where the natural and the built cohabit to create a new public space." The park will feature four landscape typologies -- tundra, steppe, forest and wetland, integrating augmented micro-climates that will enable the park to function as a public space throughout Russia’s extreme winters. Essentially, the quasi-indoor environments will involve regulated temperatures, controlled wind and simulated daylight that encourage 24/7, year-round park pleasure. As Diller Scofidio +Renfro aptly put it, "Zaryadye Park will embody the past and the future simultaneously."
nvisible architecture is the calling card of science fiction design, and we're happy to report that architects of today are on the case. Of course, there's South Korea's in-the-works, LED-clad Infinity Tower. CNN reported in 2013 that "the invisibility illusion will be achieved with a high-tech LED facade system that uses a series of cameras that will send real-time images onto the building's reflective surface." But there's also the shorter, less flashy structure (pictured above) designed by New York-based architecture firm stpmj. The parallelogram-shaped barn would be made of wood and sheeted with mirror film, at a cost of $5,000. The idea is to "blur the perceptual boundary" between object and setting, according to a statement sent by the architects to The Huffington Post earlier this year. We have to say we're impressed with architects' ability to push the boundaries of what invisible really means.
For his series "Dauphin Island," artist Dionisio González designed dreamlike, futuristic forts made from iron and concrete, fusing the role of artist with that of architect, engineer and urban planner. The peculiar edifices -- the hybrid of a beach house, a bunker and a space ship -- were designed with the residents of Dauphin Island in mind. Located off the coast of Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico, the tiny landmass is known for experiencing perpetual and catastrophic hurricanes. When a storm hits the small island of around 1,200 people, it often washes away much of the coastline, leaving residents to rebuild their homes again and again. González created hypothetical blueprints for his forts, illustrating how his bulbous, concrete structures would better suit the fraught island's populous. You can learn more about the project on his website. Keep in mind, these structures are not yet slated for reality, but they certainly paint an interesting picture of what futuristic island homes could look like.
Dubai's Burj Khalifa is widely known as the world's tallest building, measuring in at a whopping 2,716.5 feet and 160 stories. The structure itself is mesmerizing, but what's even more intriguing is a think tank's bizarre proposal to cover the towering skyscraper in a giant fabric casing made of reflective material. We learned about the project, dubbed EXO-BURJ, in 2014. The strange, sock-like covering would wrap around the entire building, from spire to ground level, in a "super-lightweight, reflective and semi-transparent fabric material," according to a description by the Dubai-based think tank, OP-EN. The temporary "sweater" would reflect the expansive urban scenes around it, turning the Burj Khalifa into a massive mirror in the vein of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
What is there to do with an outdated, eyesore of a power plant in the future? Why not give the sprawling facilities a green makeover, one that would serve two functions: to beautify the structure and provide a new way of dealing with CO2 emissions. Here's how it would work: The architecture firm AZPA (Alejandro Zaera-Polo Arquitectura) plans to turn the existing Wedel Vattenfall power plant in Germany into a new industrial complex, one that would be built up from the previous facilities and wrapped with a corrugated skin of creeper plants. This strategically-placed skin would not only soften the exterior aesthetic of the plant, but it would create a sheath of creepers to absorb CO2 emissions. AZPA describes the endeavor, imagined in 2013, as "an attempt to resolve the conflict between the natural ecology and the manmade environment."
Earlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 selected The Living’s “circular tower of organic and reflective bricks” -- called "Hy-Fi" -- as the winner of the Young Architects Program’s (YAP) 15th edition. The temporary structure will be built using a new method of bio-design incorporating entirely organic material. As Arch Daily reported back in February, the tower will involve "the unique stacking of two new materials: Ecovative-manufactured organic bricks, made from corn stalks and specially-developed living root structures; and reflective bricks, designed by 3M, that were used as growing trays for the organic bricks before being implemented into the structure." Bonus: According to MoMA's site, Hy-Fi will is the first sizable structure to claim near-zero carbon emissions in its construction process and represents a 100% compostable design. “Recurring to the latest developments in biotech, it reinvents the most basic component of architecture -- the brick -- as both a material of the future and a classic trigger for open-ended design possibilities."
Forget interior decorators, the future of indoor design will be run by 3D printers. We have architects Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger to thank for introducing us to this concept. The two pulled off a three-dimensional printing feat to rival them all just last year. As part of the project "Digital Grotesque," the duo 3D printed an entire room, creating a 16-square-meter cube adorned with unbelievable ornamentation that looks like it belongs in a futuristic cathedral. "We aim to create an architecture that defies classification and reductionism," states the group's website. "Digital Grotesque is between chaos and order, both natural and the artificial, neither foreign nor familiar. Any references to nature or existing styles are not integrated into the design process, but are evoked only as associations in the eye of the beholder."
It's hard not to love this New York design project from Family and PlayLab, which plans to bring a giant filtration system to the murky waters between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The project would take the shape of a 164-foot long floating pool set to take shape in 2016 -- if all funding efforts go as planned. If there are swimming pools in our future, let them look like this. In a statement released at the end of 2013, pool masterminds Archie Lee Coates IV, Dong-Ping Wong and Jeff Franklin announced they are beginning construction on Float Lab, an experimental version of the planned 164-foot +POOL. They raised the funds for the smaller pool (35 feet by 35 feet, to be exact) through their last Kickstarter endeavor. With a launch date planned for this summer, the mini pool will put the team's filtration membranes to the test in real-river conditions. "We dont think about using the river recreationally at all," Coates explained in a previous interview with Huff Post. "So as an architect you think, 'What if we could change that or propose an idea that could change that?' We decided to pitch [+Pool] to the world. We just had no idea the response we would get."
From the outside it resembles a giant, plushy purple jelly bean, and on the inside it looks more like a glowing, colored seashell. But this balloon-like form is actually the world's first inflatable concert hall, entitled "Ark Nova." Iconic British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Japanese architect Arata Isozaki teamed up to create the structure, meant to tour through areas of Japan affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It's a novel idea that could make for an innovative design strategy in many other fields. "I am honored to have been asked to design Ark Nova for the Tohoku area," Kapoor states on the Ark Nova site. "The structure defines a space for community and for music in which color and form enclose. I hope that the devastation can be overcome by creativity. Music can give solace and bring community together and in so doing can help us to see we are not alone."
While wooden skyscrapers might not be as sensational as the previously mentioned rotating tower, the idea of building 34 wooden stories on on top of the other is pretty astonishing. And it might become a reality if Scandinavian practice C.F. Møller and DinnellJohansson -- 2013's winners of the HSB Stockholm architectural competition -- follow through with their rendering for the world's tallest wooden skyscraper. The design (pictured above) is one of three ”ultra-modern residential high-rises” planned for Stockholm’s city center in 2023, but the catch is, only one of these proposals will actually be built.
It's no secret that New York's Gowanus Canal is a breeding ground for toxic waste, polluted runoff, and raw sewage that's -- rather unfortunately -- been dumped directly into the area's bodies of water. But a little project known as "Sponge Park" is hoping to transform the Brooklyn locale into a cleaner, properly filtered sanctuary -- and provide a model for future urban design. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy and the landscape architecture firm dlandstudio announced in the summer of 2013 that they plan to employ a system of landscape buffers and remediation wetlands to slow, absorb, and filter Gowanus' polluted sewer runoff before it reaches the canal. So, not only will the Sponge Park turn 11.4 acres of contaminated fields into a pleasant waterfront arena, it will provide a means of absorbing harmful pollutants that continue to ooze into the industrial battlefield. "In a process called phytoremediation, specially selected plants metabolize pollutants and heavy metals present in the contaminated water," the American Society of Landscape Architects explains on its website. "Dirty water from the combined sewer system is captured in underground storage tanks and slowly released into the landscape."
In 2014, Chinese architecture firm MAD unveiled renderings of Chaoyang Park Plaza, a center of skyscrapers, office blocks and public spaces meant to mimic the appearance of mountains, hills and lakes depicted in Chinese landscape paintings. The complex is now under construction in Beijing, and will result in an expansive sky line seemingly ripped from the pages of a futuristic novel. "By transforming features of Chinese classical landscape painting, such as lakes, springs, forests, creeks, valleys, and stones, into modern 'city landscapes,' the urban space creates a balance between high urban density and natural landscape," MAD writes on its website. "The forms of the buildings echo what is found in natural landscapes, and re-introduces nature to the urban realm." Lucky for Beijing, the innovative skyline is already under construction.
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