China’s national commitment to clean tech is backed with government-imposed actions. Can the U.S., mired in political inaction, learn from the stands?
During a 2010 visit to Shanghai, I had a memorable conversation with Eric Phillips, AIA, who leads the Shanghai office of NBBJ. As we traversed the Huangpu River from Pudong to Puxi by ferry—not an experience for the faint-hearted, given the number and pace of boats plying the crowded waterway—we discussed the future of China, which is striving to balance industrial development with environmental priorities. One benefit of China’s top-down government, Phillips said, is that when its leaders want sustainability, rapid and decisive change happens.
Once a nemesis of buildings, mold, along with other organic life, is becoming a welcomed architectural feature.
First there were green roofs, then vertical gardens. Now there are microbial façades. Fungi and algae—once associated with decay and considered undesirable in architecture—have captured the attention of designers and researchers interested in the organisms’ latent aesthetic and practical potential.
The Structural Technology Group at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Barcelona is developing a multilayered concrete cladding panel system designed to support the growth of mosses, fungi, and lichens. The biological concrete blends conventional Portland cement with the slightly acidic magnesium phosphate cement, which supports biological growth. [...]
Self-repairing materials can lead to lighter, longer-lasting building components. But does less always mean more?
With the demand for more resilient and sustainable products, researchers have focused on self-repairing materials, which can withstand minor abuse and return to their original physical condition. Such materials would not only outlast their conventional counterparts, but also require less substance in their manufacturing, says Carolyn Dry, president of Natural Process Design (NPD). “The fact that structural damage can go undetected … means that some products are over-engineered. However, substances that can provide information about their internal stresses—as well as trigger reliable self-healing properties—allow manufacturers to be more confident in using lighter weight materials.” [...]
Photovoltaic technology is constantly changing, and for the better. Two recent innovations inch solar energy closer to resounding success.
From artificial photosynthesis to algae-powered solar collectors, the ever-evolving field of renewable energy has seen significant innovations in the past few years. Two primary trajectories represent particularly notable breakthroughs in solar harvesting technologies.
The first addresses solar cell efficiency, or the percentage of sunlight that is converted into electricity. Currently, the most advanced single-crystalline silicon photovoltaics have an efficiency of about 25 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A new composite developed by Princeton University researchers promises to raise the bar significantly. [...]
Reaching Across Disciplines for Product Innovations
The world of design flourishes on technology transfer. Innovative breakthroughs in design occur when different disciplines borrow materials, techniques, and applications from others. This “sideways” approach enables architects to find new sources of inspiration by looking beyond their standard material palettes.
Apparel design has been of particular interest in architecture, which has a long tradition in textiles. As the Torino, Italy–based design firm Yet/Matilde demonstrates, furniture design can also benefit from the realm of textiles. Yet/Matilde’s Continuous Function furniture line explores the latent, multidimensional possibilities of structural fabrics. [...]
New technologies dissolve disciplinary boundaries.
One of the most compelling developments in lighting design is the way that new lighting technologies have encouraged the blurring of disciplinary boundaries. As new forms of illumination expand the capabilities of building systems and surfaces, lighting no longer operates as a discrete domain. Rather, the field has been making stronger connections to materials science, architecture, experience design, and engineering.
At a material level, scientific research has transformed the capacity of electric lighting, introducing novel substances like white light quantum dots, which can deliver more desirable light coloration, or projection surfaces made of micro-membranes. At a product level, luminaire design exhibits a trend that establishes more integral connections with architectural space. The result is a collection of multidimensional, sculptural objects that break away from the ceiling or wall surfaces to which they are typically adhered—allowing greater drama and flexibility, especially in the case of adaptive reuse settings. [...]
Virtual reality takes building models to the next level.
Remember the hype around virtual reality? The movement to create digitally constructed environments that stand in for real experiences took off in the 1990s with the development of computing technologies and gaming software. For architects looking to communicate their designs with greater realism, an immersive, stereoscopic visualization technique holds much appeal. However, virtual reality (VR) has been cumbersome to implement; VR labs often rely on the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment model—a small enclosure that limits the experience to one person at a time. Consequently, not many people have been seen wearing VR headsets lately. [...]
The parkour movement is becoming a design program in its own right, which has some architects—and everybody’s waistlines—rejoicing.
About one-third of youths and two-thirds of adults in America are overweight or obese. Although we have attributed our bulging waistlines to many factors, such as diet and genetics, the designed environment rarely receives the finger pointing. Our automobile-dependent suburbs and sedentary learning and work environments help us average more than 20 hours per day indoors. Designers have an opportunity—if not a responsibility—to encourage healthier lifestyles. [...]
Green Nation Fest was one of the most positive and progressive events in Rio this summer.
This summer, several events drew attention to the tropical metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. In June, the Rio+20 conference set out to make progress in global environmental policy. In August, Brazilian entertainers and celebrities previewed the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Amidst the hubbub, the inaugural Green Nation Fest—an event organized by the Center for Information, Culture and Environment to promote sustainable community development and living—slipped in. Designers and manufacturers from Brazil and beyond presented a compelling picture of contemporary and environmentally progressive product development. Three pioneering individuals stood out. [...]
Manufacturers and researchers are pursuing three tactics to reduce the environmental impact of the world’s most widely used manmade material.
When it comes to carbon emissions, one of the greatest offenders is undergoing a change of heart. Concrete, the most widely used building material and the third-largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the United States, easily clinches the title as the building material with the greatest environmental impact. Manufacturers, representing a once-unlikely breed of eco-conscious individuals, are leading the way in improving the carbon footprint of their building products. [...]