Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The building which led to the future in the skyscrapers

Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, widely considered to be the world’s first modern skyscraper is supported, both inside and outside, by a fireproof metal frame. Constructed in 1884 in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the building was designed by American engineer William Le Baron Jenney. This was the first tall building to use structural steel in its frame. 

Jenney's lightweight steel frame relieved a structure of its heavy masonry shackles, enabling it to soar to new heights. Perplexed by this trade-in of solid brick for a spindly steel skeleton, Chicago inspectors paused the construction of the Home Insurance Building until they were certain it was structurally sound. 

The Home Insurance Building stood until 1931, when it was demolished to make way for another skyscraper, the Field Building (now known as the LaSalle Bank Building).

The sky is the limit for wooden buildings

Skyscraper and tall buildings have started to choke the atmosphere. In Britain alone, 47% of greenhouse gas emissions are generated from buildings, while 10% of CO2 emissions come from construction materials. Architects and engineers are now seeking new ways of building taller and faster without having such a drastic impact on the environment. And they are now looking at  the most basic building material of them all: wood.

Wooden skyscrapers could be the future of flat-pack cities around the world, says Athlyn Cathcart-Keays in an article published The Guardian. The development of engineered timber could herald a new era of eco-friendly ‘plyscrapers’. Christchurch welcomed its first multistorey timber structure this year, there are plans for Vancouver, and the talk is China could follow.

Wood in its raw form can not compete with iron or steel, therefore, layers of low-grade softwood are glued together to create timber panels. The “engineered timber” offers the prospect of a new era of eco-friendly “plyscrapers”.

For Vancouver-based architect Michael Green, the sky is the limit for wooden buildings. While nearing completion of the University of Northern British Columbia’s Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, Green’s practice, MGA, has also drawn up plans for a 30-storey, sun-grown tower for downtown Vancouver.

If built, Green’s vision would be easily the world’s tallest wooden building, soaring past the current contenders - London’s Stadthaus at nine storeys, and the 10-storey Forte Building in Melbourne. But that’s not the main motivation, according to MGA associate Carla Smith. “To be honest, it’s not like we really care about being the tallest,” she says. “We really do see a wooden future for cities, and our aim is to get others to jump on board too.” 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Impact of Architecture on Health and Wellbeing

Architecture is probably the last thing that comes to our mind when we discuss public health. But the influence it makes on us is very significant. Architecture helps shape the quality of our environments and therefore certainly contribute to health and wellbeing of the public.

Architects have a big role to play in shaping the qualities of our environment and this promote our mental and physical health and make us happy. They are able to do this because they work in close collaboration with people who will use the space designed by them and also understands their needs and ambitions. And when a architect designs something that honours the needs and wellbeing of those who will use it, he actually determines how well a community lives and thrives.

Similarly, good architecture can help to create spaces in homes and hospitals that have the provision of treatment or support for those suffering with illness or trauma and also for caregivers. Architects through their intelligent architecture designs can ensure a positive prognosis for the future of healthcare by creating buildings that are good for body (health) and mind. This can surely be achieved if architects ensure multifunctional use of space (in hospitals) that is not only efficient but also provide privacy for every patient. Not only the comforts be kept in mind but also storage and entertainment systems should be such that patients feel as if they are being treated at home.

The public, healthcare professionals and architects must collaborate to provide quality healthcare architecture offering long-term benefits for their users.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wind for Power and Water: Ancient Persian Windmills

Green buildings, sustainable energy, utilizing natural light and water may all sound recently coined buzz-phrases but in reality these concepts dates back to tens of thousands of years. From Greece and Rome to Persia and North America, our ancestors had innovative concepts to use geothermal, water, wind and solar power. 

Ancient Persian windmills are perfect examples of how wind was utilized for power and water. Some 3000 years before in ancient Persia, windmills were used to grind grain and pump water. Vertical paddles were created by bundling reeds together and these paddles spun around a central axis. Carefully placed exterior walls ensured that wind would primarily drive the potentially bidirectional system in the desired direction. 

Images via: Ullesthorpe, Blue Planet, Deutsches Museum and World of Energy

Green Building Congress announces three new rating systems

The Indian Green Building Council recently announced its own rating system for new buildings. Till now the US Leed certification was followed in rating new buildings in India. The three new  rating systems will cover schools, metro rail projects and new buildings. Announcing the launching of the three systems at the CII Green Building Congress 2014, Prem C Jain, Chairman of IGBC, said the New Building Rating System comes in the backdrop of IGBC and US Green Building Council parting ways on the Leed certification programme. "We have adopted this approach as we believe India could become a next big Green Building base in the world,” he said.

India now has a registered green building base of over 2.2 billion sq.ft, which has been achieved in about 10 years. The Indian Green Building Council is aiming to have a registered base of about 10 billion sq.ft by 2022, when India would be 75 years after Independence.

A portal has also been created to facilitate online interface on green building rating systems.

Friday, September 5, 2014

AIIMS campus in Delhi to become climate-responsive

Ministry of Health has recently taken initiative to make AIIMS campus in Delhi climate-responsive. Renowned solar expert SP Gon Chowdhury will attempt to make the half-century-old All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) campus in Delhi energy efficient. Gon Chowdhury will also be advising the ministry to ensure that the new AIIMS units proposed in different states - including West Bengal - become 'green buildings'. The task to make AIIMS in Delhi climate responsive will be a tough one. The buildings of the institute dates back to the 1950s, and therefore large-scale retrofit will be  required. Though installing solar panels on the roof will be easy, conserving water, capturing daylight and managing solid waste effectively will be difficult.

"To reach the ultimate goal of a climate-responsive campus, we have to modernize the buildings so that they are more efficient. There are systems and technologies like solar dome to capture daylight and stream it through highly reflective 2-3 inch tubes. This can be used to light up an entire building during the day without the need to switch on electric lights," Gon Chowdhury explained. He also wish to capture the heat generated by air-conditioners and then use it to generate thermal power.

"Retrofit is happening everywhere including Italy, Latin America, the US, Australia and Germany. While any retrofit is a challenge, the bigger hurdle is to change the mindset so that people recognize the importance of being energy-efficient and carbon neutral," said Gon Chowdhury.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Delhi schools to try out solar power!

In order to utilize solar power, several public schools are considering setting up roof-top solar power plants in New Delhi. According to a report published in Times of India, the environment department of Delhi government has already installed roof-top solar power plants in four government schools - Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalayas in Mayur Vihar Phase I, Mangolpuri, Jwalapuri and RK Puram, Sector 12. These solar plants will produce 10 kilowatt each.

Vasant Valley School had set its plant up about a year-and-a-half ago and it takes care of about a third of our power requirement, informs Rekha Krishan, Principal of the school. Laxman Public School, too had tried to set up solar power plants for the hostel a couple of years ago, but it didn't work for them at that time. Usha Ram, principal,is considering to take it up again with the help of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). "We need it for our own requirement. We just need proper assistance," she says. 

According to a senior official in the environment department, the projects at government schools will be funded by a mix of government agencies—30% by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and 70% by Delhi government. The Delhi State Industrial And Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd will provide technical support. "The equipment has been installed but will be commissioned in a month or so," said the official.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Architects Can Now Test Energy Efficiency Before Construction!

A California lab has designed a rotating, customizable lab that allows commercial real estate developers to create mock-ups of planned buildings to test out their energy use. According to a story published in GreenWire, the architects can test the energy efficiency of the interior of a building before the building is constructed. This Energy Department-funded 'Flexlab', is aimed at bridging the gulf between expected savings from buildings’ efficiency and actual results.

Buildings which consume up to 40 percent of the country’s (USA) energy use often don’t deliver on their promises of efficiency. According to a study, it was found that a quarter of efficiently designed buildings underestimated their energy intensity by at least 25 percent.

“If we don’t really bend the curve on efficiency, we’re just not going to make the targets,” he said. “You’re going to have to pull together every muscle and sinew, and that’s what this facility does,” said Daniel Poneman, DOE Deputy Secretary. 

The lab facility, which was funded with $15.7 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allows building planners to create mock-ups of their interiors to see how they perform in the real world with an eye toward collecting data on energy efficiency as well as comfort and ease of use. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Could This Mushroom Building Be The Future Of Green Architecture?

The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program, since last 15 years, challenges young architects to design innovative projects that bring new possibilities to our understanding of sustainable architecture. This year's winning project is a cylindrical tower which isn't quite manufactured but grown! The tower is 'grown' using entirely organic material made from cornstalks and the root-like structures of mushrooms, called mycelium. Designed by David Benjamin of New York architects The Living, is, simply put, a mushroom tower. And this mushroom tower could change the future of environmental design.

"In this project, we're using a living organism as a factory. So the living organism of mycelium, or hyphae, which is basically a mushroom root, basically makes our bricks for us," explained designer Benjamin. These mushroom roots, created by Ecovative in 2007, up till now have mostly been used as a packaging material. 

To create the brick substitute, the mixture of cornstalk and mushroom root is left to harden for several days into a sturdy solid through an entirely natural cycle requiring nearly no waste, nearly no energy and nearly no carbon emissions. Essentially, the architects channel the "biological algorithm" of mushroom roots to grow a building from the ground up. The entire growing process takes around five days.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus, Seattle, Washington is the largest non-profit LEED-NC Platinum project in the world


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle, Washington is the largest non-profit LEED-NC Platinum project in the world. The sustainable design of the campus reduces the potable water use by 80 percent, and energy consumption by 40 percent - an upfront investment in this 100-year, energy-efficient building that will pay for itself in fewer than 30 years. The 640,000 square feet campus restores a wildlife habitat while hosting a major philanthropic organization. 

The campus which hosts largest LEED-NC Platinum building in the world today, once hosted railway trestles, homesteads, farming, a street-car barn and a bus barn. The campus now helps restore 40% of the campus back to being a wild bird habitat and this being done with two acres of vegetated roofs on parking structures, which feature edible plants like blueberries, huckleberries and red flowering currant. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus also have an intricate rainwater filtering system and 46 solar hot water collectors, saving energy along with birds - and if the foundation's will is done, the world.

This LEED Platinum campus enables its workforce to focus on their mission: giving all people a chance to live healthy and productive lives. A post-occupancy research findings claims a 90% staff satisfaction rating for the new workplace and higher degrees of cross-team collaboration.