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Friday, November 12, 2021

Making Buildings Climate Fighting Tools – A Proposal at COP26

According to Bloomberg News, in the last twenty years, the building construction industry has been striving hard to bring the cost of carbon down that is associated with building materials and structures. The building industry’s contribution to carbon emissions is huge. As such, the decisions related to engineering and materials impact the climate to a great extent. This holds for the population that has exited the rural areas and poverty to move into the urban areas. 

There is one design firm that believes that designers must work beyond just the concept of achieving the “net zero” efficiency objective that are targeted bodies like the World Green Building Council. It said that for the next twenty years, the industry must focus on structures that will take in more carbon than give out, as per Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The main idea is to raise the materials, strategies, and technologies so that the buildings can become net negative emitters, changing the cities into efficient carbon sinks. 

As per Chris Cooper, who is a partner at SOM, the area that we must look forward to is to change the mindset and look beyond just the net-zero. He also said that buildings must be built so that they act more like trees that can absorb carbon. 


Designers at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill put forward a vision on behalf of the firm about “carbon net negative architecture” at the COP26 summit at Glasgow, November 11th. This is a provocation that has been named “Urban Sequoia“, which envisages the high-rising buildings and structures must make use of exotic technologies like “direct air capture” so that atmospheric carbon is absorbed, and biofuels are generated in the process. 

Bloomberg News states that the buildings in the presentation that the SOM partners have offered on the buildings and structures, Kent Jackson and senior associate Mina Hasman resemble vertical gardens that are in form of skyscrapers. The renderings are seen as tall glass towers with cutouts in between where it is seen that the urban forests are positioned. There are other avenues of carbon net-zero developments that can be made possible, which might also include mid-rise and low-rise developments. If these suggestions are taken together, it would serve as a complete makeover related to carbon typologies. 

The uniqueness of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Urban Sequoia presentation is not just a wash of green on the cityscape. Designers are also thinking as to how the natural function of the buildings could foster technologies related to climate mitigation. 

For example, direct air capture is a term that is applied for nascent or new technology that can give out liquid fuel from carbon dioxide in the air and will require fans that can absorb carbon dioxide in the air. There is a natural phenomenon present in the tall buildings that offer the so-called chimney or stack effect and could mechanically perform the function without the need to use electricity. 

According to Bloomberg News, architects aim at reducing the stack effect that causes hitches like differences in pressure at the entrance of elevator shafts and there can also be whistling sound. But if the configuration is likewise, the designers of buildings can make use of the stack effect as a passive method for generating fuel in the skyscrapers. 

The principal and co-leader of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s climate action group, Yasemin Kologlu says that the typology of the high-rise buildings is the most critical and difficult. According to Yasemin Kologlu, if the problem can be solved at this scale, it can as well be designed at the other levels too. 

Some of the ideas that have been proposed under the net-negative schema are more speculative. A pilot project in Hamburg, Germany makes use of a bioreactive façade so that renewable energy and heat make use of algae. This model could be used for generating biomass and heating building structures simultaneously. 

Kologlu states that in a world that is facing climate change, the architects must serve as a conduit between the R&D of materials and the building industry. If it does happen, the ideas will stand out. But Cooper also says that these ideas are not weird because when panels and rooftops were being used for trapping energy from the sun, more and more architects shifted to the solar industry, because of which the prices dropped. Similarly, the process could unravel along cumulative chains of technologies related to carbon capture, which is being envisioned by the Urban Sequoia framework, which also includes direct air capture, biofuel systems, and biocrete, which are carbon-negative materials. 

The Urban Sequoia is, however, a long way off. However, given the company’s global footprint and the regulations like the Second Bauhaus movement in Europe and Green New Deal for buildings, New York, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has an opportunity to experiment. This is what SOM prefers to do now. But above all, the designers want the people to think along similar lines.

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Josie Patra
Josie Patra is a veteran writer with 21 years of experience. She comes with multiple degrees in literature, computer applications, multimedia design, and management. She delves into a plethora of niches and offers expert guidance on finances, stock market, budgeting, marketing strategies, and such other domains. Josie has also authored books on management, productivity, and digital marketing strategies.

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