Archive for the 'Services' Category


Termite Tower Ultimately Sustainable

Termite Tower

What’s two miles high, a mile wide, and holds a million inhabitants? A termite tower reconceptualized for people. In gizmag, Loz Blain explores the implications of Eugene Tsui’s visionary approach to life on earth as it would be lived by upright bipeds in a group home designed by insects. Of course, termites don’t pay 150 billion dollars for their towers. Or maybe, in termite terms, they do? But here’s Blain, on why it’s so exciting anyway:

Designed to be virtually impervious to wind, water and earthquakes, the massive tower is conceived less as an architecture project but as a series of mini-ecosystems within which other architectural projects can be developed. And it offers some ingenious ideas on energy production, water use and intra-colony transport.

Of course, for now, the Ultima Tower remains in the realm of imagination. Lately, it no longer means anything to say a building looks science-fictional, because many now do. But this one really does. It belongs to a class of phenomena known as massive vertical solutions: huge megabuildings that actually contain whole towns, cities, or even countries. Eugene Tsui presents the tower as a framework in which many other smaller architectures can exist – including twelve large bodies of water. Plus, it sits in a lake, and the pedestrian bridges across the lake are curved, not straight. 120 levels are called for, each one of them as much as 50 meters high.

Tsui is famous for drawing inspiration from nature, though in a big-picture kind of way, it’s astonishing that looking to nature for workable, proven solutions should be considered unusual in any way. The idea for the tower came to him when engaged in a study of San Francisco, which clearly is in need of help if it is to remain livable. The architect says the whole area now has an “offensive countenance” – the best description of urban sprawl that’s been heard in a while.

The tower’s structural, water, energy, transport and safety issues are seen by the architect as the main challenges. That’s putting it mildly! Those categories cover just about everything.

So… how about those structural challenges? To distribute stress, you’ve got your double-helix cable network all around. Elsewhere, the tower described as a suspension cable bridge, only vertical. The aerodynamically valid shape resists earthquakes, and the whole thing is made from steel, concrete, stainless steel cable, anodized aluminum, ceramic, and glass.

Water? Tsui took a clue from how trees manage their hydraulics, and envisions a system of capillary action based on transpiration and cohesion to move water up. The cooling system imitates that of a termite mound, depending on water, though vegetation and windows also come into play. Also in the plans are natural water-cleansing systems and composting toilets.

Energy? The whole structure is covered with wind turbines and photovoltaic cells on walls of structural glass, and there will be a process called Atmospheric Energy Conversion. Energy comes from electricity, water or hydrogen gas, with nary a combustion engine to be found anywhere in the tower. One light source is the hollow, mirrored core and allowance is made for the need of plants to maintain tropism.

On the Ultima’s own site, we learn such interesting statistics as the amount of time an elevator takes to get to the top: about ten minutes. Of course, termites don’t have elevators. But, leaving that aside, should humanity emulate termites? Is this project feasible in the real world?

SOURCE: “Two-mile high termite nest proposed to counter the population challenge”05/05/08
photo courtesy of jonrawlinson , used under this Creative Commons license


Dinkins Gardens: Innovative Ventilation Only One of Many Features

Harlem Overlook

Recently, Anuradha Kher reported in Multi-Housing News on the completion of an ambitious project, an 85-unit apartment complex designed for both sustainability and affordability. Located in Harlem, David & Joyce Dinkins Gardens allots nearly one-third of its apartments to young people who have graduated out of foster care situations, with the remainder of the units meant for residents who make less than the area’s median income. (Incidentally, since an illustration of Dinkins Gardens was not available, the photo above is one titled “Harlem Overlook.”)

Designed by Dattner Architects, the building was created with the reduction of both energy demands and water use in mind. The mechanical systems are energy-efficient, and each apartment has its own electric meter, so tenants can experience the satisfaction of seeing a cause-and-effect relationship between their good conservation habits and their electric bills. There is a modular green roof system. Rainwater is harvested from the roof, stored in tanks, and used for the community garden. The roof terrace and backyard garden are important components in the quality-of-life goals the designers aimed for.

During construction, non-toxic paints and sealants were used as much as possible, and many of the materials used were recycled or locally made. As an energy-saving bonus, Dinkins Gardens lies nearby to mass transit. Solar shading, high-performance insulation, and operable windows are all part of the HVAC plan, and in fact the most innovative thing about the project seems to be the individually ventilated apartments, as described by Kher:

Fresh air is drawn into each apartment through window “trickle vents” and expelled horizontally at the façade through voids in the concrete plank. Instead of using vertical ducts that can allow smoke or smells to be transferred between apartments, each apartment is individually ventilated, resulting in better indoor air quality.

The project was developed by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI) a non-profit interfaith group comprising more than 90 congregations, which owns and manages the building. In keeping with the organization’s mission, Dinkins Gardens also contains space for the Construction Trades Academy, HCCI’s job training and job placement program specializing in access to construction industry careers.

The co-developer is Jonathan Rose Companies, which incidentally produces a marvelous newsletter that is not just a PR vehicle, but contains many articles with substance. Kher quotes Jonathan Rose:

“Dinkins Gardens is the new model for affordable housing. Green projects like these are tremendous investments in the future of the community. By integrating social services, job training, affordable housing and green design, we’re modeling what the future of Harlem and New York City – in fact, cities nationwide – can be….Green building is particularly important for affordable housing because it protects residents from rising energy costs and promotes good health.”

Dinkins Gardens is not the only such Harlem project to reach completion in April. The Kalahari is a mixed-income development of 249 units, built to LEED Certification standards. A quarter of its energy needs will be supplied by solar and wind sources.

New York City has been making sustainability news lately. The executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council, New York chapter, announced his picks for ten green places in the metropolis, including the Conde Nast Building, the Schermerhorn Building, General Theological Seminary, the Visitor Center at Queens Botanical Garden, and the offices of the Natural Resource Defense Council. In lower Manhattan, Battery Park City boasts four LEED-certified buildings.

The venerable YMCA Young Men’s Institute, which opened in 1885 and later became a loft co-op, will soon house a 3,000-square-foot Green Depot showroom.

Now that New York City has made such an excellent start, is there any limit to how green it can become?

SOURCE: ” $19.5M Affordable, Green Project Opens in New York City” 4/01/08
photo courtesy of striatic , used under this Creative Commons license


Green, Eco-friendly, and Sustainable Architecture

Caltrans Building Aerial View

What uses the most electricity, more than half of the total electricity generated in the United States? Buildings that are four stories high or taller, says Michael Martinez in the Chicago Tribune. He succinctly explains what is being done about this by the U.S. Green Building Council:

The non-profit council implements a universally accepted method for authenticating a green building, under a rating system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)…The project is awarded “points” for the sustainability features until it achieves certification, which has four levels: basic, silver, gold and platinum…California and many other states now require that all new government buildings be certified as “green,” or eco-friendly. Officials also are stepping up efforts to set an example for the private sector.

For example, the California Department of Transportation regional headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, which occupies a whole city block and is 13 stories high, has healthy air inside, and plentiful natural lighting. It opened nearly four years ago. One of the features that helped it gain a LEED silver level certification is the wall of solar panels. In its chapter on heating, ventilating and air conditioning, Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, has this to say:

For commercial/institutional structures in particular, the use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is becoming rather common. In such cases, PV modules may be sufficiently integrated into the roof or walls of the structure so that they provide the exterior barrier to the elements. Because of this integration of the PV system with the building envelope, it is particularly important that the architect be intimately involved in the design and specification of such a system.

It appears that the General Services Administrations, i.e., the federal government, is the nation’s largest commercial tenant, which puts the government in a position to encourage green building through a number of incentives, like tax breaks, and with disincentives. Over the last six years, 24 states have initiated programs that spell out requirements. So far there are around 1300 certified green buildings in America, although somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 applications await the council’s attention.

Every day, some community announces a national “first”. In Elkhart, Indiana, there’s the first theological library to be registered with the USGBC. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has the first LEED-certified carbon neutral building, the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, which also was named a top-ten green project by the American Institute of Architects. Wisconsin is also working on the state’s first LEED-certified jail. Recently in Washington, the Public Utility Districts Association headquarters became the state’s first new construction project to snag a LEED platinum rating. In New York there is Dinkins Gardens, Harlem’s first green building that is 100 percent for low-income residents. The state of Illinois boasts 18 LEED-certified buildings including five public libraries, a high school, a police headquarters, and the renowned Merchandise Mart.

California is really surging ahead in the race to green. The first LEED-certified parking structure recently opened in Santa Monica. San Francisco has the nation’s first LEED-certified medical spa. In Paso Robles, the River Oaks Center is the first building to be pre-certified gold. In Hemet, the Water + Life Museums complex is the first museum to be certified at the platinum level. It is part of the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology.

What makes some people nervous is that green-only construction adds about 5% to a building’s cost. But developers and builders are assured that such cost can be made up in energy savings within the first couple of years of the building’s operation. It’s one thing to have a brand-new building certified because all the correct elements are in place. How are green measures working out over time?

SOURCE: ” Push on to Make Buildings Grow Green ” 04/21/08
photo courtesy of Mr. Littlehand , used under this Creative Commons license


UC Boulder’s Solar Decathlon Entry Open to Public

Solar Decathlon entry, CU Boulder

As of April 22, the University of Colorado at Boulder offers tours of its 2007 entry in the Solar Decathlon competition, which took third place in the engineering category and seventh place overall in this nationwide design competition for solar dwellings, sponsored yearly by the Departmant of Energy. The most original aspect is the building’s provision for heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning. Here is the team’s description:

The heat pump connected between the hot and cold tanks will heat the hot tank and cool the cold tank at very high efficiency. The storage tanks enhance the efficiency of the system compared to a conventional heat pump by optimizing the time – and temperatures – at which energy is transferred to and from the outdoor environment. For example, in winter, the main heating needs occur at night when it is coldest outdoors… The storage tanks in our system allow us to bridge the gap between day and night to improve system efficiency. The cold tank even includes encapsulated ice to expand the thermal storage capacity with a relatively small tank volume.

While it’s true that the system works optimally in a Colorado-like climate, that climate does prevail over much of the western part of the United States. Generally, it’s dry, the sun shines all day, and at night the temperature drops dramatically. Like buildings equipped with the passive systems we’ve been used to, this house makes use of the natural temperature variations, only it uses mechanical systems to manage the transfer of energy. The peculiarities of the climate make it feasible to use radiant cooling.

The house contains a modular, prefabricated engineering spine, made from surplus shipping containers, which holds the heat exchangers along with the kitchen, bathroom, laundry and equipment spaces. Since the windows are high-performance and the house is well insulated, the perimeters can take care of themselves, so the centralizing of heat and cold at the spine provides several advantages.

The design team used EnergyPlus energy simulation software to predict air and surface temperatures and operative temperatures, and PHOENICS, a program that anaylzes flow and stress, and TRNSYS, which simulates the transient performance of thermal energy systems.

Solar energy heating and cooling systems are described in lavish detail in the Services section of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition. After structural considerations, HVAC is considered the second most important area of building design to get right, since it impacts the budget so greatly both in the construction phase and ever afterwards in the operating expense due to energy use. It can occupy as much as 10% of a building’s floor area, and deeply affect the building’s aesthetics. The comfort of occupants is of course a primary consideration in most buildings, and can be of critical importance when a building is used for storage, processing or manufacturing.

Now that the CU Boulder team’s house is back from the competition in Washington, D.C., and various other travels, it will be made available not only for tours but even for private parties — by reservation only, of course.

SOURCE: “Heat from Ice?” (no author or date given)
photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina , used under this Creative Commons license


Very Tall Buildings, Imaginary and Real

Taipei 101, currently world\'s tallest

For Wired magazine, Rob Beschizza put together an interesting collection of pictures titled “Mile High Skyscrapers and Floating Cities That Never Were.” In contrast, we’ll also look at some of the proceedings of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. But first, the visionary products of several imaginations, considered by Beschizza, whose introduction goes like this:

With the space age entering its crassly commercial phase and science fiction dominated by gritty dystopian visions, you could be forgiven for giving up on the future. But not everyone has. With Dubai’s 800-meter-tall Burj Dubai skyscraper almost complete, starry-eyed visions of tomorrow’s cities are more popular than they’ve been in 50 years.

Here’s a collection of promised skylines we never got to see — and a few that may yet come to be — as seen from the imagined eyes of those who live there.

The collection includes the Illinois, which Frank Lloyd Wright never was able to build; a Moscow skyscraper whose construction only got as far as its enormous base before World War II intervened; various arcologies; proposed mile-high towers in Kuwait City and Jeddah; and the three-mile avenue with gigantic buildings along both sides which Albert Speer proposed for the Berlin city center.

The tallest building ever to boast a complete set of blueprints, Beschizza points out, was a proposed building called the X-Seed, which the Taisei Corporation designed back in the mid-Nineties. It would have exceeded Mount Fuji in height. He also looks at an abandoned North Korean project, the Ryugyong Hotel, which apparently had to be given up because the construction materials just didn’t hold together. Then there was the Ultima Tower, designed by Eugene Tsui, whose footprint would have covered two square miles.

Regardless of the difficulties, other very tall structures have emerged from the imagination into reality. On their website, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat gives an overview of the recent 8th World Congress, whose theme was “Tall and Green: Typology for a Sustainable Urban Future.”

It was a record event for the Council, with 954 delegates including more than 50 members of the press in attendance…Amongst the attendees were a number of the most prominent faces in the architecture, engineering and construction industry…. In addition to panel sessions and workshops, attendees were invited to participate in technical tours to local tall buildings and mega projects including the Burj Dubai, now the world’s tallest building under construction…

Held in Dubai, the event drew experts in all aspects of tall building development, from 43 countries. For those who missed it, the website includes a complete list of all the papers and videos available for downloading. These range from “A Vision for the World’s Tallest” to “Engineering the World’s Tallest.” Topics considered by the Congress included all the same matters as would be taken into account with any building, yet with extreme altitude there are unavoidable differences, since certain problems do not grow arithmetically with height, they grow geometrically, exponentially.

The Congress explored everything from aesthetics to economics, looking at all aspects of sustainability, of which there are many, in relation to very tall buildings. How to save material in a tall building structure; how to be both tall and green at the same time. Is elevator technology keeping up with the need for it? What about ventilation? What kinds of energy can be harnessed, and how? What will wind and fire do? What are the options for evacuation in the event of disaster? What’s the psychological effect on the people who live and/or work in incomprehensibly elevated spaces? What kind of noise will the building require them to put up with? Papers were presented on “Nonlinear Dynamic Earthquake Analysis” and on hydraulic dampers to absorb seismic shock. One presenter issued a call for tall buildings to become less iconic and more specific. Another explored the concept of “the Vertical Farm: the sky-scraper as vehicle for a sustainable urban agriculture.”

There seems to be spirited debate in some quarters, over how high a building can or should be. Any additional thoughts are welcome here.

SOURCE: “Mile High Skyscrapers and Floating Cities That Never Were” 04/17/08
photo courtesy of leonghimwoh , used under this Creative Commons license


Rainwater Harvesting at the University of Georgia, Athens

Water Drop

From OnlineAthens comes a report about the University of Georgia’s latest water conservation project, a $600,000 cistern adjacent to the Tate Student Center. This is not the first cistern to grace the UGA grounds. The old ROTC building and the Paul D. Coverdell Building already had smaller cisterns. Several months ago, the university’s Ad-Hoc Task Force on Water Resources issued a report which describes the many measures the campus had been taking even before this current project began. Lee Shearer describes the latest addition to the campus:

The box is a giant cistern designed to collect rain and condensation from the building’s air conditioning system, and a real example of the kind of water-saving features UGA planners are including in new UGA buildings these days…The cistern is expected to save nearly a million gallons of water a year, which can be used to flush toilets in the Tate addition and irrigate landscaping beside the building.

The “box,” made of steel-reinforced concrete, is basically a 12-foot by 12-foot tank with a length of 70 feet. When fully operational, the massive collection system will claim an astonishing 95% of rainwater from the roof of the Tate Center and a nearby building. That adds up to a hefty 880,000 gallons per year, according to Holder Construction, which is also in charge of the overall student center expansion project.

At any given time, the cistern will be able to hold as much as 50,000 gallons of water, which will supply about half the building’s toilet-flushing needs, and also keep some of the landscaping green. This is especially important because in recent years, the University, long known for its picturesque beauty, has increasingly sacrificed aesthetics to the demands of necessity. Nobody likes to see brown lawns, so it is hoped that the latest effort to collect water will alleviate further need to under-hydrate the foliage. UGA feels strongly about its obligation to not only conserve water for its own sake, but as a publicly-supported learning institution, to set a good example and save the taxpayers’ money.

The other interesting part of this report concerns a new organization, a local chapter of Emerging Green Builders, which comprises not only students, but area professionals. A spinoff of the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization enables youth to become involved in green building in their own local environments, utilize the resources of the USGBC, and set up local events. To this end, Emerging Green builders sponsors an annual design competition and helps match up students and graduates to jobs.

In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, the chapter on Plumbing includes a helpful chart of cistern types, categorized according to material, features, and cautions. Many factors need to be taken into consideration when designing a cistern, and this outline covers them all. AGS also lists on page 416 the reasons for the current interest in rain water collection:

  • Escalating environmental and economic costs of providing water by centralized water systems or by well drilling.
  • The relatively pure, soft, low-sodium water source that rain water harvesting offers.
  • Health concerns over the source and treatment of polluted waters.
  • A perception that there are cost efficiencies associated with reliance on rain water.

The last point is worthy of discussion. How is this working out? Is rain water harvesting cost efficient, or not?

SOURCE: ” Tate Center site showcases new water-saving cistern ” 04/16/08
photo courtesy of venkane , used under this Creative Commons license