the other day i spotted an even scarier assessment of the current climate crisis our planet is facing. treehugger had an article in which they were citing a new calculation that claimed the arctic ice cap could be gone by as earlier as this summer. while earlier estimates ranged from 5 to 100 years, two of the more well known are 2013 and 2030. of course the process by which the polar ice caps disintegrate is exponentially sped up by increasingly lower and lower local and global albedo levels. that is to say, as the ice melts by means of a hotter climate due to global warming, less and less bright white, reflective ice remains on the globe to reflect large quantities of sunlight. in turn, more and more dark bodied water is exposed that absorbs more and more of the sun’s heat, thus speeding the process exponentially. when the polar ice caps disappear there will be little to nothing left to stem the tide of global warming: fears of dramatically rising sea levels inundating coastal cities, desertification of the subtropics, unpredictable and violent weather patterns (not to mention the exposure to increasingly vast amounts of ultraviolet rays and heat in general), and biological effects galore such as species collapse.
of course not everything is doom and gloom; no arctic ice cap means the opening of the famed northwest passage including increased coastlines at the poles. the world’s food producing locations and robust economies will surely shift poleward as well. of course, the precious few benefits come at devastatingly alarming costs. regardless, let’s all hope we can get our acts together and stem the tide of global warming.
coming just days on the heels of the hyder consulting announcement that they are working on a mile high skyscrapper comes the announcement that populararchitecture is also working on a mile high tower of their own. if built, the populararchitecture tower would be located in london. unlike the hyder structure, populararchitecture has released renderings that show the immense scale of such a building, a scale that as i accurately hypothesized before, is completely out of touch with everything human. according to inhabitat, the tower would rise some 500 stories and, “would contain schools and hospitals to shops and pubs, and everything else under the sun.”
additionally, this structure is to be environmentally friendly, though any skeptic would be quick to point out the sheer absurd abundance of materials, resources, and energy required to build and maintain such a structure. though it is true, such a design emphasizes efficiency in the way we live and minimizes our literal footprint on the earth’s surface as a function of living vertically as opposed to horizontally. personally, i don’t see any way either of these towers get the go-ahead anytime in the near future. regardless, i should hope at the least these proposal generate discourse about the way we live and how we should be living. are towers of this size necessary? despite being green, what are their environmental impacts? how do incredible dense footprints such as this affect the vibrancy of the neighborhoods surrounding them? surely though possible, the designers don’t actually intend the residence never leave the structure? while certainly fascinating ideas, i for one prefer not to see these built for fear of shattering delicate urban fabrics and destroying the delicate scalar balance of human existence.
coming promptly on the heels of our discussion about ending our addiction to oil came an announcement from the federal government that they had chosen a site in illinois for the first “clean coal” power plant to be built (at a cost of $1.8 billion, with a “b”). no amount of architectural refinement (as seen above) can disguise the fact that this is still a coal power plant. why are we insisting on pursuing such backwards technology? proponents of the new “clean coal” technology argue that it is pollution free; that statement is a serious misguided diagnosis. it is true, coal at this plant will not be burned in the way it traditionally would, rather it under goes a process called gasification in which energy is harvested from the coal without burning it. unfortunately, this still produces enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. the “solution” is carbon capture and sequestration. the carbon capture process is exactly what it sounds like: capture all the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and put it somewhere else. where? pump it under ground. i see a few obvious problems with this. for starters the entire principle hinges on the fact that you can construct a volume that is totally impermeable to gas, meaning that it wont leak out into the environment anyways (and it must essentially last forever). second, if you store enough of the carbon dioxide, under pressure as the plan calls for, aren’t we in fact creating a ticking time bomb underground? it’s spent nuclear fuel all over again. in 50, 100, 200 years (if it makes it that long) what is to stop someone from inadvertently digging into this storage space and releasing the gas, or worse causing an explosion while releasing the gas. of course none of this even addresses the issue of harvesting the coal to begin with, a process that is already incredible harmful to the environment (then of course the transportation of the coal, etc.). instead, why don’t we stop investing in technology that is barely a stop gap (if at all) and start employing the alternative technologies that are already available while pursuing braver, bolder, truly innovative technologies that are whole-heartedly sustainable, not just in name only. why don’t we increase wind farms, wave harvesting, solar farms, or geothermal technologies on the scale of $1.8 billion and see how many homes we can power and how much farther innovation advances. practically speaking of course, it makes exponentially more sense to generate much smaller amounts of power where it will actually be used as a large percentage of usable power is lost in “transportation/delivery.” this is why we must rethink how we design our buildings. we must increase passive heating and cooling technologies by way of materials, construction, and design. we must utilize these new innovative technologies to maximize the resources made available on site: rain water catchment, greywater systems, daylighting, building integrated photovoltaics or wind turbines just to name the tip of the iceberg. enough with the antiquated technologies that got us in this catastrophic climate mess. let’s use our minds, treat this like a design problem, and move forward.
yesterday abc news was reporting that everyone’s favorite search giant, google, is venturing into the utility business. with a goal of making renewable energy as cheap as coal, google announced they plan in invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, design, engineering, and implementation of three different renewable systems: solar thermal, geothermal, and high-altitude wind. google’s rationale for the move is two-fold: first, google’s servers use an incredible amount of energy themselves and investing in renewable resources to meet these power demands makes good business sense. second, according to google, they recognize the reality of the seriousness of climate change and they feel that they have both the brain power and the money to change the way we live. regardless of their motivations, a company like this investing heavily in renewable energy research and development is extremely commendable. if google can, in fact, manage to develop technology that reduce the cost of renewable energy into the range of coal it would be a huge positive for the world around us.
i found thomas matthews book, “ten ways design can fight climate change” over at mocoloco yesterday. now to most of us there is nothing earth shattering in those pages and much of it is very basic. nonetheless, i think that’s where the book’s success lies. the simple matter-of-fact way in which mr. matthews spells out ten logical, rational, and simple ways to use design to fight climate change is wonderfully commendable. the book is brief, to the point, and punctuated with very small examples (often personal) for each topic. the best part though, is that the treatise is available free via pdf, which, of course, just goes hand in hand with being sustainable. i would recommend this quick read to everyone, even if you are well versed in the areas of environmentally responsible design it’s worth reading through to remind yourself. you can view/download the book here.
according to the plumen project’s website, “the plumen low energy light bulb prototype is a reaction to the lack of real diversity, imagination, and personality offered by the market today.” as a hugler spin-off the plumen design was inspired by contemporary “lightwriting.”
using the tublar form of the bulb’s fluorescent cavity to their advantage, the designers spun up some surely fantastic forms.
i find it fascinating to see the wide variety of forms the plumen folks came up with. after all, why does a light bulb have to be pure utility? can’t it too be activated by design? the folks working on the plumen project sure think so and i for one agree. these are fun (and at 2700 kelvin a nice warm cfl light), i certainly hope they find their way to the market.
the new york times has an insightful article today about some of the new innovative automotive designs and technologies rolling off the production lines these days (including the three-wheel beauty, the venture vehicle, above, designed by ian bruce). the venture vehicle is the bizarre love-child of a motorcycle and a sports car. the car features a much smaller and lighter frame which inherently allows for improved fuel consumption. add that to electric hybrid motor and you have one good-looking fuel-efficient vehicle. head on over and read the full article for stories about a number of other new hybrid or all-electric cars currently in design, prototyping, or even production phases (naturally coming in all shapes, sizes, and powertrains).
i found this idea at yanko design this afternoon. how smart! designed of simple ceramic and sized accordingly, you can use your outdated radiator to keep coffee and food warm without expending extra energy to heat it, passively warming the way we live.
the new york times had three articles over the past two days worth noting here, each was quite well-written and very informative. the first is mark landler’s “high-priced oil adds volatility to power scramble” (picture above). as oil prices approach $100 a barrel and 3,000,000,000 new customers “walk onto the scene” as author thomas friedman puts it (india, china, etc) and geopolitical relationships become increasingly tenuous it becomes ever more clear exactly how important investing in sustainable and renewable energy technologies.
the second article is by matthew wald called “the carbon calculus.” mr. wald’s article talks about the growing push for a carbon tax and how such a tax would affect the way we live and the world around us. in fact, mr. wald argues that many companies are already budgeting for such a tax and if it were to get above $10 a metric ton (especially more than $25/ton) renewable energies not only become cost effective, but actually cheaper…today.
the last article worth mentioning is “the antisuburbanites” by a series of three authors. “the antisuburbanites” is about exactly what it says it is about; it documents three different families, one in london, one in new york, and one in los angeles who manage to find enjoyable ways to live and raise a family in the urban setting. it’s a fascinating article filled with a bunch of great architectural subtones.