Imagine a world where architecture isn’t one of the most polluting industries in the world, but instead has a positive impact on people and the planet. At Mashable, we’ve long celebrated changemakers in architecture and design, those who seek environmentally responsible and informed ways to build our cities and towns, restore and prevent damage, and reuse materials.
In 2022, when climate-related news mostly brought anxiety and very real disasters, we chose hope over despair. We were inspired by the visionaries who walk the paths less traveled and dare to imagine, and then help build, a different future. We spoke to landscape architects working with nature to improve our cities, featured architects reverting to ancient building practices, and celebrated the ingenuity of designers who break the boundaries of imagination by turning solar panels into art and capturing the carbon in… the tiles.
Anxiety about climate change: how to stop the spiral and make a difference
If you missed them, here are some of the most exciting ideas in architecture and design.
In 1997, Yu Kongjian, a young landscape architect and Harvard graduate, returned to his native China and offered what was then considered a radical notion: that China’s monsoon climate is incompatible with the country’s adoption of western urbanization models. Yu’s theory was that removing natural organic matter from cities and replacing the ground with concrete turned cities into impermeable jungles that could lead to devastating floods. The antidote he offered was simple: nature itself can help prevent such disasters, just let it happen.
At the time, Yu was not taken seriously, but a tragic flood in Beijing in 2012 caused local authorities to reconsider his ideas. Today, so-called “sponge towns” are a national policy, and although the origins of the idea are too old to be traced precisely, the term “sponge towns” is uniquely Yu’s.
In August, we explored the genesis of Yu’s sponge cities, some of the architects applying the green city model on a global scale, and the effectiveness of sponge cities in the face of climate change. These include the story of the twin cities of Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) and Nogales, Arizona (USA) – a stark example of the damage that rapid urbanization can cause.
The expansion of urban infrastructure can sometimes benefit nature. During the construction of the Elizabeth Line, London’s most ambitious railway to date, more than 7 million tonnes of earth were excavated from the ground. Instead of wasting this precious material, Crossrail, the company that built the Elizabeth Line, donated around half of it to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The 3.5million tonnes of soil was shipped from London to the Essex coast where it was used to create a bird sanctuary.
With this delivery, the RSPB built sea defenses and restored lagoons and mudflats once native to the region but lost to agriculture, coastal erosion and rising sea levels. sea.
When we talk about climate change and cities, we need to look at how city dwellers get their energy. In some European cities, whose historic centers act as open-air museums, bulky, view-obstructing solar panels are banned by conservation laws. This makes sense, because since their genesis, solar panels have been seen primarily as an energy technological invention. Now that the technology has evolved, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. If cities want to produce their own energy on a large scale, says solar designer Marjan van Aubel, we also need to rethink the way solar panels look.
In September, van Aubel spoke to Mashable about the solar panels she designs and how aesthetics could also be the secret weapon we need to revolutionize the appeal of solar power.
What’s good for nature is often good for people too. Diana Kellogg’s Rajkumari Ratnavati School for Girls, a proud oval building in the Thar Desert, is proof of that. After her studio was commissioned to create the girls’ school in the town of Jailsamer (in the state of Rajasthan, India), Kellogg took an intersectional approach to building sustainably in the harsh desert conditions. To create a naturally cooled building, she used local materials and collaborated with local artisans who helped her recreate the region’s ancient building practices, with a modern twist. Cultural tradition was particularly important and Kellogg ensured that modesty screens in the form of reimagined jali walls created a safe environment for students while stimulating learning and play.
In terms of energy production and consumption, the school is self-sufficient, thanks to another mix between modernity and tradition. While the roofs are fitted with solar panels, the courtyard uses regional water harvesting techniques to store rainwater during the monsoon season.
In urban India, however, the concerns are quite different. 43 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world are located here, which is mainly due to heavy traffic, an even greater reliance on fossil fuels, and tire and waste burning practices. Among the many pollutants, black carbon (CO2e) is particularly harmful to human and environmental health.
At the same time, one of the important characteristics of carbon black is that it consists of particles that can be captured and prevented from entering the atmosphere. In an attempt to do just that, Mumbai-based studio Carbon Craft Design has found a way to recycle the pollutant by incorporating it into its tile design. According to the company, a single tile can prevent about five kilograms of black carbon from entering the atmosphere, equivalent to the pollution that a single car on the road produces in 15 minutes. And while the design won’t fight air pollution all at once, its small steps could turn into a giant leap if similar practices are adopted by the construction industry as a whole.
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