January 3, 2008

Tower of Tomorrow

After a month-long hiatus, I am back with a vengeance. Okay... maybe I don't have a vengeance, but as my high school football coach used to say, now I'm "cooking with gas." Did you think I was gone for good? That's crazy-talk. I've got a bunch of posts lined up and although I've been busy at work, I am determined to continue with The Marshall Plan. I started writing here ONE YEAR AGO. It's hard to imagine... happy anniversary to me! Hurray! Okay, enough gloating, it's time to get started.

I came across an article about a very cool building design today on a website that's new to me called Inhabitat, which seems to focus on "green" architecture and construction. The building is titled the Tower of Tomorrow, because the design calls for this project to produce its very own power -- talk about sustainable design! Inhabitat links from Fortune, which actually has an 11-page article about this building, complete with renderings and lots of details. You really have to check it out.

This building was designed by William McDonough, founder and principal of William McDonough & Partners, who notes that the tower "actually imitates nature" and "is like a tree." McDonough, born in Tokyo in 1951, is no stranger to green architecture/design -- in 1977 he was the first person to design a solar-powered home, which was located in Ireland. Fortune Magazine calls him the "father of green design," and Inhabitat even calls McDonough's newest design a "treescraper." Some of the design aspects in this Tower of Tomorrow that contribute to the idea of sustainable design and art imitating nature include:

  • Curved forms (which increase structural structural stability, maximize enclosed space, reduce construction material needs, and diffuse the impact of wind via aerodynamics -- hey, I studied aerodynamics!)

  • Treetops (instead of rooftops, ground cover on the building's roof helps to regulate temperature, protect waterproof coatings, and absorb/clean storm water)

  • Atriums (a series of three-story atriums lines the western facade of the building, while the northern facade consists of clear glass covered with positively-charged moss -- the atrium plants clean interior air, and the mosses actually absorb particulates in the air)

  • Water treatment (greenhouse gardens cleanse the building's water, recycling it for drinking or non-potable usage)

  • Design for location (the building's shape and orientation are specifically designed for its site, allowing for maximum sunlight capture from the park at the southern elevation and maximum sunlight exposure at street level)

  • Solar power (all that extra sunlight hitting the building due to the park located to the south can be collected by 100,000 sqft of photovoltaic panels lining the building's southern elevation)

  • Building skin (layered materials form the exterior structure of this tower and each layer serves a purpose, whether it be weatherization, insulation, or transparency)

  • Energy-saving workspaces (air is distributed underneath the floor rather than overhead, and devices monitor the presence of humans and adjust light/heat accordingly)

  • Recyclable materials ("cradle-to-cradle" -- a new concept whereby construction materials and building furnishings can be returned to the earth or reused)

  • Recycling energy (a heat-and-power plant will operate at 90% efficiency to provide energy that the solar panels cannot, and underground wells work with a system that circulates heat-absorbing liquid)

Is this building just a concept? Yes. But it is 100% possible to construct using these ideas. In fact, the Bank of America Tower is currently under construction on the northwest corner of Bryant Park in NYC and will utilize a handful of these ideas when it opens in 2009 -- the BofA Tower will be the first high-rise building to be certified LEEDS Platinum. Some of those ideas are currently utilized in buildings like the Hearst Building and the New York Times Building in NYC, both of which have received LEEDS certification. For more on LEEDS certification, check out the United States Green Building Council's website.

Of course, the Tower of Tomorrow would far surpass the BofA Tower, Hearst Building, or NYTimes Building in terms of "green" design. However, architects and building owners must ask themselves, at what cost does sustainable and environmentally-friendly design become inefficient? If, for example, the design features that would make the Tower of Tomorrow such a "green" building cost an extra $200 million (that's just a shot-in-the-dark guess value of mine by the way), would the money be better spent if it were invested in research for alternative energies? Perhaps, but it is difficult to say for sure. The first thought that comes to mind with regard to that question is the simple fact that alternative energy research would not yield results for many years, possibly decades (and maybe never), while sinking the cost into construction of a building would yield results in just a few years.

Regardless, McDonough set the bar very high for his peers with this most recent design, and that is what today's development climate needs most -- a challenge. In this video McDonough discusses his thought process behind the Tower of Tomorrow. "Design is the first signal of human intention, and it leaves behind a legacy," he says. "Our goal is very simple. It is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, soil, water and power -- economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed. Period."

McDonough also says he draws inspiration from his children. "What kind of world do we want to leave them? Do we want to leave them a tragic world, or a world full of hope?" Bow tie aside, McDonough definitely challenges the common citizen to perform at a higher level on a day-to-day basis, and to have fun while doing so. His design for the Tower of Tomorrow provides evidence that he is challenging himself to think towards the future, and in doing so he has created a stunning, beautiful concept of what skyscrapers in our world might look like not long from now.

1 comment:

Josh Klein said...

Sort of an aside, but re: your question on when a "green building" is less efficient than using the extra dollars for other green efforts -

That's how I feel about the (RED) charity campaign. They spent more money promoting the campaign than they raised, which begs the question: shouldn't they have nixed the (RED) iPod and (RED) Dells and (RED) everything and just donated the money directly?

But there are indirect effects, I suppose. Building a green building might set a good example for others.