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Eco Buildings: How Our Buildings Are Getting Greener

The buildings we use in our day to day lives have so far hid in plain sight, when the climate change finger of blame has come pointing. They have certainly played their part in our diminishing climate though, but what does the future look like? Welcome to the surprisingly interesting and not at all nerdy topic of eco architecture.

Don’t worry, we don’t all have to disappear into the wilderness and live like hobbits just yet, although personally I’d love the chance. While the Hobbit hole is definitely an option, our skyscrapers and sprawling urban areas are here to stay, but change is sweeping through the city.

 flickr | Anup ShahNot so long ago we at Frontier posted an article about the concept of vertical cities (which you can read here) and while that may be a lot of wishful thinking, there are hundreds of examples from around the world of architects, builders and individuals starting to make greener living a reality.

Inspiration for this new trend in eco-friendly houses and offices comes from way back in the annals of history too, as many ancient cultures with huge populations came up with ingenious ways to efficiently run their cities. In Persia, for instance, they used wind turbines and cleverly designed structures to create the earliest fridges.

Nowadays, we have the benefits of far more advanced technology to do a lot of the leg work for us. Wind, solar and water power are common place, energy efficient bulbs are everywhere, no doubt still just warming up, and electric and hydrogen powered cars are starting to become fashion statements in themselves.

But we need to go further and in some places, we are.

As you can imagine, designing a building that does that is a tall task (pun intended).

Building eco-friendly structures is about more than just turning the light off when the last person leaves the office. Architects now have to consider more carefully the materials they use, the air space within the building, the time it takes to build, where all sources of power come from, if the building off sets CO2 via green areas and the list goes on and on.

A great example of this futuristic building mentality is the Bahrain World Trade Centre in (you guessed it), Bahrain. This glorious looking skyscraper (pictured below) is designed in a shape to channel wind between its two faces into the three 30m long wind turbines in the middle. These three turbines along with see-through windowed solar panels on many sides, power this 240 metre tall building. Not only that, but the bridges on which the air turbines sit as well as portions of each side of the building are designed to flex slightly in high winds to drive yet more of the wind between the turbines. Cool hey.

 flickr | Denise KrebsAnother great example of large scale eco building comes from Taipei, where their iconic Taipei 101 sits. It is considered the largest eco building in the world, having been awarded the highest award for eco-friendly construction that you can get in 2011. Not only is it a cool looking design, but the Taipei 101 birthed some ground break techniques for eco buildings. For starters it is natural disaster proof. The tower features a thing called a ‘tuned mass damper’ which (now, bear with me) is essentially a giant heavy pendulum that swings in the opposite direction to the leaning of the tower, counter balancing and steadying it. In addition, those little crevices that join the corners together, and the segmented sections you can see in the picture below break up wind speeds so that the typhoons that the area is renowned for have far less effect.

flickr | Jirka MatousekThat’s a cool little fact, but the specific green fingered attributes of this building make it cooler still. Thanks to its energy saving methods, this building saves roughly $20m a year just through using efficient ways of maintaining and running it. The tower produces its own solar, wind and water energy, reuses and manages its water supply to save 28,000,000 litres a year, ventilates, cools and heats offices and homes using natural sunlight and wind direction. Every single possible source of power and method of saving it has been explored in Taipei 101 and it is a standard bearer for world skyscrapers.

The best thing though, is that it proves it can be done cost effectively in such a large building.

flickr | wei zheng wangA growing trend is happening too where buildings are incorporating into their design designated green areas. These come in the form of roof gardens, garden lobbies or even plants interwoven among the structure so that they grow outwards, covering the building in a unkempt style. The thinking behind it is that these green areas will absorb any CO2 that is given off by the building, making it carbon neutral.

Taking that concept further, one building in Tokyo called Pasona 02 has incorporated a farm system into the office. Office workers there get to lunch time and go and pick their food from the selection of fruits and vegetables that are there, pick fresh rice and make a meal from that for lunch.

flickr | Henrik MoltkeThe water that hydrates the plants is taken from rainwater and reusable and recycled liquids from the building waste, the fertilizer is traditionally made without pesticides and added chemicals and the sunlight comes from natural magnifying windows during the day and LED efficient lighting overnight. As these plants are indoors, you don’t have to wait for seasonal crops and food can be grown all year round. The building has nine floors of farming and work spaces that fully supports its staff one meal a day all year around. In one building you have employed farmers all year around in addition to office workers. Now THAT is eco building.

flickr | Henrik MoltkeUnfortunately the law hasn’t quite caught up with the initiative on individuals on eco construction. Hopefully the near future will yield regulation that means all buildings must be carbon neutral when being built, being used and being demolished.  Giving over huge spaces of offices to plant vegetables might be a bit extreme, but the intention behind it must be applauded.

As quickly as we are developing renewable technology and putting it into practice, we’re not doing it as much in as we already could in buildings. One argument for not changing out habits is always that we don’t yet have the funds and the technology. Well, we do have both. So there’s no excuse.

Want to get involved in Eco Building? Check out our Zambia Eco Construction Project

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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