Conceptual shelters that will protect us all from the perils of our rapidly changing environment: rising waters, extreme heat, rampant pollution and overpopulation
Posted 10.18.2010 at 12:40 pm
Sustainable Habitat 2020: Kevin Hand
PROBLEM: POLLUTION / SOLUTION: SUSTAINABLE HABITAT 2020
DESIGNER: PHILIPS DESIGN
In the coming decades, advances in pollution control may not be enough to counteract the air- and water-poisoning effects of dual explosions in population and energy consumption. Within 20 years the number of cars in the world will rise to two billion, and most of them will be powered by gasoline or diesel. By 2100 air quality in Southern California is expected to violate federal standards 50 more days a year than it does now. Pollution will be particularly vexing in fast-developing countries like China, which according to the World Bank is already home to 20 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. In one third of China’s cities, for example, the groundwater is contaminated. Buildings are part of the problem too. The nonprofit group Architecture 2030 estimates that the residential-building sector is responsible for about a fifth of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Multifunctional Exterior Skin: Kevin Hand
In response to these challenges, designers at the Dutch electronics giant Philips imagined Sustainable Habitat 2020, an apartment building engineered to make life healthy even in the smoggiest urban environment. “The question we’re posing is a depressing one,” says Clive van Heerden of Philips Design. “At this rate of urbanization, what do you do if the pessimists are right? How do we begin to start making buildings sustainable?”
The high-rise apartment tower, composed of hundreds of 431-square-foot units, is intended for future Chinese megacities. The multifunctional exterior skin is the most important part of the structure. Dotted with suction-cup-shaped “funnels,” it forms a membrane between the indoors and outdoors that controls the inflow of light, air and water.
Green House: Air-cleaning, solar-energy-harvesting, water-capturing funnels coat the Sustainable Habitat 2020 apartment building. The funnels change shape to make most efficient use of prevailing weather conditions. Kevin Hand
The funnels are embedded with photovoltaic cells and sensors, which track humidity, wind direction, and the brightness and angle of the sun. As the sensors detect changing weather conditions, they direct the funnels to change into the most effective shape for the task at hand. For example, on clear days, the funnels follow the path of the sun like flowers, transmitting light indoors and generating enough solar power to provide all the building’s electricity. (Energy stored during the day is used for lighting at night.) When it rains, the funnels change shape to become water-capturing cups. As rain trickles into the cones, the water is pumped to a cell structure behind the facade, where it is filtered, stored, and channeled into a closed-loop system in which everything, even toilet water, gets recycled. When it’s breezy, the funnels elongate into a trumpet shape—a natural wind tunnel that directs air through a filter and then indoors. (When it’s sunny and breezy, the funnels multitask.)
Other architects have begun working on projects in the same spirit as Sustainable Habitat 2020. The San Francisco firm IwamotoScott Architecture, for example, has proposed a low-rise dwelling called the Jellyfish House for a decommissioned military base on San Francisco Bay’s Treasure Island. The project’s creators say the house, with its permeable skin, will be like a living creature (iwamotoscott.com).
Cell Walls: The translucence of exterior wall cells [at right] can be adjusted by touch. The interior wall [blue] works as a water tank, purifying and storing rainwater captured by the funnels on the apartment’s exterior. Kevin Hand