The Future of Buildings

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on August 15, 2017
Vicky Harris
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Big Structures, Small Carbon Footprints

Throughout history, immense structures have stood as landmarks of great civilizations. When we think about ancient Egypt, its colossal pyramids come to mind. Rome’s Coliseum and Athens’s Parthenon are equal symbols of big edifices created by the most advanced societies of their time. From the desert’s ancient pyramids to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Shanghai Tower in China, building towards the sky has been an integral part of the DNA of prosperous cities, and their people, throughout history.

For tall buildings, green and efficient are the new shiny.

The skyline defines the modern city. Just like in antiquity, the landmarks of our cities are buildings that defy gravity, awe visitors, and inspire pride in its citizens. Yet, our contemporary symbols of architectural ingenuity and engineering innovation not only impact the way cities look, but they also impact the environment in a very significant way.

According to a recent UN report, buildings consume around 40% of all energy produced worldwide and contribute almost one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions. Enormous amounts of electricity and heat are required to enable thousands of people to work and live in tall complexes. The good news is that as buildings get taller, engineers and architects get smarter in their use of innovative technology to minimize the environmental footprint of today’s gigantic urban constructions. 

Really Smart Buildings are Sprouting in Our Cities

The concept of a “smart building” has become the norm when it comes to designing and constructing the new urban symbols of human ingenuity. A couple of years ago, the Council of Tall Buildings and Human Habitats in Chicago published its “Innovative 50” list, in which prominent architects, engineers, and designers ranked the most innovative buildings of the first 15 years of the 21st century. According to Business Insider, to be included in the list, the buildings “had to challenge the traditional typology of tall buildings in some way, through innovation in form, design, façade, environmental approach, or technologies.”

Let’s explore how each of the criteria for ranking the “Innovative 50” buildings is being used creatively to offset the carbon footprint of the world’s most innovative buildings.

Innovation in form makes new buildings like 1 Bligh Street in Sydney, Australia, measuring 139 meters tall, famous for its “ecological development.” The design of the O-14 building in Dubai, UAE, includes a one meter-wide space between the facade and the glass windows that “allows the building to cool down in the desert heat.” A façade encased in solar panels, such as the twin Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi, UAE, uses the most abundant resource available to cities in the Middle East—the sun—to power most of the electricity needs of its inhabitants during working hours. The environmental approach of the Bahrain World Trade Center, in Manama, Bahrain, is quite obvious to the onlooker: the design of the building includes three huge wind turbines. Finally, the use of several new technologies makes the 115 meters tall Manitoba Hydro Place, in Winnipeg, Canada, “the most energy-effective building in the world,” according to industry experts.

The Formula for the Modern Smart Building Uses Distributed Power

These examples make it quite clear that innovative approaches in architecture, engineering design, and building techniques can converge to create modern marvels that are both aesthetic achievements and smartly serve to minimize the energy consumption of buildings. The result not only saves money for owners and tenants, but also helps their cities reduce their carbon footprint.

Distributed energy plays a big role in smart buildings. Solar panels and wind turbines that generate electricity on-site, as in the case of the Twin Albahar Towers and the Bahrain World Trade Center, help the utilities that supply electricity to cities cope with the increase in demand and stress that an immense new building brings to the grid. Water, the most abundant substance on Earth, can also be incorporated into the smart building toolbox. Technologies like Hydrogen 2.0 will enable builders to produce electricity on-site and on-demand to supplement variable resources like wind and solar.

Turning Up the Heat

Heat also plays a significant role in the consumption of energy and the carbon emissions of buildings. According to a recent article by Power Technology, the heating and cooling of buildings and industrial activities account for almost half of all energy demand in Europe. While builders are increasingly using alternative power sources to provide electricity for buildings, most of their heating systems continue to rely on fossil fuels. The same article explores the advantages of using hydrogen energy to help tackle the problem of heating buildings, especially when it comes to hydrogen’s zero carbon emissions.

Hydrogen 2.0 can also enrich the on-site heat generation alternatives that builders will have at their disposal in the near future to reduce the carbon footprint of their buildings. These on-site systems will be able to provide electricity, heat and hot water to buildings in a clean and efficient way.

The days of huge concrete blocks that once strained the power grid and increased a city’s carbon footprint appear to be numbered. Beautiful buildings with stunning design and architecture that enhance their energy and heat efficiency are turning the modern symbols of civilization into shining beacons of our respect for the environment. Innovations in architectural design, engineering, energy, and materials are converging to usher in a new era of healthier urban growth marked by a city skyline of big buildings with ever smaller environmental footprints.


Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
© Copyright 2017 Joi Scientific, Inc. All rights reserved. JOI SCIENTIFIC and HYDROGEN 2.0 are trademarks of Joi Scientific, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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