Singapore, known for its clean and green environment, usually has clean air in all parts of the country. However, each year, there comes a time when the air pollution index is at levels which every citizen dreads. It is during the period when farmers in Indonesia are busy clearing their farmlands and fields, that the fires caused somewhere far in regions like Sumatra affect the air quality in Singapore. This causes Haze, a term that is familiar to all Singaporeans. Haze this year has been reaching record-high levels that pose numerous health hazards to the residents. So much so that schools had to be closed down due to fears of health problems. This brings about an important topic of concern – There are many cities across the world which have recorded drastically unhealthy air pollution levels. In the face of the growing woes of urban health and air quality, can architecture contribute to resolve the problems of pollution? Could our buildings be the remedy for a healthier environment? An article by James Bartolacci, on the architizer website, suggests that architecture can indeed be moving towards a future of taking responsibility and initiative for making our environments cleaner.
As per latest geo-mapping analysis, pollution “hot spots” are centred around the world’s largest urban conglomerations. Worldwide, cities consume more than 75% of the world’s energy and emit 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, since burning fossil fuels provides power to the skyscrapers and other infrastructure that define urban areas.
Because effective policies to reduce carbon emissions have developed slowly, architects and designers have the unique opportunity to re-imagine their buildings as active solutions to combating poor air quality and climate change. President Obama addressed the roles that energy-efficient buildings play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The American Institute of Architects stated, “Increasing energy-efficient design, construction, and building performance throughout our communities is a key element of the value proposition architects offer.” This, said the organization, “leads not only to a better environment and improved quality of life, but also job gains and lower costs throughout the economy.”
First off, if cities are to effectively combat their air pollution problems, they need to address the aging structures that make up urban environments. A Berlin-based firm has developed a decorative architectural tile that reduces air pollution and can easily be installed on any existing building. Coated with a superfine titanium dioxide (TiO2), a pollution-fighting technology that is activated by ambient daylight, the tiles neutralize air contaminants when situated near traffic or other dirty conditions.
Taking cues from photosynthesis—the naturally occurring process in plants that absorbs carbon dioxide while emitting oxygen—some architects have opted for a more organic approach to improving the air quality of cities.
Giving a whole new meaning to the term “concrete jungle,” the façades of the Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), a residential tower complex designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti currently under construction in Milan, are covered by a thick green canopy of trees. The shrubs sit on the individual terraces of each unit, cooling off the interiors by shielding them from direct sunlight. More than 2.5 acres of forest—comprising roughly 730 trees, 11,000 ground-cover plants, and 5,000 shrubs— will be planted on the 260-and-360 foot towers. These (literally) green towers will help to dramatically decrease the city’s C02 emissions and problems with dust, albeit mostly in the area surrounding the residential condos.
Some architects believe that architecture should play a more aggressive role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making cities more sustainable overall. Nowhere is this more crucial than in China, where 75% of the population is expected to live in urban areas by 2030. But the overall attention is definitely growing towards architecture playing a pivotal role in helping the world’s cities to have cleaner and healthier environments.
Can Architects Solve Our Cities’ Pollution Problems?
Akshay Ashok Salunkhe
IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute