Towards Sustainable Cities


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This public lecture outlines my research into new (green) materials that are environmentally sensitive and have some of the properties of living systems. The development of these materials provokes a re-consideration of our understanding of sustainable architectural practice and expands the available design portfolio beyond alternative energy sources, efficiency and recycling in order to retool architects for the ambitious 'zero carbon' city targets set by the Brussels 2030 Energy Comission

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  • Thanks Rachel. It occurs to me we are already in a sustainable city; our state of consciousness represents a city, and our external cities are reflections of our collective state of consciousness; yes, including all the unseemlies. But like our personal city, our dwelling space, the expression we each generate needs to match what we’d most highly expect to be reflected around us. That’s how creation works, after all. At the moment, most human preoccupation is about making ends meet and getting to the relaxing end of the day with as little frustration as possible. The cities struggle along in a fair imitation of this lethargic state of expression. You can take the people out of their slums, but unless the people change their slum-consciousness, then deterioration faithfully follows them.
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Towards Sustainable Cities

  1. 1. Living Buildings Towards Sustainable cities Rachel Armstrong, Senior TED Fellow Teaching Fellow, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
  2. 2. My Research <ul><li>Developing new environmentally responsive (‘green’) materials with some of the properties of living systems </li></ul><ul><li>Raises the possibility of a dynamic interface between our buildings and nature </li></ul><ul><li>Rethinking the surface of the built environment to suggest new approaches to sustainable building practice </li></ul><ul><li>Possible role in combating climate change </li></ul>
  3. 3. Rex the Dog
  4. 4. Surveillance Technology
  5. 5. Environmental Technology <ul><li>Architecture is an environmental technology </li></ul><ul><li>Original function to provide a ‘synthetic skin’ that can maintain human homeostasis within very narrow parameters of variability </li></ul><ul><li>Most suitable materials to keep constant environments are inert, durable and belligerent to their context </li></ul>
  6. 6. Living Cities <ul><li>“ Historically the city has been seen as either mechanistic or biological in its order.” Digital Dreams, Neil Spiller </li></ul>
  7. 7. City as an Organism <ul><li>“ ... Like any organism [a city] has a circulatory system in its streets, railroads and rivers, a brain in its universities and planning offices, a digestive system in its food distribution and sewage lines, muscles in its industrial centres and any city worthy of the name has an erogenous zone ...” Matthew Dumont, Arthropods </li></ul>
  8. 8. Are cities really living? <ul><li>Living properties are used in a metaphorical not literal context </li></ul><ul><li>“ I perceive the city’s patterns as living creatures that I recompose to form an urban image.” Lee Jang Sub </li></ul><ul><li>Without the participation of the inhabitants which includes humans, plants and other animals, or modern cities are woefully inert </li></ul>
  9. 9. Are Living Cities Possible? <ul><li>Until recently the tools that have enabled architects to engage with what R. Buckminster Fuller called the ‘drivers of biology’, have not been available and architects use biological systems in a symbolic way called biological ‘formalism’ where aesthetics are prioritized over function </li></ul>
  10. 10. Living Technology <ul><li>ISSP identified a new set of technologies that possess some of the properties of living systems such as, robustness, autonomy, self-repair, adaptation, and self-replication </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitatively different set of properties to industrial and digital technologies </li></ul><ul><li>Unpredictable, robust and difficult to ‘control’ </li></ul>
  11. 11. Applications <ul><li>The properties of living systems are most appropriate in complex systems where there is a great deal of variability that has the potential to result in damage to the system </li></ul><ul><li>Living Technology may have a valuable architectural role to play in climate change </li></ul>
  12. 12. An Inconvenient Truth <ul><li>“ The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives. Our climate crisis may at times appear to be happening slowly, but in fact it has become a true planetary emergency and we must recognise that we are facing a crisis.” An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore </li></ul>
  13. 13. Architectural Toxicity <ul><li>Current architectural crisis </li></ul><ul><li>Increase in human population associated with urbanization </li></ul><ul><li>Industrialization of architectural production kept pace with demand for housing in urban environments becoming toxic rather than merely belligerent to the environment </li></ul>
  14. 14. Carbon Footprint of Architecture <ul><li>Construction processes are all still based on fundamentally industrial &Victorian technologies involving mining, manufacturing & assembly using teams of construction workers </li></ul><ul><li>Architecture is responsible for 40% of carbon footprint AFTER it has been constructed </li></ul>
  15. 15. Opportunity for Change <ul><li>“ We know from our research that the building industry is the largest energy-consuming and greenhouse-gas emitting sector; close to double any other sector ... It's important for us to understand that we a large part of the problem, but we are also a large part of the solution.” Edward Mazria from Architecture 2030 </li></ul>
  16. 16. Sustainable Development <ul><li>“ ...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need.” Our Sustainable Future, Brundtland Report, 1987 </li></ul>
  17. 17. Sustainable Architectural Practice <ul><li>Based on energy conservation: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Alternative energy sources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Efficiency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recycling </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Aesthetics: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gling (Green Bling) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Biomimicry </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Limitations of Sustainable Practice <ul><li>Does not make the most of architects strengths </li></ul><ul><li>Does not change the way that buildings are constructed </li></ul><ul><li>Aesthetic solutions make grand statements but have no functional value </li></ul><ul><li>Does not address the causes of climate change </li></ul>
  19. 19. Retooling Architects <ul><li>Brussels 2030 Energy Commission has set ambitious targets for carbon neutral cities </li></ul><ul><li>Architects need retooling by 2010 in order to meet these targets </li></ul>
  20. 20. Broadening the Design portfolio <ul><li>New tools & methods are needed that are attractive to designers so that sustainability becomes the core of architectural practice, not an optional extra, or aesthetic </li></ul><ul><li>New materials </li></ul><ul><li>Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) </li></ul>
  21. 21. Blurring with the Landscape <ul><li>The dichotomy between artificial & natural worlds and their lack of genuine connectedness is problematic for architects working with sustainability. This energetic and informational holism is lacking in contemporary architecture which is made more apparent through modern building design practices. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Rethinking Architecture <ul><li>Fundamental rethinking of the built environment is necessary as current approaches to combat the effects of climate change are limited and not working fast enough </li></ul>
  23. 23. Architecture as Interface <ul><li>The surface of the built environment provides an interface between nature and the constructed world </li></ul><ul><li>Stephen Chu and Art Rosenfeld propose significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by using the reflective surfaces of buildings </li></ul>
  24. 24. New Model of Sustainability <ul><li>In order for architecture to be genuinely sustainable the built and natural environments need to be coupled together so that energy and information flow freely </li></ul><ul><li>In this way resources can be shared between the built and natural environments as an integrated, complex process </li></ul>
  25. 25. Drivers of Biology <ul><li>In order to connect the built and natural environments a common, material language is needed that is based in physics & chemistry </li></ul>
  26. 26. Metabolic Materials <ul><li>Living systems are in constant conversation with the natural world through a series of chemical processes called ‘metabolism’ </li></ul><ul><li>Two way flow of energy </li></ul><ul><li>Metabolic materials do not yet exist in architectural practice </li></ul>
  27. 27. Identifying Metabolic Materials <ul><li>Need look for cheap, robust, readily available substrates that do not have an existing problem with toxicity, or which are known to provoke public anxiety regarding unresolved issues of risk & safety </li></ul>
  28. 28. Low Tech Biotech <ul><li>Innovation through design </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation through invention </li></ul>
  29. 29. Rethinking Natural Biology
  30. 32. Synthetic Biology <ul><li>Modifying existing biological systems so that they do something new, or something ‘better’ than previously </li></ul>
  31. 33. Bryopsis plumosa <ul><li>Green algae (seaweed) </li></ul><ul><li>Up to 30 cms </li></ul><ul><li>Remarkable ability to regenerate complete mechanical destruction </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Dustbin Metabolism’ </li></ul><ul><li>Assimilation of foreign material into organism </li></ul>
  32. 39. Protocell <ul><li>A protocell is a primordial molecular globule, situated in the environment through the laws of physics and connected through the language of chemistry </li></ul>
  33. 40. Protocell <ul><li>Uniquely, protocell technology possesses a material simplicity that forms through self-assembly. Yet the globule can become dynamic because it has an embedded chemical metabolism </li></ul>
  34. 41. Protocell <ul><li>Protocell globules can possess life-like properties but yet are engineered as a material. This gives this type of matter the ability to self-regulate in response to cues from its environment </li></ul>
  35. 42. Programmable Protocells <ul><li>Based on oil in water droplet system </li></ul><ul><li>Exhibit life-like behaviours such as, self-assembly, movement, sensitivity & complex behaviour </li></ul><ul><li>Some complex behaviours have architectural qualities </li></ul>
  36. 47. Chemistry as Computation <ul><li>“ Chemistry has this computational nature embedded in it, which it inherited from the underlying computation that’s going on in quantum mechanics in general.” Life! What a Concept, Edge, Seth Lloyd </li></ul>
  37. 48. Protocell Computing <ul><li>The surface of the protocell represents a responsive dynamic interface and perhaps an opportunity to build practical sustainability into the built environment. We are exploring how such surfaces can produce various materials and complex microstructures </li></ul>
  38. 50. Protocell Speciation <ul><li>Many different types of protocells with diverse properties are being developed that can explore: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>• A taxonomy of protocells </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>• A forward view into the development of this technology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>• A look back on how the emergence of the first protocells shaped the evolution of life </li></ul></ul>
  39. 51. Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) <ul><li>In the protocell system organic chemistry performs an equivalent function to a software program in a digital computer </li></ul><ul><li>Enables ‘designer metabolisms’ </li></ul><ul><li>Protocell surface presents maximized surface area for chemical exchange </li></ul><ul><li>May be engineered to capture & store carbon dioxide </li></ul>
  40. 52. Biolime <ul><li>Some natural materials such as limestone, are generated by the bottom up assembly fossilized shells of marine creatures </li></ul><ul><li>New material possibilities if the basic chemistry of limestone is replicated using metabolic materials to produce artificial ‘shells’, that can grow and self-repair </li></ul>
  41. 55. Magnesium Carbonate <ul><li>Kinetics more stable than calcium salts </li></ul><ul><li>Magnesium carbonate is difficult to dissociate </li></ul><ul><li>There is a huge amount of Magnesium available to capture carbon dioxide in the form of olivine which is abundant in the Earth’s mantle </li></ul>
  42. 57. Architectural Applications <ul><li>Use of the surface area between protocell interface , the built environment & nature to develop and create a publicly accessible & managed interface of environmental responsivity </li></ul><ul><li>Materials thrive in aqueous conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Renders environmental processes visible </li></ul>
  43. 58. Saving Venice
  44. 62. Sargasso Fields
  45. 66. Protocell Architecture <ul><li>Aims to bring about a new way of thinking about the built environment by developing new materials and methodologies based on the fundamental properties of matter </li></ul><ul><li>Bottom up approach to architectural construction and a direct novel application of technologies discovered through fundamental scientific research </li></ul>
  46. 67. Research Summary <ul><li>Rethinking the practice of the built environment as inherently sustainable </li></ul><ul><li>Building and retooling a global network of architects, research scientists and industrial partners to meet the 2030 targets </li></ul><ul><li>Support and development of students as the next generation of architects </li></ul>
  47. 68. Summary of Research <ul><li>Development of ‘metabolic materials’ </li></ul><ul><li>Developing computer modelling tools that can more closely represent what is happening in natural systems </li></ul><ul><li>Technology transfer to developing countries </li></ul><ul><li>Establish research centres around the world to explore the potential of new materials for climate change and other material systems </li></ul>
  48. 69. <ul><li>“ Cell biology is the new cyberspace and nanotechnology. Once we fully understand the exact nature of how our world makes us and, indeed, how it sometimes kills us, we will be able to make true architectures of ecological connectability.” Neil Spiller, 2008 </li></ul>