Rise of the Green Skyscrapers

 

The Airside project

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AIRSIDE PROJECT IMAGE COURTESY OF SNØHETTA

Skyscraper construction is at a crossroads. Long synonymous with the density and vibrancy of urban life, high-rises have gotten a bad rap for their poor environmental impact and high energy consumption. But some innovative structures indicate a different way forward.

At 200 meters (656 feet) high, Snøhetta’s Airside project embodies these conflicting forces. Once completed in 2022, Airside will be a mixed-use skyscraper with an energy efficient design, plus terraces and plazas covered in plants and trees, yet it will still require tons of metal and glass to build.

When it comes to sustainability, “we need to reevaluate how we build generally, and certainly how we build high-rise buildings,” says Robert Greenwood, a Hong Kong-based partner and managing director for Snøhetta, a Norwegian architecture and design firm.

The construction and operation of buildings make up over one-third of the world’s energy consumption and about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Typically, we think of buildings’ carbon footprint in terms of the energy they use after they’re built. But that’s only part of the story. Also significant are the resources required to build them—what’s called embodied energy. Producing concrete and steel pumps massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

While the construction industry overall has made advances toward greater sustainability, “we haven’t seen too much of that in the high-rise sector,” Greenwood says.

For one thing, the intense financial pressure involved in constructing skyscrapers has kept project teams from embracing more innovative methods. “With extremely high land values, there’s high pressure to get the most out of these projects,” Greenwood says. “Sustainability has lost out because the commercial pressures are so great.”

But that’s beginning to change, he finds, as sustainable construction methods have gotten less expensive and more efficient.

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