2070: The Future of Buildings
Part 2 of 2070 explores how sustainable building technologies will shape our cities in 50 years
Buildings are responsible for 40% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to chemical company DuPont. The building industry has the power to make a significant impact by reducing energy consumption and saving money on utility bills.
The future of sustainable buildings is here, and it comes in the form of sustainable materials and windows.
So what does this mean for the future of our cities?
What are sustainable buildings?
A sustainable building is one that reduces the impact it has on the environment, while also being energy-efficient. These are buildings that are built with recycled materials, have green roofs, and use renewable resources to save energy.
We’ve seen a lot of developments in sustainable design. Recent projects include skyscrapers in Hong Kong that harvest rainwater for flushing toilets; solar-powered houses in London; and an apartment complex inspired by termite mounds in South Africa.
But while sustainable architecture is becoming more mainstream, there’s still plenty of room for improvement
Sustainable buildings are all about smart design. They focus on energy efficiency, water conservation, and material reuse. Additionally, sustainable buildings use recycled materials and renewable resources to minimize their impact on the environment.
An important distinction is that the term “green” refers to saving money by spending less cash on utility bills, while “sustainable” refers to resource conservation and environmental responsibility.
Sustainable buildings should fulfill both functions. They use the least amount of energy possible while still maintaining their function. They are designed with the environment in mind so they can sustain themselves for years to come. Sustainable buildings rely on natural resources and energy sources that don’t impact the planet negatively.
This, in turn, saves money. So they’re both green and sustainable!
Sustainable building materials
Construction is one of the largest industries in the world. It directly employs millions of people, indirectly employs millions more, and also affects millions of other businesses that are impacted by it. Unfortunately, construction has a huge impact on the environment; building materials account for 38% of all industrial waste.
There is an urgent need to create innovative alternatives to traditional construction materials that can be used to build sustainable structures and meet our growing demand for shelter. Thankfully, there are interesting and exciting solutions and alternatives that can help us create greener buildings in the future.
Rammed earth is one of these. This involves placing natural soil and binder in layers and then applying intense pressure. It becomes a brick or a wall or any shape you desire. Although it’s an old building technique, it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance in luxury home builds lately.
Rammed earth is great for regulating building temperature and can keep a structure cool and comfortable in hot climates.
But builders don’t need anything exotic, especially considering the future involves a lot of urbanization and tall buildings. They can use recycled steel. There’s a lot of the stuff laying around. There’s so much, in fact, that 86% of all building projects use recycled steel.
Not only are recycled materials more cost-effective and better for the environment, but they’re also a lot more durable than other materials. Steel lasts a long time. Tall buildings need steel. It’s the only way they can stay standing. As tall building construction is expected to boom over the next two decades, recycled materials will become a key component of the construction industry.
Sustainable building methods
As technology continues to improve, our buildings are becoming far more energy-efficient than ever before. There are many aspects to sustainable building methods, but the most important is utilizing materials that will last for centuries and require minimal upkeep.
Masonry (bricks) is one of the most environmentally friendly building methods out there, and it’s also extremely durable. Masonry offers a number of benefits over other material options like brick or concrete. It’s made from natural resources like sand and water, which will not run out anytime soon.
It also has a low carbon footprint, uses locally sourced materials, and can cut costs by reducing waste from building sites. In fact, it is so much better for the environment than using cement or other traditional construction materials that it could even help tackle climate change.
Synthetic Roof Underlay
Another sustainable building method is to use synthetic materials rather than concrete to underlay the roofs of buildings. The underlay is a layer of material just under the roof’s surface which provides stability, insulation, and load-bearing functionality.
Concrete is currently the popular choice for underlays because it is relatively cheap. But concrete has a shorter shelf life. Also, as rainwater and moisture from humidity build up in the roof, the concrete gets damaged and can sag. It requires replacement, which can get costly.
Instead of concrete, builders are beginning to use synthetic materials such as polymers and recycled metals. These are waterproof and are just as strong as concrete. The difference is that they don’t need to be replaced. They can last a century or more.
Another rooftop solution is already quite popular in large cities like Seoul and Hong Kong. Green roofs involve turning the rooftop of tall buildings into parkland. Developers lay grass, plant trees, install fountains and gardens, and otherwise make the rooftop “green.”
This serves many purposes, most notably the cooling properties that greenery has on the building below it. Concrete absorbs heat and can turn a building into a sweltering sauna, which increases air conditioning costs and the resulting emissions. But having a green roof reduces temperatures throughout the building.
Also, the green roof can absorb rainwater and better protect the aforementioned roof underlay. That rainwater can be channeled into greywater, which can be used for toilet flushing.
Green rooftops also provide a built-in private park for the tenants in the building. It gives them a place to relax in the shade or let their kids outdoors without having to worry about any traffic or other people.
Zero Energy Buildings
One of the biggest challenges that builders face is to create so-called “zero-energy” buildings. These are buildings that are entirely self-sufficient and require no external energy source.
Solar power offers the greatest chance of zero-energy use. But solar comes with a host of challenges, not the least of which are the heavy costs of installation and maintenance. Builders can use smart window placement to maximize the amount of daylight each unit receives, but this comes with increased heating.
That’s where new electromagnetic glass comes in. These window pains have millions of tiny electronic sensors inside them that measure the amount of sunlight filtering through the glass, and then alter the window’s shading accordingly. Electromagnetic glass is able to light a room without heating it up.
As builders continue to develop new sustainable building methods, we can expect new technologies to arrive in our cities.
Green Buildings Are The Future Of Cities
Unlike dystopian film sets such as Blade Runner and the Fifth Element, our cities will actually look quite clean. That’s because builders are devoted to sustainable buildings. This commitment to reducing the energy footprint of buildings is able to inform us of what we can expect our cities to look like.
For starters, there will be lots of brick. We know masonry is a great sustainable building material, so expect less boring concrete and more style. Buildings will probably be white in color, as this reflects sunlight away and helps with cooling.
We can also expect buildings to have a lot of shiny, reflective glass, thanks to electromagnetic windows and solar panels. In fact, I can picture buildings made up entirely of solar-panel windows with columns of right brick running between them.
To top them off, buildings will have green gardens on their rooftops and on every balcony. These will provide parklands for tenants and cooling for the buildings.
Thanks to the development of sustainable building, we get a glimpse into what our cities will look like in 50 years!