Built structure, the largest contributor to our carbon footprint, may yet support a foundation for more direct applications of climate management. Already the measures being taken to reduce the amount of carbon given off by Architecture and construction can be counted under one of the two specified Geo-Engineering (Climate Engineering) overriding methods of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Geo-Engineering has become an international hot topic and has become quite polarizing; in its intent, origination and practice. However, Geo-Engineering could have direct implications in the future of sustainability initiatives within Architecture.
First, I will direct you to this past United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Cancun, when Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri began the conference with a statement that directly called for focus in specific areas, including that of Geo-Engineering. (Pachauri 2010, 3) This term is a catch all phrase for practices which have the direct intent of altering the climate, whether locally, regionally, or globally. (Keith 2000, 247)
One can conjecture, given Architecture’s fascination with structures ingrained with a secondary functional purpose, that there is a future possible where built structure can do more than sustain itself while having a “neutral impact”. Rather, these buildings can begin to be “positive impact,” working within a global effort to reverse the anthropogenic effects we’ve so carelessly fed into.
Leading Geo-Engineering researchers sum up efforts in two main categories. The first of which is to increase outgoing infrared radiation by reducing the amount of green house gases in the atmosphere by way of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Secondly, is Solar Radiation Management (SRM) by way of albedo modification, which deflects or reflects solar rays back into space, effectively cooling the earth. (Gordon et. al 2010, 7)
How can Architecture factor into these options? There may be a few methods within Geo-Engineering techniques which can be applied through design. Indeed, even mitigation of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) may have a place here.
Firstly, Afforestation and Reforestation; the application of vegetation to hold water, sequester carbon and provide a cooling effect within the micro-climate. While there is on-going research as to the mitigating effects of this method on the Urban Heat Island, we can all say we’ve seen evidence of its application. Green Roofs are in abundance and Living Walls are gaining popularity. Currently there is research under way to engineer vegetation with a higher reflectivity, which may aid in albedo modification. (Reflective Crops 2009)
On the topic of solar reflection, elements such as White Roofs are a long practiced method of cooling the micro-climate. What could be the application of new technology into building skins? It is possible to utilize “smart materials” in exterior cladding, which reacts to the strength of the ever changing albedo?
Lastly, there is on-going research, experiments and in field applications in the practice of Cloud Seeding. The implied results are two-fold. Initially what results is a brightening of the cloud’s physiology which creates a higher reflectance ratio, sending the sun’s rays back into space. Another outcome, which has resulted in a capitalized feature, is the possibility of managing weather patterns of precipitation. Researchers have posed that long term, stationary efforts, could provide the most beneficial outcomes. (Bruintjes 1999, Rasch 2009 and Salter 2002, 9) This, along with the proposal by Dr. Stephen Salter which suggests use of Flettner type ships to disperse saltwater into maritime clouds, can combine to promote the idea of built structures which may aid in global warming mitigation.
Could the sustainability of our earth’s climate rely on the tactical implementation of Geo-Engineering Structures?