Rather than being places just to work, eat, and socialize, we might also want future buildings for "systemic" roles: say, as part of the energy system (generating power), waste system (recycling garbage), or environmental control system.

The last role is the focus of the designs here, created by five teams of architecture students at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Design School.

Each design explores how buildings can act as "urban lungs" alongside their traditional functions.

The brief was specific: A plot of land near Manhattan’s Holland Tunnel.

As you can imagine, the area is heavily trafficked, and the immediate air is full of CO2, NO2, and ozone.

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2013-05-23

5 Imaginative Buildings That Breathe Pollution And Clean The Air

In the future, buildings could double as "urban lungs" that filter pollution. These designs imagine what that would look like.

Rather than just being places to work, eat, and be entertained, buildings of the future might be used for "systemic" roles: say, generating power, or reusing garbage. Or, as in the designs here--cleaning up the air.

Over the past few months, five teams at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Design School have been imagining buildings that act as "urban lungs," alongside their traditional functions. The brief asked the students to consider a specific site--an unused plot of land near Manhattan’s Holland Tunnel. The area has heavy traffic--much of it idling for long periods--and the air is thick with pollutants.

"As a research studio, we were interested in the possible future of buildings as large scalable environmental systems, a kind of socio-technical environmental infrastructure," says Shawn Rickenbacker, who oversaw the project.

Below, the five designs.

AIR CONDITIONING

This cell-like design from Haley Padgett, Kelly Berger, and Thomas Jansen uses three air cleaning methods. Hydroponic farms on the roof absorb CO2. Ductwork in the cladding takes in particulate matter. And precast concrete panels, treated with titanium dioxide, deal with NO2 (another pollutant) and capture water. The building, which doubles as an exhibition space, is connected to the subway system, encouraging people to wander through.

URBAN OASIS

Shaped a bit like a seashell, Urban Oasis "seeks to be carbon negative and scrub CO2…while acting as a beacon for progressive change required to combat global warming," according to Arman Hosseini and Sam Rosen. It does this by pulling wind through tubes in the structure itself, cleaning pollutants using filtration beds.

TRIPARTITE FLOWS

This design, from Michael Buckley, Daniel Greenspan, and Ryan Koella, focuses not only on immediate pollution, but also on greenhouse gases from landfills outside the city. The team would divert organic waste to make both biogas and biochar (a way to sequester carbon). Then, they would draw up air from the street, so that "passers-by are directly exposed to the functioning system."

PIXEL CLOUD

Probably the most outlandish of the five, this design from Jinglu Li and Jayson Potter is fully modular: you add and pull parts away, depending on air quality at the time. The idea of the "pixel cloud" is to maximize surface area and capture as much pollution as possible. The air is driven downwards and heated in pressure tanks, breaking down the CO2. Steam then escapes and envelopes the building in a fog--hence "the cloud."

FORMULA (A)LGAE

Formula (A)lgae is a building surrounded by algae tubes (a bit like this one). Air drifts up from the street, following walkways to the top, where it is captured and fed into the gunk. Through photosynthesis, the algae multiplies, producing biomass that can be burned for energy. The project was conceived by William Bintzer and Sisi Xi.

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4 Comments

  • Ron Launs

    Formula Algae is my favorite, because it seems to be pragmatic to burn algae for fuel, it also has 
    an easily acceptable design.  I also liked Tripartite Flow and Urban Oasis.  We can argue all day about how to reduce emissions pollution through government restrictions, but as we have experienced that doesn't get the job done at all.  It usually complicates the and exacerbates the situation.  Ron Launs

  • keith

    Pragmatics and ideals don't seem to be exactly on the same page, but either way these designs are far out and certainly concepts to consider! Thanks for sharing!

  • tamara

    I'm not at ease with the idea that futuristic buildings will "solve the problem". The problem is massive emissions, and we have to cut them.