High-rise buildings suck up around 16% of the world’s energy. Even though the most recently-built skyscrapers are helping change things—like a 99-story building in Jakarta that will generate all of its own energy— that still leaves tens of thousands of inefficient giant buildings on the ground.
While at least one group of architects has argued that certain Mad Men-era high-rises actually ought to be torn down, for most buildings, experts say retrofitting makes sense. Here’s one example of a retrofit that can make a difference: A facade designed to pop onto an old skyscraper to shade offices and pump out solar power.
The facade will be added to the Seoul headquarters of Hanwha, one of the world's largest solar panel manufacturers, which wanted its 1980s office to catch up with its green image. The 29-story building will soon be plastered in hundreds of new panels. Three hundred solar panels on the sunniest spots will harvest energy, and other strategically placed panels will automatically adjust to help keep the interior cool but bright with natural light. New high-performance windows will save more energy.
In total, though the final details are still in progress, the retrofit may save well over a million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
In theory, say designers from Amsterdam-based UNStudio, this type of facade could be added onto any skyscraper. "It would be the principles that could be applied of course and not the design, as every building has its own context, program, size, view corridors, orientation etc. which would affect the design parameters differently," the architects explain. "Each building would be unique and would require a tailored approach."
Retrofitting old skyscrapers is an important way for cities to fight climate change, say engineers from ARUP, which worked with UNStudio on optimizing the design. And it's usually a better solution than building something brand new. "In terms of reducing embodied carbon emission and waste elimination, retrofit is a better option for a tired skyscraper," says Vincent Cheng, who led the project from ARUP's Hong Kong studio.