A Living Building: Using Nature’s Air Purifier to Make a Better Environment

By: James McManus

January 27, 2013

Sustainability, environmental consciousness, and climate change mitigation are all motivating forces behind the green building movement. Architects and building product designers are pushing the limits of design to ensure that their buildings and products help to achieve these goals. A recent article from BBC highlights some new ideas that look to “green” buildings by integrating these structures into nature.  By melding the natural with the synthetic, these designers are definitely thinking outside the box.

Photo from HOK

For example, future buildings could use algae to help make the structures more sustainable and healthy. The recent BBC feature outlines some novel ideas presented at the annual conference of the British Council for Offices. According to its proponents, the idea is to use tubes of algae as the collectors for the building’s exhaust. As the pollution exits the building and passes through the algae tubes that are wrapped around the structure, the algae absorb some of the carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.  Even the algae can be recycled into biodiesel, making this process both sustainable and efficient.

In 2011, HOK / Vanderweil’s design for Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation Design Competition showcased this algae concept. The design uses proven energy conservation and renewal strategies, including atria and light wells that bring daylight into workspaces, integrated louvers for natural ventilation, a new facade with 35,000 square feet of photovoltaic film, 30,000 square feet of rooftop solar collectors that circulate water through floors to help with climate control, and office equipment operated by a cloud computing system.

The design team’s breakthrough idea, believed to be an architectural first, used this energy-producing microalgae to help power the building. According to the article, “The biomimetic-inspired design proposes a 25,000-square-foot microalgae bioreactor system that generates 9 percent of the renovated federal building’s power supply. A modular system of algae tubes wraps the building and absorbs the sun’s radiation to produce lipids for fuel production on-site, simultaneously shading interior office spaces. This photo bioreactor transforms the building into a living entity.”

In addition, the design will reduce the building’s overall energy demand by 84 percent and generate the remaining 16 percent on-site.  Fresh ideas are helping to achieve the goals of LEED, the 2030 challenge, and the Net Zero Energy certification. By melding the natural with the synthetic, these designers are definitely thinking outside the box.

This post belongs to categories: Green Building, Renewables, Sustainability

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