Category Archives: carbon cycle balance

Much ado about zero energy buildings

With the European Parliament mandating under the amended ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ that all new buildings are to be ‘zero energy’ by 2019 the heat is on to produce architecture and environments that contribute to more sustainable energy equations with a zero or positive bottom line.

According to 2006 figures from the US Department of Energy, energy use in the building sector in the US continues to increase “primarily because new buildings are constructed faster than old buildings are retired.” Essentially the net building stock in the US is increasing. The government is not predicting any reduction in demand for new buildings and so is pursuing a Zero Energy agenda. The authors of the report ‘Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition’ say “because design goals are so important to achieving high performance buildings, the way a ZEB goal is defined is crucial to understanding the combination of applicable efficiency measures and renewable energy supply options.”

Under the (Zero Energy Building) ZEB definition four aspects of energy are considered: 1) net-zero site energy 2) net-zero source energy 3) net-zero energy costs and 4) net-zero energy emissions.

Chicago architect Zoka Zola has designed a zero energy urban home with a green roof for passionate gardeners. The green roof is designated as the zone for the home to extend in the future and for the installation of renewable energy infrastructure. The accessible green roofs encourage “bio-diversity and absorb water runoff, while insulating the interior and protecting the roof from thermal shock and ultra violet deterioration.” The tree in the south facing garden provides both beauty and summer shade. The garden also provides the outlook from the rooms with large south facing windows.

With designers giving functional, structural and aesthetic consideration to the zero energy buildings the green future is looking bright.

Clean: but is it green?

Vermont’s thirty eight year old Yankee Nuclear Reaction is scheduled to be shut down in 2012. The main cause of concern is the leaking of tritium which is linked to cancer.

The life expectancy of nuclear power plants is forty years. Seventy five percent of all current nuclear power plants are in the second half of their expected life span.

After a plant is decommissioned there are a series of steps that must be taken including “removal and disposal of all radioactive components and materials, and cleanups of any radioactivity that may remain in the buildings and on the site.”

Machinery breakdown in the differing reactor designs is the major cause of nuclear insurance losses. Loses due to fire most frequently occur around six years of age.

The Convention on Nuclear Safety was adopted in 1994. “Its aim is to legally commit participating States operating land-based nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety by setting international benchmarks to which States would subscribe.”

Beyond the design of nuclear power plants and their landscape surrounds is the question of the disposal of nuclear waste.
How confident are designers, engineers and geologists of the long term safety of nuclear waste storage strategies?

Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

How green is my neighbourhood?

One of the unfortuneate consequences of the fight against urban sprawl, which has been largely taken up in the name of Jane Jacobs, is the loss of green space and the urban forests of many communities. They are disappearing in the manner environmentalists call ‘death by a thousand cuts’, that is (sometimes) slowly and incrementally.

Sherwood Forest is one of the old, upscale, districts of Detroit, ‘the city of Neighbourhoods’;

“Developers thought that the area should resemble an English village; thus, they selected appropriate English names and curved and winding streets. You will not find a rectangular street pattern here or in old English villages. There are about 435 homes, most of them built before the Depression terminated housing construction in the city. Many of them are Georgian Colonials or English Tudor homes in keeping with the English theme. Some of the homes are newer, having been constructed after building resumed in 1947. They are large, even by the standards of early 21st-century architecture since they average about 3,600 square feet with four to six bedrooms.”

In the adjacent suburb of Palmer Woods is the Dorothy Turkel House by Frank Lloyd Wright, which undoubtably also relies on its leafy surrounds for its ambience.

British biologist Professor Jeff Sayer in his lecture at James Cook University asked the apt conservation question, ‘Conserving the forests for whom?’

Effective policies re global warming, climate change, urban design, sustainability and landscape architecture

Scotland's Old Red Sandstone was laid down in hot, dry, arid conditions - about 400 million years ago. Homo sapiens evolved about 4 million years ago and is not responsible for this climate change

Scotland's Old Red Sandstone was laid down in hot, dry, arid conditions - about 400 million years ago. Homo sapiens evolved about 4 million years ago and is not responsible for the climate change from hot arid desert to cold wet coast.

The expert science behind the theory of global warming is unimpeachable and unchallengable: thermometers show temperatures are rising and tape measures show glaciers are retreating. But several important questions have uncertain answers:

  1. What percentage of global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels and felling rain forests?
  2. What percentage difference would result from the measures advocated by reasonable scientists?

The answers to these questions would be useful. My guesses are (1) humans have caused only a small percentage of the global warming in the last 20,000 years (2) the measures currently under discussion, though I am in full support of them, would have next-to-no-effect on climate change. If we are serious about doing whatever little we can do to lessen climate change then we should consider the following moderate measures:-

  • Stop world leaders from wasting their time and our money on conferences in Kyoto, Copenhagen etc, or, if this proves difficult, make them spend their time using Copenhagen’s wonderful bicycle network instead of its limousines, its cavernous conference halls and its spikey cocktail bars
  • Ban the consumption of meat
  • Make it illegal to drive children to school – at any time in any country
  • Stop wasting hydrocarobons on road transport and air travel (making every place a holiday destination would help)
  • Stop war and stop making munitions and use the money to build giant solar energy farms in dry deserts
  • Extend Chinese population control policies to Africa, along with its mineral resource policies
  • Use  suburban gardens for home-grown food and vegetables, especially in America and Australia
  • Facilitate voluntary euthanasia
  • Legalize heroin, cannabis, cocaine etc – to get more tax revenue to spend on protecting rain forests – and stop the waste of resources on ineffective drug enforcement policies in rich and in poor countries
  • Vegetate most walls and most roofs in most cities of the future
  • Put 300 mm of insulation in most roofs, floors and walls
  • Train more landscape architects and urban designers
  • Replace the World Bank and the UNDP with Jamie Lerner
  • ‘In the prison of his days teach the free man how to praise’ (W B Yates)

Image courtesy Earthwatcher

Sustainable energy, landscape architecture and the carbon cycle

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out (image from the 10-page Synopsis, reproduced courtesy David Mackay)

So far as I know, there is only one excellent book on Sustainable Energy. It is available free and the author, David MacKay, has become a government advisor. Everyone should read the 10-page synopsis. My question is this: how will solar power affect the landscape and what can landscape architects do to help the shift to sustainable energy? Solar, Clean Coal, Nuclear, Tide, Wave, Hydro, Waste, Pumped Heat, Wood, Biofuel, Wind.

The European average for energy use is 125 kWh/day.  Covering the windiest 10% of Britain with onshore windfarms would yield 20 kWh/ day per person; covering every south-facing roof with solar water-heating panels would capture 13 kWh/day per person; wave machines intercepting Atlantic waves over 500 km of coastline would provide 4 kWh per day per person.

Do landscape architects have anything to say about the layout of giant solar farms? David MacKay believes they are the most promising solution in the longer term. And what about giant wind farms?