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London ‘should follow New York’ in banning glass towers

Shutterstock new york skyline
  • 7 Comments

A UK sustainability expert has called for London to follow New York and ‘ban’ new glass and steel skyscrapers

New York City mayor Bill De Blasio this week pledged to pass laws prohibiting the construction of heavily glazed towers or ensuring developers took stringent measures to reduce carbon emissions in other ways.

London-based Simon Sturgis, founder of sustainability consultancy Targeting Zero Carbon, said he backed the move and that the UK capital should ‘follow suit’.

Setting out his proposals for a $14 billion New York City Green New Deal to slash carbon emissions and tackle climate change, De Blasio referenced the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy seven years ago,.

‘We have until 2030 to change things fundamentally or our lives won’t be the same,’ he said.

‘Our buildings must be part of the solution not part of the problem. For the first time on Earth, a major city says “no more”. It is now law that buildings must do the right thing for the people of this city.’

De Blasio said buildings were the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in New York.

Shutterstock 759873490 de blasio in 2017

Bill de Blasio outside Trump Tower in 2017

Bill de Blasio outside Trump Tower in 2017

‘Buildings got built that should never have been built. We will introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming,’ he said. ‘Putting up monuments to themselves that harm our Earth and threaten our future will no longer be allowed in New York City.’

However he appeared to backtrack slightly, adding: ‘If a company wants to build a big skyscraper they can use a lot of glass as long as they do all the other things needed to reduce emissions.’

Sturgis said glass was an environmentally problematic material to use in construction for two key reasons.

‘The first and most obvious is that glass buildings absorb huge amounts of heat which requires high levels of cooling to remove,’ he said.

‘Secondly the cladding of an all-glass building has a life of about 40 years, so replacing it on this cycle has significant embodied carbon costs over the life of the building.’

Sturgis said he supported the initiative in New York and that London should ‘follow suit’. 

But he added that commercial pressure might lead a move away from glass-based construction ahead of political intervention. 

‘I believe we are moving to a position where all glass buildings will be seen as environmentally irresponsible, will consequently have difficulty in attracting tenants and therefore be seen as an investment risk,’ he said.

SOM associate Mina Hasman added that De Blasio’s policy showed ’how committed the mayor is to reducing emissions from the built environment and to addressing climate change’.

She added: ’We need all cities to have such progressive measures to really address the exponentially growing issues at hand’.

Research by New London Architecture found that at the end of 2018, there was a pipeline of 541 tall buildings planned for the English capital - with almost one in three located in outer boroughs.

Comments

Bill Dunster, principal, ZEDfactory

The mayor of New York’s initiative is exemplary and just needs a little more detailed elaboration. The race to maximise each individual plots’ development potential by building as high as possible rarely benefits the wider urban environment and often steals sunlight, blocks the prevailing wind that removes air pollution from the urban heat island and can cause congestion by concentrating the input of so much natural capital into such a small area.

However, building-integrated photovoltaic cladding is an energy-positive glass surface capable of providing daylight and electricity generation and can be easily integrated in a naturally ventilated glass building, so maybe it’s best to concentrate on the amount of scarce urban energy sucked into these monsters and the amount of air pollution they pump out.

Sadly, almost all skyscrapers are designed as competing urban sculptures deriving their form and cladding materials from wilful and abstract whim rather than trying to collaborate together to create the highest quality of lifestyle and workstyle for the maximum number of people. 

Karen Cook, co-founder of PLP Architecture, and design team lead on 22 Bishopsgate

It’s good news that the New York City government is taking climate change seriously and wants to do something about it. There is a danger when the succinctness of political headlines undermines the objective. Glass is made from natural materials, lasts forever and is recyclable.

Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez, who represents New York’s 14th congressional district at a national level, champions the so-called Green New Deal (terminology borrowed from then President Roosevelt’s response to the 1930s crisis when many Americans were out of work, and the government introduced a series of public works projects, reforms and regulations).

Glass is made from natural materials, lasts forever and is recyclable.

It is helpful when government sets energy saving targets and promotes the development and use of green technologies through tax incentives and research grants. The best chance to reach or exceed those targets is for industry experts to investigate ideas and test new technologies. This competition drives innovation. Sometimes, research is ahead of the conservative building industry and here legislation can be helpful.

Every era in history is legible through its building use, materials and construction technology. Why do we build tall buildings? Land values are high where people want to live and work. High population density, served by tall buildings, helps to achieve effective public transport, and to sustain shops and services, schools, hospitals.

 

Plp 22 bishopsgate credit riverfilm martin richardson

Plp 22 bishopsgate credit riverfilm martin richardson

Source: Riverfilm

PLP Architecture’s 22 Bishopsgate tower

The Mayor of London has over the last two decades introduced increasingly stricter energy saving targets, which are a requirement of planning permission. In response, some of London’s recent glass buildings have among the most energy efficient tall building façades in the world. An all glass ‘cavity’ façade, such as at 30 St. Mary Axe, Heron Tower, 122 Leadenhall, The Shard, and 22 Bishopsgate, help to meet those energy saving targets while their specific engineering behind their design continues to evolve to improve other performance objectives.

A high performance glass façade contributes greatly to improving occupant comfort. Technology introduces a welcome degree of individual choice and control , which has been absent in corporate buildings. At 22 Bishopsgate, the use of low iron glass in a cavity façade with operable blinds in the cavity altogether increase natural daylight transmission by as much as 60 per cent over a standard double glazed façade meeting the same solar protection criteria. This in turn reduces the use of artificial light on an overcast day. The blinds when in use reduce solar gain, reducing the burden on air cooling. The same blinds help to prevent winter heat loss. The blinds in each individual glass unit have their own IP address that allows the individual to control a blind from the mobile telephone. This complex skin performs well for a range of climate conditions while giving the occupant the power to control comfort.

 

We should continue to ask, what more can we do with the design of the built environment to reverse harm to the planet? The materials that hold glass façades together are what eventually fail, such as synthetic gaskets and sealants. Some research is being done to make glass facades without these synthetic materials. Other research advancing glass technologies include transparent photovoltaics, bio-chemical processes for adaptive shading, namely algae growing on glass louvres that provides renewable energy and solar shading at the same time. Refurbishing and re-purposing less well-built buildings would help to reduce carbon emissions.

 

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • Well said...enough of these environmentally criminal and self-serving vanity projects, like the Tulip, the Cucumber, the Zucchini and the Carrot. Zero carbon projects only need apply.

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  • At last somebody in power who is talking about embodied energy! Not only are most towers appalling in terms of maximizing density whilst minimizing material mass and embodied energy; not only do they usually have a built-in obsolescence; but the real estate economics of towers means that they render perfectly serviceable buildings uneconomic to refurbish and upgrade, which therefore end up demolished, wasting even more embodied energy.

    What is utterly disgusting is that these arguments have been available since at least 2002 (when the City Corporation commissioned a report on embodied energy) but have been ignored by most professional architects, as well as policy-makers and decision-makers, and indeed have been entirely dismissed by Inspectors and Secs of State on the few occasions that they have been referred to. We have wasted 20 years when we could have been addressing the climate change catastrophe on this issue, while allowing 600+ towers to be approved in London.

    These monuments to folly - and their architects - will be looked on aghast by those still standing when the sea has drowned most our big cities.

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  • Sadiq Khan and Jules Pipe need to start showing some strategic leadership on tall buildings in London. The number of new tall buildings joining the 541 already in the planning pipeline (according to NLA's 2019 Tall Buildings Survey) seems to be growing unabated from the Johnson/Lister years. Do they care about what this is doing to London, but more particularly to local communities.

    Sadiq Khan's manifesto "A City for all Londoners" suggested that local communities needed to be comfortable with the scale and nature of change. London Forum mirrored this back to Jules Pipe and James Murray by asking "What kind of London do Londoners want?", suggesting that looking back in 10 years' time whether they could be proud of their legacy.

    Looking at performance since 2016, the Mayor has failed to influence the future form of London in a way that many Londoners would want.

    There is a parallel with climate change. Every day we are faced with big decisions - we can choose the right direction or carry on in the wrong direction. The pipeline of tall buildings is like the build-up global climate change - our future is being compromised by the lack of strategic change of direction by the Mayor.

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  • As a retired 66 year old I can remember thick ice on the inside of a single glazed E17 bedroom window circa 1957. In 2019 ice seems to have disappeared from next door E4. I estimate the average annual E4/E17 1950's to 2019 thermal comfort temperature rise to be in the region of 10 degrees C. I am not sure where 1.5 degrees C in the Paris accord comes from; are they using a different thermometer? The 10 degrees C is subjective and is due, in my opinion to a) climate change and b) in densely populated London comes from the the humongous urban heat island effect. Standing on a London Bridge platform in the last 3 months I was downhearted to realise that what I was looking up at (Shard) was to all intents and purposes a vertical greenhouse. PS can remember getting heavily into primary energy saving designs in the mid 1970's......

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  • Sadiq Khan and Jules Pipe need to start showing some strategic leadership on tall buildings in London. The number of new tall buildings joining the 541 already in the planning pipeline (according to NLA's 2019 Tall Buildings Survey) seems to be growing unabated from the Johnson/Lister years. Do they care about what this is doing to London, but more particularly to local communities.

    Sadiq Khan's manifesto "A City for all Londoners" suggested that local communities needed to be comfortable with the scale and nature of change. London Forum mirrored this back to Jules Pipe and James Murray by asking "What kind of London do Londoners want?", suggesting that looking back in 10 years' time whether they could be proud of their legacy.

    Looking at performance since 2016, the Mayor has failed to influence the future form of London in a way that many Londoners would want.

    There is a parallel with climate change. Every day we are faced with big decisions - we can choose the right direction or carry on in the wrong direction. The pipeline of tall buildings is like the build-up global climate change - our future is being compromised by the lack of strategic change of direction by the Mayor.

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  • Daniel Lacey

    It's all probably just more hot air.

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  • The window tax that left its mark on a good deal of our Georgian houses (and even on at least one of the brand new repros at Sherford 'new town', unless this was a builders' bungle) stood in lieu of income tax, but might be worth resurrecting - it could pay handsomely in London, and perhaps even cover TfL's shortfall. Think Landfill Tax.

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