The west side of Manhattan used to be a scruffy neighborhood with so many slaughterhouses that a special elevated rail line, the High Line, had to be built for transporting their meat to the markets. Ever since the High Line was transformed into a public park, it has attracted throngs of visitors, including more than five million tourists per year. Today the High Line is a 2.3-kilometer-long green belt winding between New York’s urban canyons. Its northern end, at West 34th Street, will soon be extended and raised to lofty heights. The Spiral, a skyscraper now being realized by Turner Construction Company, will continue this green pathway as a string of terraces wrapped around the building all the way to the top, over 300 meters above street level. High Line visitors won’t have access to this green spiral, but the building’s tenants will be able to enjoy hanging gardens, plantfilled terraces, and light-flooded atria on each of the 65 floors. “We’re making the High Line part of Manhattan’s skyline,” says the Danish star architect Bjarke Ingels, whose architectural firm designed the concept.
Green oases along glittering high-rise facades—people who are interested in architecture have grown accustomed to this concept ever since the furor caused by the Bosco Verticale in Milan—twin residential towers featuring terraces planted with 900 trees. Today numerous designs of this kind are being submitted in architectural competitions. Are these green designs simply ornaments in tune with the spirit of the times, or are they signs of genuine progress? Julia Gisewite, who is the Sustainability Director at Turner Construction Company, thinks they represent progress. “Urban planners and political decision makers are increasingly taking a holistic approach toward making our cities greener,” she says. “They are taking into account the connections between buildings, the services and transportation infrastructure, local ecosystems and geography, and social systems in order to develop sustainable strategies that are adapted to the present and future needs of their cities.” Inter-municipal organizations such as C40, 100 Resilient Cities, and the 2030 Districts Network in the USA are becoming promoters of greener urban concepts. And striking changes are in fact occurring in many major cities. In London, more and more vertical gardens are being created along the outer walls of buildings. In Moscow, traffic arteries are being transformed into parks (see interview). In Paris, previously bare school courtyards will be made into green spaces that provide some shade and a cooler microclimate for schoolchildren and local residents. China is planning to create “sponge cities” that soak up rainwater and gradually release it over time. This will reduce the risks of flooding due to heavy rainfall caused by climate change. In addition, the stored water can be used for irrigation during the summer, and the evaporation of the water taken up by the soil has a cooling effect.
» URBAN PLANNERS AND POLITICAL DECISION-MAKERS ARE INCREASINGLY TAKING A HOLISTIC APPROACH. «
J U L I A G I S E W I T E , S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y D I R E C TO R , T U R N E R CO N S T R U C T I O N
THE FOCUS IS ON PEOPLE
Cities occupy only two percent of the earth’s total land mass, but they have a huge impact on its climate and ecology. Two thirds of global energy consumption occurs in cities, as do 70 percent of all CO2 emissions. The struggle against global warming, as well as compliance with the climate targets set in Paris and the reduction of our environmental footprint—all of these outcomes will basically be decided in urban areas. In addition, the number of city dwellers will increase from 4.2 billion today to 6.7 billion in 2050. Cities will then be the natural habitat of two thirds of the world’s population. People will lead their daily lives in urban environments with all their advantages and drawbacks. Many pioneering thinkers, urban planners, and architects are therefore striving to link considerations of environmental sustainability with efforts to enhance people’s quality of life. This is reflected in rating systems such as the one from the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), which is now focusing not only on buildings themselves but also increasingly on the connectivity between buildings and their surroundings and on the design of outdoor areas. The focus is shifting from purely technical standards to human beings. “People’s health and well-being have become the core of new evaluation systems tems and standards that are rapidly becoming more and more important,” says Gisewite. Among other things, she’s referring to the recently initiated WELL standard. “Whereas LEED, BREEAM, and other sustainability certificates are causing urban planners and clients to concentrate on energy consumption and environmental impacts so that they can create sustainable buildings, WELL focuses on the buildings’ users,” explains Joseph Marfi, a WELL specialist at Turner. The developers of this system brought together medical experts and architects who jointly looked for ways to improve the man-made environment and create buildings that promote their residents’ health and well-being. “The question addressed by WELL is: How can we plan and construct buildings that create environments where people can be healthier, happier, more creative, and more productive?” says Marfi.
» HOW CAN WE PLAN AND CONSTRUCT BUILDINGS WHERE PEOPLE CAN BE HEALTHIER, HAPPIER, MORE CREATIVE, AND MORE PRODUCTIVE? «
J O S E P H M A R F I , T U R N E R CO N S T R U C T I O N
Today cities are facing huge challenges that range from coping with the consequences of climate change to reducing resource consumption and meeting new individual claims to a higher quality of life. These challenges also affect the construction industry, which has to provide the technical solutions that make these changes possible. One example of that is the construction of sustainable buildings. “In the past, the market for green buildings doubled about every three years, and this growth shows no signs of slowing down,” says Gisewite. Turner, which is the undisputed Number One in the green building market in the USA, has noted that the standards for green buildings have shifted once again. “We’re seeing more and more contracts that call for the partners’ achievement of a zero goal of energy efficiency—in other words, zero energy, zero waste, zero CO2, etc.,” says Gisewite. One example of that is the new building that will house a number of California state authorities, including the departments of environmental, water, forest, and fire protection. The 20-floor office tower has been designed to fulfill a zero-energy standard and is striving to receive LEED Platinum certification. This building, which is scheduled to be ready for occupation in the summer of 2021, will consume at least 50 percent less water than a typical building of its size and function.
At the moment it’s not possible to estimate how The Spiral in New York will be rated in comparison to other skyscrapers. However, the client is also aiming to qualify for LEED certification. The main advantages of this high-rise will be its open architecture and its location. That’s because the Hudson Yards district is currently Manhattan’s biggest construction site, with developments including not only numerous office and apartment towers but also parks with a total area of more than 2.2 square kilometers. The City of New York has planned to expend almost 800 million U.S. dollars to create these green spaces, which seem almost gigantic within the context of this densely populated metropolis. The future users of this exclusive office building complex will experience New York in an entirely new way, thanks to the airy terraces of the green spiral encircling the building as well as the design of the building’s surroundings, which points to the urban future.