Our future cities? Maybe…maybe, maybe not

September 30, 2010 – For World Green Building week in September two staff members from WSP Lincolne Scott, Jason Sienkiewicz and Simon Witts, submitted the following ideas of what World Green Building Week could bring in the Year 2020.

From  Jason Sienkiewicz

It’s 2020 and Barrack W. Obama Jr is president of the USA, we’ve invented a cure for cancer, yet we still do not have hover boards. Great advancements have been made in buildings though, with many occupying the ocean’s surface. Green buildings of today have incorporated the philosophy to be as self-sustaining and creating as little impact on the earth as possible.

Energy is a large focus of green buildings, with eco-friendly batteries being able to store more captured energy than ever. This energy is the primary source for power, lighting and management systems within buildings. Green buildings of today have many features within that utilise the buildings normal functions to create renewable energy. Glazing incorporates fine solar panel characteristics that allow glazing to remain transparent, however give the ability to capture the suns energy. Wind turbine generators are located at the peak of buildings, allowing the high altitude air flow to be harnessed and transformed into usable energy. Cold water waste travels at high flows at the bottom of buildings due to the gravity drop experienced from higher levels. The water flows through a series of blades that in turn produce hydroelectric energy. Piezoelectric elements incorporated throughout the building in external louvers and within the slab also capture vibrational energy and convert it to usable energy in the battery bank.

Gyms within buildings also capture energy from users of treadmills, exercise bikes and rowing machines and turn it into usable power for the building. Geothermal heating assists in the heating of water required for building services by having wells that travel deep underground to raise the temperature of water that circulates through them.

Jason Sienkiewicz

Buildings also attempt to minimise water use and promote recycled water. Black water treatment plants capture waste water throughout the building and treat it for reuse. Fire services test water is also captured, for reuse in toilet flushing and the mechanical air conditioning systems. Air flush urinals and airblade hand dryers are add to the green building features of the building.

The building control systems are optimised for energy efficiency and comprise many features. As soon a person enters the carpark or building, the management system approximates the time it will take for them to reach the elevator. The system sends an elevator down for them, and awaits other people on the same destination floor who entered the building just after them, due to face recognition software.

Lighting above workstations desk is controlled by motion and presence sensors, rather than traditional methods of row by row control. Transition glazing assists in the cooling and heating capacity of the building. When the temperature inside in high, the glazing darkens to minimise solar radiation heat transfer to the floor. The glazing becomes more transparent when the floor temperature is low, and allows solar heat transfer in heating the floor.

The main feature of a green building however is in its name: Solver Bright Green 1029. This signifies its low impact on environmental destruction.

From Simon Witts

Electricity costs have risen to a point where a significant proportion of the population can’t afford to run their air conditioning all summer long, natural gas is now the fossil fuel of choice for most people and its cost is following that of oil which is now at $290/barrel ($200 at 2010 figures). Electricity generating companies are still reeling from the record fines imposed on them in 2019 for selling “green” electricity when they knew that the uptake, used to get through legislation, far exceed anything that they could ever supply from Australian renewable resources.

Simon Witts

Legislation introduced nearly 10 years ago which used carbon as the measure for energy reduction, has been superseded by BCA2020, which now focuses on energy use as the benchmark not carbon emissions. The result being that the majority of “iconic” structures erected in the 2010s are now penalised for relying on Tri-Generation as the main tool for getting though the regulations. And the population have finally realised that wind turbines installed in inner city and urban areas are just decoration. The industry is picking up again after the 2017-18 property crash which was in part brought on by the government consultation on the new BCA regulations, but the hot debate still ranges amongst property managers as to what to do with these empty 1980s and 1990s office blocks?

The more enlightened design teams are looking to the 18th Century for inspiration; the culture of “vernacular design” which has slowly been gaining momentum has been given a massive boost by the regulation changes. Design teams are working hard at the concept stage of the building process to design buildings that behave in a manner appropriate to the climate in which they are built; minimising the gains when it’s hot, maximising them when it’s cold. Architects are re-learning skills long forgotten in our modern culture but known so well to our forebears. A new 2020 building is beginning to emerge; in Victoria it’s low to medium rise, heavy walled and elongated to promote cross ventilation, tall narrow windows with external shutters and opening top and bottom. The banning of cars from the CBD in weekdays has enabled openable windows to be common place.

The main change is the energy; local generation stations, using CleenCoalTeknology (generating Steam and Power), which we pioneered in semi–urban areas and coupled with local wind or solar concentrators, have now been brought into the city. The government proposed buy back of strategic plots in the city has finally got through parliament, and the city wide distribution system has commenced. Some existing buildings that can’t meet the mandatory total energy target of 180 kilowatt hour per square metre per annum (further reducing to 150 kWh/sq m/annum in the 2022 regulations) will not be allowed to connect to the city grid; goodbye glass dinosaurs…