New York skyline

Last week news broke that New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio would be banning glass and steel buildings on the basis that they contribute a lot to climate change.

But a ban on these materials turned out to be a bit of an overreach. It emerged later that the plan is to tighten up legislation to stop the construction of high-emitting buildings.

“We are going to introduce legislation to ban glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city, or in our earth anymore,” de Blasio said last week.

But he followed this by clarifying that it is okay to use glass as long as the design is energy efficient.

“If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use all the glass, if they do all the things needed to reduce the emissions. But putting up monuments to themselves that harm our earth and threaten our future. That will no longer be allowed in New York City.”

De Blasio said buildings were the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in New York, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of the city’s total emissions.

Although it became quickly apparent that he wasn’t banning these materials entirely, the announcements attracted attention from architects all over the world.

“Just because you see a lot of glass doesn’t mean it’s not green, and just because you see a lot of concrete doesn’t mean it is green,” the executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York, Ben Prosky, said.

A sustainability expert in the UK, founder of sustainability consultancy Targeting Zero Carbon Simon Sturgis, backed the idea and said London should think about adopting it.

He said glass causes sustainability issues in buildings for two main 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.”

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  1. This news is a really just a reminder from the Mayor, of the tighter LEED Gold requirements for (most) new buildings in NYC, introduced 6 months ago.

    The LEED & BREEAM standards are more widely used than Australia’s Greenstar — we appear to hold our system as the best for applicability and flexibile sustainable design criteria, but it is dwarfed by the competing overseas systems. Instead of reinventing the wheel, our authority should have instead spend their resources working with the global pioneers of rating systems. Perhaps one day we Aussies can stop playing catchup and just work alongside the rest of the pack.