Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Green, wooden, and made by robots


There have been a few stories in the past weeks that show promise, converging the disciplines of technology and architecture with an emphasis on bettering our environment.

Imagine asking an architect this question: what hot new material do you we will build skyscrapers out of in the coming years? "Wood" is probably not the answer that you would expect.

But that's exactly what Vancouver architect Michael Green proposes. Green said recently:

“We grow trees in British Columbia that are 35 stories tall, so why do our building codes restrict timber buildings to only five stories?”

To demonstrate his thesis, Green has not only written a book titled Tall Wood, demonstrating the benefits of designing and building tall buildings out of wood, but also helped establish the Wood Innovation and Design Center at the University of North British Columbia which, at 29.25 meters (effectively eight stories), is currently lauded as the tallest modern timber building in North America. There are aims to build higher timber structures than that, however. Just one example being a fourteen story apartment building was just completed in Bergen, Norway. How is this happening with timber?

As outlined on the previous link at Discover, 2009 was the year that thoughts really began to change. That year marked the development of cross-laminated solid wood panels. This allowed for far higher structural integrity but also the ability to lock in carbon dioxide. Which leads us to the benefits for the environment. The use of concrete is already accounts for 5% of the world's CO2 emissions. Providing building materials that serve as an alternative to concrete would certainly go a long way to help. I wonder though if this type of building could be teamed with another development.

A technology has been manufactured in South Korea that can turn discarded cigarette butts into electrical storage. If you've ever smoked...or just looked down at the asphalt outside a bar, strip club, fast food joint, hell any city sidewalk...then you know that cigarette butts are filters made out of densely packed fibers. These fibers can be quite useful to supercapacitors. When burned in nitrogen-rich chambers, pores form on the surfaces of the filters, thus increasing the filters' surface areas. Tests have shown that these pores can store far more energy than other materials previously used in supercapacitors, You know me, I'm always a quidnunc  for new technology but I must admit I did not see this coming. So imagine an eco-friendly, wooden building that is powered by one of the most disgusting forms of trash there is?

But wait! There's more!

What if the whole building were built by robots?

I came across this article about robots repairing gas pipelines beneath the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Don't scoff. Read the link. It's not the craziest thing you've read about with robots lately. At least if you're a regular at ESE. But I digress...

Remote-controlled robots moved to pre-programmed locations along the piping and inject sealants into the cracks and fissures. As one member of the robot project said:

“The use of robotics technology will enable us to complete our work more quickly than ever before with less traffic disruption. The robot refurbishes the gas mains from inside the pipe. The use of robotic repairs means that we can substantially reduce the amount of time we’re working in the road."

Granted that's not the same thing as construction but is it really all that far of a leap to make?

So put all that together. A building. Brought about from an innovative design. Powered by a new technology. All of it eco-friendly...and built by robots. Does it get any cooler? ESE endorses.

In all honesty, the innovation is cool but it's the environmentally-friendly aspects of this kind of building that really get me sitting up to take notice.  As news about climate change keeps getting all the more dire, our course of action grows clearer.

Unless we just plain don't care, that is.



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