If ever there is a pandemic caused by international travel, then I am sure that architects and engineers will play a role. This has been an exceptionally busy month of travel for me. I have been to Wuhan, China; Paris, France; Montreal, Canada and Jeddah in Saudi, not to mention trips around the US, including the very successful CTBUH Awards Dinner and Symposium in Chicago.
It was only mildly surprising to meet the same people in New York, Chicago and Wuhan since our clients were interviewing a range of international designers. I am also sure that more colleagues from the Council could have been found in Paris, Jeddah or Montreal if only I had a way of finding them. Perhaps we need an App for that?
Certainly, the students I spoke to at McGill and Harvard were from a host of countries including Korea, China, and Japan, as well as a smattering from across Europe and South America.
I hope that this internationalization of design does not lead to standardization and dullness. Does everyone like the same thing; and should there be a standardization of solutions based on efficiency and pretty curtain walls? I hope not. It is certainly interesting to see that Shanghai has chosen a dramatic spiraling form for the 632m tower being designed by Gensler. Indeed, all the super-tall towers in Shanghai are unique and distinctive, creating a great sense of place and a unique identity to the city.
When I designed the structure of the tallest building in Shanghai, about 25 years ago, it was only 43 stories tall; and Wuhan today reminds me a lot of Shanghai then. In Wuhan, we dipped our toes in the Yangtze and looked at the river that Chairman Mao swam across. I think this is where Ken Drucker of HOK gave me his cold. I couldn’t imagine them stopping the river traffic today, as there was a constant stream of barges and tankers passing in both directions; so much so, that the river looked like a giant highway on steroids. Wuhan is a conurbation with a population of 10 million and barely a high-rise in sight compared to the first tier Chinese cities. If Wuhan follows the lead of Shanghai and Beijing, then in 10 years the population could double and the number of buildings over 40 stories could increase a hundredfold.
By the time I got to Jeddah, about 10 days later, I was just about over my cold. It was surprising for me to learn from our hosts that Saudi Arabia is the 8th largest construction industry in the world, with a $300bn government investment earmarked for construction in the next 10 years. This massive government investment in infrastructure includes air, rail and social infrastructure, like hospitals and universities.
It has been a while since I had been to Saudi. Just over a decade ago, I worked with Bill Chilton on Saudi’s tallest building; the 300m Kingdom Tower. Today, tower cranes are clear evidence of the current construction boom. Saudi Arabia appears to be determined to improve itself and to create cities that are as modern and functional as any first world country, or perhaps even better. Their plans contain many tall buildings, including the next world’s tallest; a tower over 1,000m.
I certainly think China, Saudi and all countries are entitled to the same quality and standard of living that we have in the west. China and Saudi have the will and resources to make massive changes to their cities in a short period of time; and as they succeed, which they will, other countries will want to copy them.
So what will this do to the world? Temperatures are rising, ice is melting, coral is dying, and both fresh and salt water are becoming more acidic. We know that the world cannot survive if all countries create as much CO2 as the developed countries, such as the US. Fortunately, China has clear plans to minimize CO2 production and to create efficient buildings. Even Saudi has similar goals despite a wealth of oil and gas and a natural tendency to be generous and give free energy to its citizens.
While many cities in the US are committed to Kyoto; at a national level, the US seems to be moving away from carbon commitments, as oil and gas once again appear abundant. I hope it does not take more mega-disasters, like Katrina, before the US makes a national commitment to reduce its carbon emissions.
There is a need for both new and established cities to create a low-carbon environment. The Council and its members are committed to this goal. The first step in creating a low-carbon society is understanding how much energy and resources buildings and cities consume and how much C02 they produce. In the old days, people judged buildings by their height; but in the future, carbon will be of equal or perhaps even greater interest.
This first step is not easy, because of the difficulty in calculating how much of the building electricity, gas and water is green and how much is black. However, there is an enormous amount of data out there, waiting to be collected and analyzed. The Council is encouraging cities and governments to put the data in the public domain, so that quantitative comparisons can be made between buildings. The data is growing; and the Council is working with several partner organizations on ways of collecting and disseminating the data. I hope that in a few years you will be able to click on something like Google to see the energy-hogs and the carbon-queens and be able to identify which buildings are efficient and which ones are not. That would change the type of buildings where people would want to live and work and would change the industry completely.
I write this from Portland Oregon, one of Americas leading sustainable cities, and a place that shows that a low-carbon city can lead to a better quality of life rather than a poorer one.