Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
 

CTBUH Leads AIA Orlando Panel Discussion on Urban Sustainability
 
April 28, 2017

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ORLANDO – CTBUH Executive Director Dr. Antony Wood and China Office Director & Academic Coordinator Dr. Peng Du, Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology, joined a panel at the AIA Orlando convention to investigate and discuss the sustainability of urban and suburban living patterns. Joining them on the panel were Luke Leung, Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Natalia Quintanilla, Sustainability Specialist and Architect, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG).

CTBUH China Office Director & Academic Coordinator Dr. Peng Du, Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology, discusses sustainable vertical urbanism in 2050. CTBUH Executive Director Dr. Antony Wood moderated the panel discussion and presented on the sustainability of urban and suburban living patterns.

Rather than assuming the preeminence of urban lifestyle patterns over their suburban counterparts, the panel took a critical look at the sustainability of each, based in part on the CTBUH research “A study of the Sustainability Implications of Differing Urban + Suburban Locations in Chicago.”

Dr. Wood, who also served as moderator for the seminar, presented first with a brief overview of the research, which looks at Chicago-based case studies of residential locations in the downtown urban core, a dense residential city neighborhood, and a nearby suburb. He began first by making the point that few contemporary studies have compared sustainability across residential typologies.

He next delved into the details of this CTBUH pilot study, arguing that the key differences in sustainability lie not in the type of residence, but rather the density of urban infrastructure in each location. Based on the findings, Wood explained, single-family homes are slightly more efficient than large residential high-rises on a per person basis in terms of home operational energy, but any efficiencies they have over their denser counterparts are negated by the large amount of infrastructure needed for fewer people. He concluded by discussing the limitations of the study, namely its small scale and the lack of economic diversity in the case study examples.

In his presentation, Luke Leung explored the relationship between health and density. He began by looking at carbon per capita and life expectancy across various cities. He found that denser cities, particularly those in Asia, tend to have lower CO2 emissions per capita, and that there is a general positive correlation between density and life expectancy in US cities. Looking at health indicators for counties in California, Illinois, and New York, Leung also found that healthier counties tend to be those with higher densities. He concluded with a theoretical case study placing Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Chicago, finding that it would have a lower carbon footprint than the equivalent number of single family homes.

The four panelists, from left to right: CTBUH Executive Director Dr. Antony Wood; Natalia Quintanilla, Sustainability Specialist and Architect, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG); Luke Leung, Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; and CTBUH China Office Director & Academic Coordinator Dr. Peng Du, Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology.

Natalia Quintanilla next took the podium to discuss her work at AS+GG researching the embodied carbon (EC) of various typologies, ranging from a 210-story skyscraper to a single family home. Using a variety of metrics, such as annual operational EC, infrastructure EC, and expected 40-year operational carbon emissions, Quintanilla analyzed the sustainability of each typology. She found that the typologies on either end of the spectrum (e.g., 100-plus story buildings and single family homes) are more inefficient than those in the middle of the spectrum, such as mid-rise structures.

Finally, Dr. Du presented on his work with the CTBUH-IIT design research studio, where students are examining sustainable vertical urbanism in 2050 with an eye towards a changing climate, population growth, and rising urbanization. He stated that the continued viability of our cities might be governed by the inherent sustainability of their location, rather than the increasingly attempt to build up more resilient infrastructure on existing urban centers. Further, Dr. Du explained how the student projects are divided into seven unique ecological regions in order to focus on the different exigencies of each, before presenting some of the projects, including designs for Yobe, Nigeria; Sikkim, India; and Brazil, representing Arid/Desert, Mountain/Highlands, and Tropical/Rainforest regions, respectively. Dr. Du focused on the relationship of the projects to their location, highlighting differences across the designs related to their specific regional needs.

Following the four presentations, Wood moderated a discussion with the panel synthesizing the different presentations. The panel also took several questions from the audience. The conversation revolved around questions of “quality of life” across different urban settings, and how demographics would impact the results of any investigation into the matter. The panel also discussed the viability of “net-zero” buildings and their potential impact on urban sustainability, and the audience inquired further about the role of infrastructure and urban policy.

Following the four presentations, the panel delved into a discussion on the topic, including a question and answer session.