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Space Colonies on Earth

With over 50% of the world’s population now living in cities, and with that percentage increasing, along with at least another two billion people projected to be added to global population before it levels off, megacities are destined to rise to complement existing cities. Some will rise in the middle of empty open space, perhaps offshore or in a desert. Others will rise from redeveloped sections of exisiting cities. These new cities will have towers of composites and steel and pervasive photovoltaic and thermal architecture. The ocean will supply saltwater feedstock for desalinated fresh water, and all waste water will be cleaned and the surplus will be piped to neighboring arid lands, to filter into aquifers or reestablish new forests bringing back moderate and reliable rains.

Future megacities will be like spaceships – self-sufficient,
recycling everything, generating surplus water & power

Megacities will be like space colonies on a new planet, completely self-sufficient, and making an imprint calculated to improve the health of the regional ecosystems. In practice that means desalinating seawater for residential and industrial use, factory farming, then cleaning and recycling all wastewater. The surplus water from megacities can be used to remoisturize the planet. The earth is dry because tropical forests are half the extent they once were, and our lakes and water tables are depleted. The water surplus from new megacities can rewater the planet.

Environmentalists decry mega-projects yet extol the megacity. New cities have to attract people, which is why cities upon terraced mountains could permit high density while preserving cool, rural ambiance. Megacities could be more people friendly if multi-family, mid-rise dwellings were designed in a terraced manner to incorporate high-ceilings and panoramic views of multi-story buildings, but with every unit on the terraced structure having a balcony and yard, and only a one story drop to the next yard. Yards would vary in size. With a residence above, below and to the side, the interior space of each residential condominium could exist beneath a roof covered with turf that would constitute the yard of the condominium above. With this design, literally every resident in a huge multistory structure would retain a connection to the land – there could be paths along the turf covering the major structural elements of the massive building, so residents could literally walk up and down on the growing turf of the roof.

Under the ground, and via massive, wide canyons into and out of terraced megastructures, personal vehicle access and parking and transit amenities can be plentiful – freight arrives via a sorting yard not dissimilar to airline luggage processing, hopefully more reliable! In comes food for the tens of thousands, out goes clean water and usable recycled materials. The future megacity can produce water and energy surpluses that are exported to the planet. They can produce virtually zero pollution, and they can house billions.

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Energy, Policy, Law, & Government, Recycling, Regional0 Comments

Smart, Smart Growth

Concentrating people into high-density living arrangements is a central premise of the “smart growth” movement. But the nature of these high density communities is what separates the truly smart developments from the merely smart.

Green buildings are designed, essentially, to require no more energy and water inputs than they are able to generate using on-site systems. A green building is also designed, of course, to use non-toxic, sustainable materials, and to recycle or 100% treat all of its waste. But green buildings may also be awe-inspiring feats of architecture, and fantastic spaces for humans to work, live, and congregate.

Green Building
Image: Montana State Univ.

A mesmerizing example of such a green building showed up in the December 2006 issue of The Atlantic magazine, in a detailed illustration that consumes nearly the entire space of a two-page advertisement. This ad, placed by United Technologies, and accompanied by the phrase “Imagine that. You can do well in the world without hurting it,” there is a cross-sectional illustration of building perhaps ten stories in height that is “the first zero net energy building.”

On parts of the roof and on sections of passive solar sunshades are arrays of photovoltaics that are totally integrated into the surfaces.

Designed to operate inside ducts with barely visible intakes, high-tech wind-turbines also operate, silently, to generate additional electricity. Ultra high energy-efficient elevators speed people and cargo throughout the levels. Underground is a cistern, to collect all of the building’s runoff from rainfall. Rooftops are covered in turf including plants and ponds, with a water reclamation system integrated into the landscaping.

Between cantilevered beams of steel and composite, this large green building has floor-to-ceiling “electro-chromic” windows that automatically increase their tint depending on the degree of sunlight. These windows may also be photovoltaic. Various levels of the building have extra-high ceilings, as high as twenty feet. Workspaces and residences are placed throughout the building, and a giant central atrium ensures ample air circulation throughout the building.

Along with rainwater cisterns that can either draw from or supply municipal pipes, beneath the building are parking areas and utility areas including electrical storage units that use fuel cells or batteries. The climate and energy functions of the building are completely automated, and controllable from anywhere in the world using a cell phone.

Sunlight provides energy, rain provides water, nothing pollutes, there is no “urban heat island” effect, and people live in enjoyable and inspiring spaces in very high proximity to each other. Green buildings make humanity’s footprint smaller on the earth, and they can also make the life within the print a better life than ever.

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Electricity, Energy, Fuel Cells, Homes & Buildings, Landscaping, Other, Solar, Wind1 Comment

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