Earlier this Spring I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil to take in firsthand the urban transportation infrastructure, social policies, and landscape qualities of Curitiba. While it lies off the beaten path for many tourists, there are a tremendous amount of lessons and insights that can be gleamed from the city and its history of sustainable design practices.
A common thread running through many the programs, infrastructure, and buildings is a keen eye for what already exists in the environment. As an example, the main public transportation system was directly influenced by historical roads that organized the city, one running north/south (from cattle herding) and one running east/west (from the ocean to the mountains). This in turn led to a linear axial organization of zoning and residential density along transportation corridors.
The park system of Curitiba also offers a window into this way of thinking, from both landscape and cultural perspectives. Some parks, such as Parque Barigui, respond to the need for flood control while others, such as Parque do Papa offer scenarios for resident immigrant populations to maintain connections to traditional ways of buildings and living.
In response to material use, several public buildings and much of the park infrastructure is built from salvaged telephone poles. A story told while visiting the Department for the Environment was given of how an individual one day called the Department wondering what could be done with an excess of wood telephone poles as new metal ones were being erected. It happened to be a time when the Department of the Environment was constructing and planning a campus of buildings for itself. Instead burning, incinerating, or discarding the telephone poles the Department used them to construct their buildings and park infrastructure.
In the current climate of sustainability awareness, Curitiba offers a wonderful window into synergies generated through the participation of landscape, material, culture, social, and transportation qualities of the built environment.
– Kevin Barden
I attended a four-day Zero Net Energy course co-sponsored by Solar Action Alliance and PG&E. Topics ranged from Home Energy Audits for existing homes to determining the best types of fuel sources to achieve Net Zero Energy on a new home.
Here are a few facts I learned that you might find useful for saving energy in your current home without having to open up any walls or replacing your mechanical system:
- In the market for a new appliance, LED replacement lamps, car or laptop? Check out TopTen USA for the most up to date information on which brand and model are actually achieving the highest ranks in energy and performance.
- Refrigerators with the freezer on top or bottom, (rather than vertically along the side) are more energy efficient.
- EnergyStar has never regulated clothes dryers. Most electric clothes dryers consume as much energy as a new fridge, washing machine, and dishwasher combined!
- What can you do? Gas powered clothes dryers use much less energy and innovations for electric dryers that use technology such as heat exchangers are in the works.
- Biggest “plug load” found in your home? The TV.
- While TVs have made some of the biggest improvements in energy consumption reduction, they have also gotten bigger and we own more of them per household, (proving that regulation does not need to hinder sales)
- The preset mode you have it set in can help save energy. For example, ‘Preset Cinema’ uses less than 125 watts of energy while ‘Preset Vivid’ and the ‘Default Retail Vivid’ usesover 250 watts.
- Idle electric loads average 36% of your electric bill. Do you often leave home and wonder if you left the lights on or the thermostat turned up?
- You can turn lamps and electronics off remotely, (even from your iPhone) with a simple wireless controller installed at the outlet: ByeBye Standby Wireless Remote Control Energy Saving Kit
- Control your lights remotely with wireless light switches: Belkin WeMo Light Switch
- Control your thermostat online: Nest Learning Thermostat and Honeywell Wi-Fi Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat.
What does it mean to be “green” 20 feet underground? This is the question being addressed by the Lowline, a proposal for 60,000 square feet of subterranean public space in an abandoned trolley terminal in New YorkCity’s Lower East Side. Situated at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge and beneath the city streets, the environment of the former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal consists of nearly 1.5 acres of crisscrossing railroad tracks, cobblestones, and a forest of steel columns supporting a vaulted concrete and asphalt ceiling. One would be hard-pressed to find anything green within the cavernous interior–not even a blade of grass. It is a forgotten relic of New York’s past, once a critical element in the city’s infrastructure and civic life now unseen and underutilized.
With the Lowline proposal, designer James Ramsey and director Dan Barasch seek to transform the former trolley terminal into an urban green space in the most traditional sense which is to say a park complete with grass, trees, walking paths, and recreation and leisure areas. While this may not be the most logical appropriation for an underground space, renderings from their proposal show children playing beside illuminated pools of water with lush trees receding into the distance. A grid of steel I-beams supports a vaulted ceiling which appears to emanate thin sheets of natural light to the environment below.
In order to provide natural light for the plants and trees underground, the designers have employed the use of remote skylight technology to collect sunlight from above and channel it below. While the concept is not new, the technology is novel in its use of advanced optical systems. Situated above ground are solar collection dishes and helio tubes which reflect and collect sunlight through their parabolic form and fiber optic cables. They are the only visible element of the park from street level. The dish employs a tracking mechanism which allows it to follow the path of the sun throughout the year. The light is then reflected and distributed through a mirrored dome into the space below.
This underground park would be the first of its kind. Its unique setting has dictated the process through which the proposal has been developed which is to say the primary issue with the Lowline is one of public perception from both a biological and cultural perspective. What would it feel like to be in an underground cavern filled with trees in a sunlit but skyless space? Is a park still green if it there is no sky?
Many questions about the proposal remain to be answered, but for now the Lowline team is busy trying to gain political, financial, and community support through a feasibility study and a full-scale mockup of the remote skylight. If the project does move forward, it would undoubtedly set a precedent and transform the definition altogether of what it means to be an urban green space.
Aaron Lim is a designer working at Feldman Architecture and is a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.
This is the second in a series about different efforts to reclaim unused spaces in urban areas.. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of a project that you’d like to nominate for a future article.
We’ve come across a few good infographics in the past couple of weeks, so we thought we would share them here.
The first comes from Autodesk’s blog, and talks all about how green building is good for small business.
And the second is all about solid-state lighting and how much energy it saves, courtesy of CREE, Inc.
This is the first post in a new series about different efforts to reclaim unused spaces in urban areas.
A rendering of the future Bloomingdale Trail.
Chicago is on the verge of something big. The Windy City is working hard to redefine itself into an urban oasis. Ideas for parks and green areas are popping up left and right. Two that stand out are Bloomingdale Trail and Northerly Island Park. Both projects focus on reusing previously vacated civic space; Bloomingdale Trail will take over a former rail line, while Northerly Island Park reclaims a bygone airstrip on Lake Michigan. These projects are indicative of a larger movement that we are noticing in cities across the globe to convert underused areas into functional destinations that people will revitalize urban centers. (more…)
Caterpillar House by Feldman Architecture earned LEED Platinum certification in the LEED for Homes program in 2011. Photo by Joe Fletcher.
At Feldman Architecture, we have been fortunate to have clients coming the project kick-off meeting with a list of ‘green goals’ in mind. Today, with so much being published about sustainable design, the ideas that green design can be beautifully integrated into a project and promote technologies that help rather than harm the environment are widely disseminated.
One of the champions in the promotion of green design has been the United States Green Building Council, USGBC, with its well-known LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, program. Buildings which have earned the LEED designation are known to have met and exceeded the standards of the local, state and federal requirements for green design. Here in California, our Title 24 and local requirements, some of which even require that projects meet the Green Point Rating system administered by BuildItGreen, tend to be quite progressive in terms of protecting the environment, but LEED tends to push the green building practice steps further. (more…)