Urban Sequoia raises the bar for carbon-neutral urban design

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Disruption of technology is often associated with negative consequences such as social disorder, environmental degradation, and economic marginalization. Facebook (now Meta) founder Mark Zuckerberg summed up this philosophy with his first motto “Move fast and break things.” But disruption can also be beneficial. When done well, it can promote health, well-being, efficiency and equity. In this spirit, Metropolis is thrilled to share the winners of its inaugural Responsible Disruptors program, honoring A&D technology projects that represent significant change for the better.


“If you move away from ‘This is how we’ve been doing it for decades’ and instead ask, ‘Are we really doing this right? What else can we do?’ it becomes a mindset shift,” says Yasemin Kologlu, office manager for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in New York. The company used this shift in mindset as the starting point for Urban Sequoia, a proposal in which buildings and their surrounding urban environment become carbon absorbers. First presented at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the holistic concept, inspired by natural ecosystems, combines sustainable urban design, innovations in materials and emerging technologies at building scale: a prototype skyscraper that can sequester 1,000 tonnes of carbon per year.

The prototype starts with common sustainable materials and methods, including bamboo and wood, in addition to newly developed natural materials like BioBrick, a hybrid building product that includes saltwater photosynthetic bacteria capable of sequestering carbon dioxide. carbon and has the ability to regenerate after being damaged. . The collective has also looked to technological advances such as direct air capture, which can work with natural building conditions, such as the stack effect and heat generation, to help the structure absorb the carbon rather than emitting it. “SOM, like many in the industry, has a strong focus on net zero and carbon neutrality,” says SOM Partner Chris Cooper. “But focusing on lifelong carbon really made us realize that net zero is just an improvement, not a solution.”

By designing the plan to be applicable to buildings of all sizes and types, SOM envisions it in terms of entire carbon removal “forests” in cities, extending even to the spaces between buildings, such as streets, sidewalks and parks. According to Cooper: “The goal is to think about what materials to use, how much green space versus paved space, and how to incorporate technology, so that all of these areas can hopefully grow. into the larger urban network and become an absorbing ecosystem. ”

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