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Gaurav MK Wali
Sourcing materials is the foundation of every design process, but the practice often doesn’t align with sustainable philosophies. Increasingly, companies and individuals alike are seeking natural products that can be used in new and innovative ways. One designer, Gaurav MK Wali, is an example of this goal with his use of discarded pine needles as a 100 percent bio-based and biodegradable material that can be incorporated into a variety of products.

The Cheer Project, as Wali has dubbed the innovation, is a result of the desire to solve a fire hazard issue in the nearby forests. According to Wali’s website, “The northern region of India is home to the pine trees. These forests cover most of the lands of Himachal and Uttarakhand, but these states are facing menacing problems caused by an excess of dry pine needles on the forest floor, causing frequent forest fires and several other environmental issues. With a forest cover of about 40,000 square kilometers, the damage is incalculable with no significant solution to the problem yet.”

The process of converting pine needles into a durable product material begins by “shedding” the pine needles into smaller components. Subsequently, a composite is produced by adding natural waxes and binders to the pine needle fibers. For variety, some of the composite is dyed with natural colors from local vegetables and spices.

Because the initial and final products are all-natural, the Cheer Project has created a material that is not only bio-based and biodegradable but also water-resistant, fire-resistant and recyclable. Perhaps most importantly, the innovation incorporates materials that are otherwise unused and would feed forest fires. The full manufacturing process produces no waste or pollution.

At its core, the Cheer Project is an experiment aimed at finding a sustainable material as an alternative to plastic, petroleum-based products and other environmentally damaging substances. In addition, the goal is to boost the economies of rural areas of Himachal via a sustainable craft.

“It has been an experiment to understand the root of a local material and its potential and possibilities in an ever-increasing demand for alternatives for the production of sustainable objects,” Wali said. “The ultimate concept rested on the fusion of local craftsmanship and sustainable utilization of a naturally abundant novel material — the rediscovery of the pine needle.”

PAD Studio
The Lane End House by PAD studio incorporates natural building material and sustainable solutions to increase energy-efficiency. The resulting design creates a passive home with a smaller environmental footprint and a focus on sustainability.

The exterior of the house contains balcony areas that act as solar shading for the property, complete with thoughtfully-placed openings to create a greater distribution of natural ventilation to rid the home of intense heat during the hot Summer months.

Landscape-wise, the clients wanted to incorporate a natural feel as often as possible, with large windows to connect the inhabitants with the outdoors and a functioning herb garden located on the first floor balcony. The placement of the grand windows creates natural sunlight to light the home during the day while incorporating more profound landscape views.

According to the client, “we wanted a house that was big enough to comfortably accommodate the two of us and our lifestyle – and no bigger. For us that meant carefully considered, flexible, multipurpose spaces that created a sense of space whilst retaining a modest footprint.”

High quality, insulated timber wood used to create the frame both reduces the need for artificial cooling and heating in the home, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to traditional (and heavy carbon emission-inducing) building materials. Additionally, the timber is locally-produced from renewable sources and the brick used to make the fireplace is hand-made by local vendors. On the ground floor, concrete was inserted to make the structure even more air-tight and regulate interior temperatures even further.

The builders installed a MVHR system designed to recycle heat produced from the kitchen and bathroom and mix it with clean air circulated through the ventilation and naturally colder areas of the house.

In addition to completing the standard methods such as SAP calculations and EPS ratings, the impressive home was also built to Passive House ideology.

CalPlant 1
As the first commercial-scale producer of rice straw–based, formaldehyde-free composite panels, the company will source raw material from within a 25-mile radius.

An upcycled medium-density fiberboard (MDF) product will soon make its commercial debut—and without the formaldehyde-based resins that give MDF its bad name and smell. In November, the first run of rice straw–based MDF panels will roll off the press at the $315 million CalPlant I manufacturing facility in Willows, Calif., that is now in the final stages of construction, according to the company’s press release. The product’s commercial name and brand will be revealed closer to its release, CalPlant vice president of sales, marketing, and sustainability Elizabeth Whalen tells ARCHITECT.

Rice straw is an agricultural waste product with no known subsequent value, not even as feedstock due to its lack of nutrients. Following the annual harvest of rice, disposing the leftover stalks in the field has been a longstanding environmental problem in California, the second largest rice-producing state after Arkansas. Until the 1990s, farmers would burn the byproduct until the state banned the practice due to its impact on air quality. Now, rice farmers typically flood their fields after harvest to accelerate the decomposition process, a process that not only consumes a large volume of water, but also releases methane into the air.

CalPlant's facilty, a project in the planning and permitting stages for two decades, is strategically located in the Sacramento Valley at the crux of its supply chain: Its primary raw material—rice straw—will come entirely from farms within a 15- to 25-mile radius, though Whalen expects the average distance to be even closer. “No one else can say that,” she says.

In the past two years, CalPlant has collected 100,000 tons of rice straw per year, which represents 20% of the agro-waste available in the Sacramento Valley. Whalen expects the plant to use about 300,000 tons per year, which will require the company to expand from its current staff size of about 30 to 115 full-time workers once the plant is in operation, and 450 part-time workers during the annual straw-collection period. “We're also building in a community that will benefit from having good-paying, benefits-providing jobs,” Whalen says, adding that the county has also started fielding inquiries from other companies interested in relocating to the region and in building housing stock.

In fact, it was local rice famer Jim Boyd who first approached Jerry Uhland, now CalPlant’s president, in the late 1990s with an idea for a productive use of the straw. It would take until 2017 for Boyd and Uhland along with CalPlant head of manufacturing Les Younie and CFO Chris Motley to secure the financing needed to realize their dream. (The Great Recession provided one notable setback.) In the interim, the team refined its understanding of the material’s potential in laboratories worldwide and created a product that Whalen says looks like and performs as well as, if not better than, wood fiber–based MDF.

Boyd died in 2009 without seeing the team’s efforts fully realized, but Whalen says that Boyd's daughter Suzy remains actively involved in CalPlant. In fact, the new facility is built on the Boyd family’s land, as part of their contribution to the project.

When completed, the new facility will roll out master MDF panels, up to 10 feet wide by 18 feet long, from a 10-foot-wide by 115-foot-long continuous press designed and installed by Siempelkamp, a global plant engineering, manufacturing, and installation company headquartered in Germany. At design capacity, CalPlant will produce 140 million square feet of MDF panels, assuming a 3/4-inch basis, each year, equating to 30% of California’s annual MDF demand or 36 to 41 truckloads of output per day. In actuality, the products leaving the plant floor will vary in thickness from 2 millimeters to 30 millimeters, and be used in everything from thin crossbands in the ply sandwich of composite panels, laminate flooring, and doors; to carved molding and trim; and to millwork to be painted or finished with a veneer.

Though the rice straw–fiber panels will be intended for interior use, Whalen expects they will have better moisture resistance than conventional MDF because of rice’s innately waxy nature as an aquatic plant. In lieu of urea formaldehyde, which ensures the panels' compliance with federal TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) Title VI regulations, the rice straw–fiber is held together with pMDI (polymeric methy
Brad Kahn
Dylan Herndon spends about three hours several mornings a week in a windowless basement room in Seattle’s 52,000-sq-ft Bullitt Center—likely the world’s most sustainable speculative office building. There, he concocts the specialty of the house—drinking water made exclusively from captured rainfall.

Bullitt’s potable-water treatment plant is the heart of the Bullitt water district. As the highest-capacity single-building rain-to-tap system, the district is “unlike any other,” says Herndon, a certified water treatment specialist for Water & Wastewater Services. W&WS, which manages 200 water and wastewater utilities in Western Washington, has a service contract with Bullitt’s building manager, Unico Properties.

Herndon was the first one to sip Bullitt’s water. “I have been very surprised at the consistency of the raw water quality and how easy it has been to treat,” he says.

Bullitt is groundbreaking. No other spec office building is a water district. No other water district is six stories, complete with roof rainfall catchment and a vertical, rather than a horizontal, distribution system.

Herndon has been serving his beverage to Bullitt’s 175 regular occupants since 3 p.m. on Nov. 1. The moment, which arrived 51⁄2 long years after the building opened in 2013, was cause for celebration, especially for Denis Hayes, president of Bullitt’s owner-developer-occupier—the Bullitt Foundation. Hayes is the mastermind of Bullitt’s living laboratory, developed to demonstrate the viability of sustainable buildings (ENR 2/7/14 p. 28).

Hayes attributes the protracted and arduous approval time for Bullitt’s water system to inexperience—and offers lessons learned to others. Bullitt’s cautionary tale has already aided five on-site water projects, including one for the 50,200-sq-ft Santa Monica General Services Building, on course for completion next April.

For one of Bullitt’s seven tenants—the International Living Future Institute—Nov. 1 was also a watershed day. ILFI is the steward of the world’s most demanding sustainable-building certification program, called the Living Building Challenge. Jason McLennan, ILFI’s chairman, received ENR’s 2016 Award of Excellence for creating the LBC (ENR 4/11/16 p. 42).

Bullitt Center, the first, largest and tallest office building to achieve full LBC certification, is ILFI’s poster Living Building (LB). Certified in 2015, Bullitt is “critical to us,” says Amanda Sturgeon, ILFI’s CEO. “It was the first building to get us beyond environmental centers and into the urban context.”

Bullitt’s water saga—and the outright rejection by regulators elsewhere of other rain-to-tap systems—has altered ILFI’s mind-set. “Water, not materials, is now the biggest challenge,” says Sturgeon. Teams have been dropping out of the LB program because the water imperative takes too much, often fruitless, effort, she adds.

In response, ILFI has revamped its water rules to focus more on conservation. And for an LB, though a team must design a rain-to-tap system and try to get it permitted, construction is no longer required.

Most Challenging
Hayes agrees that implementing Bullitt’s water system was the most challenging part of a very demanding development. “Public health officials take safe drinking water very seriously, as they should,” he says.

One obstacle was the absence of a clear path to create a “new public water system in the middle of an existing public water system” that already has adequate supply and conforms to regulations, says Steve Deem, regional engineer in the office of drinking water of the Washington State Dept. of Health. WSDOH is the regulatory body for the Bullitt water district.

Under state regulations, Bullitt is considered a Group A nontransient, noncommunity system, with surface catchment, because it serves more than 25 people in a nonresidential setting who use the building for more than 180 days each year. The system is tied into the city water system, in case of a disruption in service, and has a city fire-sprinkler connection. For Bullitt’s first 5½ years, it drew city water for potable uses. The on-site potable water system was used for nonpotable needs.

About two years before the building’s groundbreaking, Bullitt’s team met with WSDOH and, according to Deem, was given requirem
COBE and Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST
Copenhagen-based architectural firm COBE has just unveiled what are possibly the most beautiful and sustainable electric vehicle charging stations in the world. Built entirely from recyclable materials and powered by solar energy, these ultra-fast charging stations not only recharge a vehicle in just 15 minutes but also offer drivers a welcoming place to rest and relax. The first COBE-designed EV charging station was installed on the E20 motorway in the Danish city of Fredericia, with 47 more planned along Scandinavian highways: seven more in Denmark, 20 in Sweden and 20 in Norway.

Created in partnership with Powered by E.ON Drive & Clever, the COBE-designed EV charging station consists of a series of “trees” made primarily from certified wood. The tree-inspired structures feature a canopy that provides shade and protection from the elements, while also providing space for a green roof and solar panels. The modular structures are scalable so that multiple “tree” structures can be combined into a “grove.”

The Fredericia charging station features a “grove” of 12 “trees” with a 400-square-meter canopy. The Danish Society for Nature Conservation helped select the plantings that surround the charging station to enhance biodiversity and create a calming, “zen-like” atmosphere radically different from a traditional gas station setting.

“Electric vehicles are the way of the future,” said Dan Stubbergaard, architect and founder of COBE. “With our design, we offer EV drivers a time-out and an opportunity to mentally recharge in a green oasis. The energy and the technology are green, so we wanted the architecture, the materials and the concept to reflect that. So, we designed a charging station in sustainable materials placed in a clean, calm setting with trees and plantings that offer people a dose of mindfulness on the highway.”

The firm’s design of the ultra-fast EV charging station won the infrastructure award of the 2018 Danish Building Awards and is being implemented across Scandinavia with support from EU Commission projects Connecting Europe Facility and High Speed Electric Mobility Across Europe.

Studio NAB
Waiting for the bus is usually a drag, but what if the experience could instead become an opportunity to be closer to nature? French design practice Studio NAB has reinterpreted the humble bus stop as a hub for biodiversity that offers a “hotel” for birds and insects of all varieties. Built from recycled materials and topped with a vegetated green roof, the proposed Hotel Bus Stop aims to promote the population of native pollinating insects and reconnect people to nature.

Studio NAB designed the Hotel Bus Stop to serve five purposes: to promote the presence of pollinating insects; to bring adults and children closer to nature and promote environmental awareness and education; to showcase architecture constructed from recycled materials such as wood, cardboard and stainless steel; to introduce urban greenery and improve air quality with a vegetated roof and exposed plant wall; and to create “green jobs” for maintenance around the bus stops.

“A broad scientific consensus now recognizes the role of man in the decline of biomass and biodiversity in general and that of insects in particular,” Studio NAB explained in a project statement. “The use of pesticides in intensive agriculture, the destruction of natural habitats, excessive urbanization, global warming and various pollutions are at the origin of this hecatomb. Our hegemony allied to our conscience obliges us today to fulfill a role of ‘guardian’ and to allow the ‘living’ to take its place in order to fight against the erosion of our biodiversity.”

Envisioned for city centers and “eco-neighborhoods,” The Hotel Bus Stop would provide more habitats for pollinating insects that are essential for our food system and gardens, from fruit trees and vegetables to ornamental flowers. Auxiliary insects would also benefit, such as lacewings and earwigs that feed on aphids, a common garden pest. The underside of the bus stop roof would include boxes to encourage nesting by various bird species found throughout the city.

Flickr; The Natural Step Canada
Companies like Skender, Brasfield & Gorrie and Southland Industries are leveraging lean construction practices to save time, money and resources.

Wth productivity rates at the bottom of the charts, the construction industry may be a little too comfortable with waste in the many forms it can take — overlapping workflows, underutilization of talent, overproduction of materials and more. Small inefficiencies that go unnoticed for a long period of time can add up and cause schedule setbacks and project increases, some argue, a bit like the boiling frog scenario.

Proponents of lean construction say there are lessons to be learned from the way that Toyota streamlined its processes by cornering eight types of waste: defects, overproduction, waiting, unused talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra processing.

Other manufacturing firms have followed suit. Compared to construction’s 1% global annual labor-productivity growth over the past two decades, manufacturing beats the economy-wide average of 2.7% with a 3.6% rate, thanks to a lean framework paired with automation, found a McKinsey & Co. study.

Organizations like the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) and International Group for Lean Construction have interpreted and catered lean thinking to the AEC industry as a way to derive more value from every expenditure of resources on and off the jobsite.

'Bit by the bug'

A company’s journey to get to this point typically starts with an employee or two seeing lean principles in action on a project, witnessing efficiency gains and getting "bit by the bug,” Kristin Hill, director of education programs with LCI, told Construction Dive. They start to learn more about the system, bring those ideas to their projects and eventually take it further up the chain.

High-level buy-in is key to sealing the deal for a lean transition, she added. “Once leadership is on board, wanting to go in a lean direction and setting the vision for that happening, it starts to happen very quickly.”

Lean construction practices are often paired with tools like 5S, a method of organizing a workplace; A3 problem solving focused on continuous improvement; and the Last Planner system, a workflow of planning, making adjustments and sharing lessons learned throughout a project. The full suite of lean principles and tools can be overwhelming to construction professionals because of the change it brings to so many aspects of their work.

But trying to teach all of these things at once can put benefits like schedule reduction and cost savings on hold, according to Hill, who suggests the better approach is to “start somewhere, start today.” Anyone can start to look for and root out waste from their first exposure to lean, she said, because the journey is defined by small but continuous improvements.

As employees are introduced to lean, though, they need to be able to see the concrete ways that the principles apply and can streamline what they do on a daily basis, according to Katie Wells, Brasfield & Gorrie’s director of lean construction. “There is a lot of theory around what lean construction is and why we should embrace it,” she told Construction Dive. But to convince operations staff of its credibility, “you must be able to provide practical applications."

There may also be an opportunity to point to ways that lean might not be so different than what employees are already doing. Southland Industries, for example, talks about lean in a way that’s consistent with the firm’s core values, pointing to things like collaboration, accountability and innovation.

“We identified what was in keeping with lean thinking and also resonated with our employees,” said Jessica Kelley, an operational excellence manager at Southland, in a recent webinar. “We aim to keep it simple.”

One of these simple ideas was implemented in Southland's Mid-Atlantic plumbing shop, where workers adapted a music stand to hold instructions for pipe fabrication. That way, they aren't turning around to look at the instructions every few minutes and potentially confused by which way the illustrated directions are faced.
orn van Eck via Overtreders W
As the push toward sustainable lifestyles continues to spread from individual purchasing decisions to the overarching responsibility of big business, one restaurant is making a big statement by providing meals from a circular environment of zero food and material waste.

The Brasserie 2050 restaurant in the Netherlands temporarily opened its doors last fall as a restaurant and food storage pavilion designed by temporary-structure specialists Overtreders W for an event called the Lowlands Festival. The goal was to highlight the need for sustainable food production, and they achieved this goal by setting up a food barn made from recycled and borrowed materials that could be disassembled and moved at the end of the festival with no damage to the materials and no waste.

With forecasts estimating the world will have 10 billion people to feed by 2050, Brasserie 2050 is a testament to how we can achieve that goal. Not only is the design of the structure a sustainable model, but the catering company The Food Line Up created a zero-waste menu to feed the masses in attendance of the festival. Creative use of kitchen scraps culminated into baked bread from potato peelings, steak tartare with half the meat and pesto sourced from kitchen leftovers.

The food pavilion made use of the entire barn-shaped space by using standard pallet racks as the primary structural component. A corrugated plastic roof completed the gabled look. Even the tables were constructed from recycled plastic with the reuse and zero-waste cycle in mind.

The space was efficiently filled from top to bottom, with suspended herb boxes and wheat, corn, garlic and onions dangling from the ceiling above diner’s heads. Of course, this also provided natural decor for the restaurant. To keep the structure from blowing away, bags of grain weighed down the sides.

The structure and the menu served as a model of efficient and sustainable practices designed to lead us toward more eco-friendly food services for the future.

Earthship Media
An earthship is an accommodation with low environmental impact. The design of an earthship incorporates natural and recycled materials in the architecture and decor. It is built with conservation of natural resources in mind so that it produces its own water, electricity and food. Most earthships reuse discarded tires, cans and bottles for wall construction, and mud is common for wall plaster and floors. The energy savings through self-heating and cooling properties are remarkable. Most earthships rely on solar and wind energy as well as rain and snow harvesting for water needs.

The Phoenix Earthship is a prime example, located completely off the grid with its own garden. Available as a short-term rental through Airbnb, the Phoenix sleeps up to eight people in the 5,300-square-foot structure near Tres Piedras, New Mexico, so you can try out earthship living. Like most homes, the Phoenix has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen and a living room, and then there’s a jungle — inside.

The architectural and decorative details are incomparable with the building creating its own microclimate. That means plants and animals thrive in a space that is basically a greenhouse surrounded by the dry, sage-brush covered mesa surrounding it. The greenhouse and jungle areas feature a fish pond, birds, turtles, a food garden, banana trees and even a chicken coop that can provide fresh eggs during your stay.

The water process functions as a semi-closed unit, beginning with water runoff collection. After use, gray water feeds into the indoor plants that both drink and filter it, where it is stored and then pumped to the toilets as needed. From the toilet, the water heads to a traditional sewer where overflow is consumed by outdoor plants.

The entire structure looks like it was carved out of a hillside, with rounded walls and alcoves making up each space. Natural glass, clay, wood and rock can be found in every nook and cranny. Dubbed a “work of sustainable art,” the Phoenix Earthship provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the actual nature outside the glass with a fire pit and seating, views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and spaces for unparalleled stargazing.

In contrast to the remote feel and off-grid design, the Phoenix provides solar-powered modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, television and a cozy indoor fireplace with a water fountain feature.
Jasmin Sessler
On May 10, 187 countries voted to list plastic as hazardous waste and tighten control over its international trade. The governing agreement, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal dictates legally binding standards for importing and exporting toxic materials. For the first time ever, the agreement now includes plastic, with the exception of PE, PP and PET plastics.

The new agreement gives lower income countries — particularly Southeast Asian countries — more control over the indiscriminate dumping of toxic materials. “This is a crucial first step toward stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations,” said Von Hernandez from Break Free From Plastic.

European nations and the U.S. export waste to African and Asian countries as a way to dispose of their trash and hazardous materials. Sometimes these countries are paid for their recycling or landfill services, but many times the dumping happens without permission.

Under the Basel Convention agreement, export countries must receive written permits before dumping hazardous waste, which now includes most contaminated, mixed and non-recyclable plastic.

In 2018, China banned imports of plastic waste and nearby countries Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand saw a massive upsurge in dumping. With China no longer an option, the $200 billion global recycling industry suddenly had no buyers that could handle the scale of the world’s plastic addiction. Ports in the U.S. and Europe began to overflow with plastic while exporters struggled to find new dumping sites.

The U.S. is not a member of the Basel Convention and therefore could not participate in the vote. As the largest exporter of plastic, however, it will be required to obtain permits when dumping in participating countries. The American Chemistry Council and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries were among the outspoken opponents, arguing these new obstacles will hinder recycling programs.

One million citizens around the world signed online petitions in support of the new agreement.

“Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues,” said Rolph Payet, executive secretary of the convention. “The fact that this week close to 1 million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high.”
ASU/Manoochehr Shirzaei
Sea-Level Rise isn’t the Only Factor in Bay Area’s Future Flooding Risk

All coastal cities in the U.S. face some potential threat from sea-level rise, but areas around San Francisco Bay may be more vulnerable than previously thought according to a recent study by Arizona State University’s Manoochehr Shirzaei and UC Berkley’s Roland Bürgmann published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

The pair, using a satellite-imaging network that can measure small changes in the earth’s surface, found the problem of rising sea levels is exacerbated in the Bay Area at sites where the soil is sinking at a rate of 10 mm or more per year. The subsidence problem is in addition to sea levels rising a mean global average of 3.1 mm per year.

The researchers found previous projections for the Bay Area underestimate the risk of flooding by as much as 90 percent because they don’t take into account the rate of soil subsidence.

“The FEMA maps of the Bay Area need to be updated with the measurements of land subsidence and projection of sea level rise,” says Shirzaei. “By revising the maps, local authorities can make better flood resilience plans.”

Of particular concern are parts of the city built on landfill materials or ancient mud deposits. Subsidence is occurring at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Foster City and Union City five times the rate of areas built on more solid ground. The problem is most acute on Treasure Island, the site of a $1.5 billion redevelopment project, which is seeing subsidence rates of up 19 mm per year, according to Shirzaei.

“We are already noticing the effects, in particular at SFO where runways are continually cracking and are sometimes flooded,” Shirzaei says.

Doug Yakel, Public Information Officer for San Francisco International Airport, says the cracking and flooding are not necessarily evidence of subsidence.

“While part of SFO is built on landfill, most pavement failures here happen in areas where the largest amount of aircraft movement occurs,” he explains. “Water on runways and taxiways is typically the result of drainage issues following periods of rainfall.” However, the airport is addressing sea-level rise and over the past 30 years has installed earth berms, sheet-pile walls and concrete walls, installed along the airport’s eight miles of shoreline.

The answer to subsidence and sea level rise in learning to build differently for the coming era, says Kristina Hill, an associate professor of environmental planning at UC Berkley.

“There’s no way we can afford to build levees and walls to prevent future saltwater flooding,” Hill explains. “So we’re looking at things like dredging channels along the shore and using the soil to build up the land for taller buildings, or creating artificial ponds and putting prefabricated three to four-story structures onto shared floating decking.”
Aalto University
With clothing production leading the world as one of the highest-polluting industries, a new fiber contradicts the earth-damaging qualities of traditional materials. Ioncell technology, developed at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, uses a range of materials, including wood, recycled newspaper, cardboard and old cotton to make fabric. This is good news for an environment scarred by cotton production and the development of synthetic fibers. The new and improved material can also be recycled at the end of its life cycle, significantly reducing clothing waste.

In a country already acutely aware of sustainable practices in forest management, the trees sourced from Finland offer a much lower carbon footprint than traditional clothing. Ioncell materials also protect the water supply by using ionic liquid in place of harsh chemicals.

While the designers focus on sustainable sourcing and manufacturing, the clothing also avoids contributing to a massive post-consumer waste problem. That’s because the fibers are biodegradable. Additionally, the fibers do not contain any harmful microfibers now associated with massive ocean pollution and damage to sea life.

Sourced from birch trees, the wood is responsibly harvested as part of a forest management program that grows more trees than they harvest. Once cut into smaller logs, the wood is sent through a machine that turns it into large chips. At this phase, the chips are sent to the cooker and then turned into sheets of pulp. The pulp is then mixed with the ionic liquid that results in a cellulose material. Fibers are then spun into yarn and turned into fabric.

Designers and researchers involved in the project report that the resulting material is soft and drapes naturally, making it a good choice for formalwear, coats, scarves, gloves and other products. It also accepts dye well.

The process for making Ioncell fibers is still in the research and development phase and they currently only produce it on a small scale, but they are hoping to unveil a preliminary product line as early as 2020.

Contributor Blaine Brownell shares takeaways from an AIA Materials Matter initiative lecture series.

In the Feb. 16 New York Times op-ed “Time to Panic," journalist David Wallace-Wells declares, “It is OK, finally, to freak out” about our impending environmental catastrophe. Based on a thorough three-year review of climate science conducted in preparation for his newly released book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (Tim Duggan Books, 2019), Wallace-Wells contends, “I know the science is true, I know the threat is all-encompassing, and I know its effects, should emissions continue unabated, will be terrifying.”

Given that buildings consume nearly half of all resources, architects should recognize their contributing role in shaping the present and future climate. As building operations have become more efficient, the focus has shifted to materials—particularly those employed for new construction. So, has the green building movement prepared the architectural community for the thorny material decisions necessary to improve our future environmental circumstances?

Unfortunately, no. Despite measurable advances made regarding ecological awareness, the growth of sustainability programs, and the increased adoption of quantitative tools, we have only just begun to comprehend the environmental impacts of materials. In fact, the day-to-day material decisions made by the design and construction community are guesses at best. As a result, the standard recommendation is to “do the best you can”—and that advice is no longer adequate.

The AIA Materials Matter initiative aims to confront this knowledge gap head-on. The traveling lecture series with material experts hosted by AIA components around the country recently came to Denver, where I participated in the first session, “Healthy Planet: Materials + the Environment." During the presentations and ensuing conversations, a number of priority issues emerged regarding the next steps in sustainable material practices.

On the subject of material environmental performance, a prime concern is embodied carbon. Tim Rehder, a senior environmental scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discussed the significance of embodied carbon in materials, noting that 70 billion tons of materials are extracted annually, enough to fill a coal train of sufficient length to encircle the Earth 225 times at the equator. While LEED and other green programs offer material credits for life cycle impact reduction, more must be done to reduce this immense quantity of resources.

The Netherlands, for example, now requires the submission of an embodied greenhouse gas emissions estimate for all permit applications of new office and residential buildings over 100 square meters—or approximately 1076 square feet—in size. Notably, according to a Forestry Innovation Investment report, a “building’s total environmental profile (of which embodied carbon is one element) will have an upper limit, based on standardized weighting factors,” based on a national Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) database. Several other countries also maintain national EPD databases, suggesting a future multinational effort toward monitoring resource consumption.

Amanda Hong, an EPA sustainable materials management expert continued this discussion in describing the vast amount of materials that comprise construction and demolition (C&D) waste and the need for need for design for disassembly (DfD) practices to combat this issue. In 2015 alone, the United States' C&D waste totaled 548 million tons—more than two times the amount of municipal solid waste generated in the same time frame. More than 90 percent of C&D debris comes from the demolition of structures; the rest is from construction. In our discussion, the Materials Matter audience agreed that DfD methods have been conspicuously absent from most green building programs, including LEED (LEED applicants typically submit DfD practices for innovation credits).
Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair
New Nordic, Old Nordic, Soft Nordic, and Nordic Minimalism were all given floor space at the biggest event celebrating Scandinavian design, the Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair, held February 5-10. More than 650 exhibitors filled the halls of Stockholmsmässan, with upwards of 80 percent of them based in region; this is, after all, a furniture show that still represents Scandinavian craftsmanship.

Interior Design Hall of Fame member Neri & Hu was this year’s guest of honor. The award-winning Chinese design and architecture studio created a site-specific installation, called The Unfolding Village, addressing the issue of the disappearing village culture in China. Inspired by the “alleyways and street life of clan-based villages,” the team created an impressive black-timber structure, which folded to create a maze of rows and dead ends that revealed Neri & Hu designs inside.

The enduring appeal of Nordic design is often attributed to its simplicity, minimalist approach, and the quality of its materials. However, the industry’s sustainable production methods—which are inherently part of the Scandinavian way of life—proved that protecting natural resources is a successful formula. Winner of the Best Stand Award, Baux, revealed a line of biodegradable acoustic panels, called Baux Acoustic Pulp. The 100 percent bio-based product is a paper-like material developed with Swedish industrial design studio Form Us With Love in collaboration with scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH).

Product sustainability was championed in a quiet, unassuming Swedish way at Blå Station, which displayed its new Bob Home sofa. Meanwhile at Nordgrona, which makes sound absorbers from Reindeer Moss, the sustainably harvested product was gaining attention for its colorful display. Norwegian brand Flokk offered its latest chairs alongside the raw materials from which they are made, highlighting that it uses 95 percent post-consumer recycled materials in all of its aluminium parts. Green-minded international furniture manufacturers were not left out either, with Emeco, whose product range is made of post-industrial waste, presenting their collection on a minimal and ultimately reusable stand.

The annual Greenhouse exhibit attracted the participation of 37 designers and design groups showcasing up-and-coming talents and their prototypes.

This year also saw the unveiling of a new award: Born Classic. Given to a Scandinavian piece of furniture or lighting that has qualities that could make it a design classic of the future, the inaugural award went to a mirror produced by Swedese and designed by Front.

Outside the fair in the wider Stockholm Design week, which brings together a variety of spaces, exhibitions, and events, snowy conditions did not deter the design-hungry cognoscenti. Färg & Blanche’s installation “The Baker's House” showcased the designers’ works over two floors of a historical townhouse built in 1889. Across the city, the Danish design studio Frama presented its latest collections in the newly renovated offices of Andreas Martin-Löf, set in a modernist building overlooking the water.
Microplastics may appear small on the outside, but they take a major toll on the environment. Not only do these plastics ruin soil and jeopardize ocean life, but they also create health issues for people all around the world. Fortunately, a newly proposed ban on microplastics might offer a solution to this growing problem.

This week, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) put forth a new law that seeks to ban over 90 percent of Europe’s microplastics. If countries in the European Union agree to the legislation, the prohibition could significantly lower the amount of microplastics on a global scale.

“Microplastics are a growing concern to a number of human rights. The steps proposed by Echa are necessary to help ensure present and future generations can enjoy what is their human right: a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” UN reporter Baskut Tuncak shared.

According to The Guardian, there are close to 400,000 tons of these small plastic particles that end up in European environments. These microplastics come from a variety of household sources, including fertilizers, detergents, paint products and cosmetics. The proposed ban would eliminate the vast majority of microplastics that are integrated into these products, many of which are not necessary.

Related: Study finds microplastics in sea turtles around the world

If passed, the law would not go into effect until 2020. By that time, companies would need to have made drastic changes in the production of goods. This includes removing microplastics from a variety of products, a move that would require a major change in design.

The new ban is similar in nature to what the U.K. passed last year. The country prohibited the use of microbeads in certain personal products, such as shower gel and toothpaste. The new law, however, is much larger in scope and would eventually remove the vast majority of microplastics from production.

The ban, of course, would only apply to countries that are still in the EU. Following Brexit, there is a chance that the U.K. will not adopt the law, though that has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, the ECHA will continue to explore the proposed ban and will vote on the measure in three months. If passed, the law is not expected to go into effect until at least another eight months after the vote is tallied.

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‘save your ski gear for one of our most anticipated buildings set to complete in a few short months in copenhagen,’ was the message BIG – bjarke ingels group posted on instagram to announce the test of the lower ski slopes of the amager resource centre (ARC) which hosts the copenhill urban mountain. the project — which broke ground in 2013 — is a waste-to-energy plant that responds to ingels’ philosophy of hedonistic sustainability or the idea of saving the planet while having fun doing so, as stated by the guardian.

after five years of waiting, copenhagen’s citizens and visitors will soon be allowed to rush down the slopes of the city’s latest landmark — the amager resource centre together with the copenhill urban mountain by BIG. the socially-charged structure not only adds an artificial mountain to the naturally-flat country, but also raises awareness of sustainable energy by including a smokestack that releases smoke rings into the sky. these are activated whenever one ton of fossil CO2 is released — a signal that serves as a communicative function that reminds the viewer of the impact of consumption.

ARC is one of the steps towards copenhagen’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital. inside, the building is able to convert 400,000 tons of waste each year while providing heat to 150,000 households and low-carbon electricity for 550,000 people. overall, the amager resource centre in copenhagen is one of the best examples we’ve seen of how architecture can respond to both sustainable issues and to the needs of a community.

Trent Bell via Caleb Johnson Studio
Salvaged materials from a century-old farmhouse and barn have been given new life as Ben’s Barn, a spacious family home in Kennebunk, Maine that takes inspiration from New England’s rural architecture. Designed by Portland, Maine-based architecture practice Caleb Johnson Studio for a young family, Ben’s Barn was constructed with a mix of reclaimed materials sourced not only from the former farmhouse and barn that had stood on another portion of the site, but also from a midcentury modern teardown in Weston, Massachusetts. The well-worn and midcentury fixtures have been combined with new, sustainable materials to create a contemporary and light-filled environment.

Created as a “lifetime family home,” Ben’s Barn covers an area of 4,425 square feet — including a loft — with four bedrooms and four baths. Because the clients are a family with young children, the home is designed with ample space for indoor play, yet it also provides an accessible first floor bedroom suite for visiting relatives or for the homeowners who intend to age in place.

Ben’s Barn comprises two large gabled structures — a bedroom wing and a kitchen/master wing — connected with a double-story glazed link. The timber roof structure was salvaged from the former farmhouse on site, as were the interior wood cladding and interior doors. Granite blocks reclaimed from the farmhouse foundation were reused as steps and seating in the landscape. The cabinetry and fixtures were also taken from a midcentury modern teardown.

“The structural system is a hybrid of a stick-framed shell over an amalgam of new and antique timbers, fortified with structural steel, all used without obscuring their identity or function,” the architects said. Consequently, all the exposed interior structural elements were left deliberately unfinished, as was the exterior weathering steel facade that will develop a rusty patina over time.

s the year’s final days are approaching, many of us may be thinking about our resolutions for the year ahead. In the face of the many warnings and long-range consequences of climate change, this might also be a good time to think about the roles that each of us can play in helping to mitigate these impacts going forward. One grim consolation is that most of us—the people who are in power today—will not be seriously impacted by the rising sea levels, inland flooding, drought and pestilence that lie ahead. Instead, the most severe consequences will be born by future generations. As one public official put it recently, “We are watching our house burn down with the children and grandchildren in the attic.” Our choice, and our moral imperative, is to act now for the benefit of these future generations.

A report issued in November by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that decisions made within the next ten years will have far reaching implications for centuries to come. In an essay “Losing Earth; The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” that essentially comprised the entire August 1, 2018 New York Times Magazine issue, author Nathaniel Rich reported on what these implications might look like:

“The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris Climate agreement, the non-binding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016, hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called the two-degree warming ‘a prescription for long-term disaster.’. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario.”

The Nature Conservancy predicts that global temperatures are projected to rise by 3.2°C, increased air pollution will affect 4.9 billion more people, and 2.75 billion people will be subjected to water scarcity. Even our own Federal government seems ready to throw in the towel, as a 2018 draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration outlines why freezing fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks for six years w
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Blaine Brownell explores examples of forward-thinking products that upcycle food waste.

ulinary indulgences are a traditional part of holiday celebrations for many, yet they also highlight our inefficient practices when it comes to food waste. According to the United Nations Environment Program, one-third of the world’s food is wasted or lost annually. In the U.S. alone, food waste comprises more than one-fifth of the waste stream and occupies the highest volume in landfills, at 133 billion pounds of edible material. In a recent recent City A.M. article, Elsa Bernadotte, chief operating officer of the food-saving app Karma, claims, “Food waste will be next year's moral crisis, just as single-use plastic was this year.”

Fortunately, several pioneering designers and manufacturers have developed a variety of alternative building materials made from discarded food.

According to the Food Wastage Footprint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, “Wastage of cereals in Asia emerges as a significant problem for the environment, with major impacts on carbon, blue water, and arable land.” Rice is of particular concern, given the volume of waste as well as the significant quantities of methane released by rice paddies.

However, once about 80 percent of rice and bran are harvested, the remaining portion of rice husk can be used as fuel as the byproduct rice husk ash (RHA). This material has reactive pozzolanic properties, making it an excellent supplemental cementitious material. Watershed Materials, a manufacturer based in Napa, Calif. (the second highest rice-producing state in the U.S.), has developed a concrete masonry unit that incorporates rice husk ash in place of 30 percent of Portland cement. The company blends local, dark basaltic aggregate with the similarly colored ingredient to make its graphite-hued, smooth-finish block. Although Watershed Materials’ recipe is tailored to its particular context, RHA-based cement can be readily manufactured throughout Asia where the quantity of rice waste is most significant.

Discarded animal protein is the most concerning kind of food waste, given the massive ecological footprint of livestock farming. One-third of the world’s crops and a quarter of its freshwater go to livestock production, which in turn contributes about 15 percent of all greenhouse gases. According to a 2014 Guardian article, “When you consider the real costs, it becomes startlingly clear that some of the worst thing
Richard Wellenberger/iStock, thekopmylife/iStock
U.S. communities are faced with unprecedented numbers of abandoned buildings. Three Michigan State University researchers have an intriguing idea for what to do with them–no demolition necessary.

Detroit has been demolishing about 200 vacant houses per week since December 2014, with a goal to take down 6,000 houses in one year. Much of the demolition work is concentrated in about 20 neighborhoods where the blight removal is projected to have immediate positive effects of improving remaining property values and clearing land for future development.

While Detroit may be an extreme example, economic decline, disinvestment, racial segregation, and natural and human-made disasters have left other U.S. communities with unprecedented amounts of structural debris, abandonment, and blight, too.

As scholars who focus on understanding the complex circumstances that have led to blight, we also have some ideas about potential solutions that could prevent this cycle the next time around.

We’ve coined the term domicology to describe our study of the life cycles of the built environment. It examines the continuum from the planning, design, and construction stages through to the end of use, abandonment, and deconstruction or reuse of structures.

Domicology recognizes the cyclical nature of the built environment. Ultimately we’re imagining a world where no building has to be demolished. Structures will be designed with the idea that once they reach the end of their usefulness, they can be deconstructed with the valuable components repurposed or recycled.

The U.S. reached a record high of 7.4 million abandoned homes in 2012. When people leave homes, the local commercial economy falters, resulting in commercial abandonment as well. The social, environmental, and economic consequences disproportionately affect already struggling communities. Abandoned buildings contribute to lower property values and are associated with higher rates of crime and unemployment. Due to the scale of the problem, local governments are often unable to allocate enough resources to remove blighted structures.

All human-made structures have a life cycle, but rarely do people embrace this reality at the time of construction. The development community gives little thought to the end of life of a structure, in large part because the costs of demolition or deconstruction are passed on to some future public or private entity.