Suddenly it’s more about green than ever—from fashion to cars, food to skin care. The environment is “In” in a way it hasn’t been since the days of the Whole Earth Catalog, and companies are jumping onto the bandwagon to satisfy the growing demand.
Even those who are in the thick of the environmental movement, like landscape architect Peter Walker, are a bit surprised by all the happenings and media coverage, but see good reason for it. “Things are going to have to change,” Walker says. “We just don’t have the resources to keep wasting everything.”
“What’s going on is not just about the materials that go into design,” says Matt Grigsby, co-founder of Ecolect.net, a Providence-based consultant firm and Web site that offers a free database of sustainable materials. “The pressure to be more sustainable has caught on. Many architects are taking a lot of liberties they never have as an excuse—and I mean that in a really good way—to try something totally different to gather energy.
Here, a look at some architects, designers and projects pushing the edge in eco-design.
Mass Tram America is an ambitious proposal by engineer and inventor Ben Missler, who once worked on the Minuteman Missile Project. His plan involves stripping decommissioned Boeing 727s, 737s and 757’s of their wings, engines and tails for an elevated tram system to carry passengers, cars and freight. The fuselages would be equipped with solar cells and battery storage and attached to a rail system by permanent magnet regenerative motorized wheels. Power would be provided through solar electricity, wind, regenerative breaking and fuel cells. A system of single rails would be hung from suspension cables and made level with support cables.
In April, the Swiss company Rinspeed will unveil its zero-emissions, electricity-driven sQuba car at the Geneva Auto Show. The car is said to do 77 miles per hour on land, 3 mph on the water’s surface and nearly 2 mph at a depth of 30 feet. Inspired by the wheels Roger Moore drove in the 1977 Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, the “Q” in the car’s name refers to Bond’s gadget guru.
More pedestrian is the Biomechanical Energy Harvester, a knee-brace device that harvests enough clean energy from the body to recharge 10 cell phones. Once fully developed, the apparatus could be used to power BlackBerrys, GPS locators, motorized prosthetic joints and other electronic devices. Just as hybrid cars make electricity when one brakes, the knee can do the same when it decelerates after taking a step and engages a minuscule computer and generator.
By far one of the most alluring power-generating proposals is Laurie Chetwood’s Project Wind Dam for Russia’s Lake Ladoga. Working with Finnish engineers WSP, the $5.3 million project involves harnessing minimal winds to generate power through a turbine. The wind dam is essentially a sail tethered between two land masses, preferably a gorge or narrow valley to make capturing the wind easier. Three 15 to 20 kilowatt turbines are placed behind each other to capture as much wind as possible. Wind tunnel assessments, vibration analysis and other tests are being carried out in a number of locations in Russia.
The name might not be that palatable, but the Anti-Smog Center for Innovations in Sustainable Development that is going up in Paris is another power player. Designed to produce more energy than it consumes, the 2,295-square-foot building will use renewable energies to offset the city’s smog. Set to debut in 2010, construction kicked off last year on the canals and abandoned railroad tracks in the 19th arrondissement. The building will serve numerous functions, including an exposition center and garden.
The Vincent Callebaut-designed center has two main areas—the Solar Drop, a two-story elliptical structure, and the Wind Tower, a 150-foot-tall helical construction—linked by a walkway. A photovoltaic blue roof catches the sun’s rays and transforms them into electrical energy. The entire structure will be covered with a layer of titanium dioxide, which helps to reduce air pollution and absorbs ultraviolet rays.
Berlin-based architect Werner Aisslinger is making his iconic Loftcube, which he describes as “a mobile loft for urban nomads,” earth-friendly. Requiring only three days to assemble, the 377-square-foot Loftcube can be helicoptered onto beaches, fields or roofs. Cubes can also be easily converted into a floating homes or linked together by catwalks to create multiunit aerial homes. The funky interior has Corian built-in sinks and other space savers. Now Aisslinger has replaced the Loftcube’s artificial plastic materials with organically forested wood, and solar panels to supply electricity and heating. Production is slated for this summer.