Sustainable skyscrapers are the future of architecture and a revolutionary feat of engineering. These innovative structures require a unique approach. These buildings diverge greatly from convention, from the first design concept to the construction stage. Architects are focusing on a few key areas in creating these towers.
The Need for Green Skyscrapers
Skyscrapers have a major impact on the environment. This is only becoming a bigger issue as the human population grows. There is little to no more land for infrastructure to expand to in many areas, so the only option is to build upward rather than outward. Hong Kong is a prime example of this.
Hong Kong’s 9,700 skyscrapers consume 90% of the city’s electricity and account for 60% of its carbon emissions. Interestingly, Hong Kong is also the scene of a thriving green building movement. Since 2014, 50% of new private-sector construction projects have joined Hong Kong’s Building Environmental Assessment Method (BEAM) program. Innovative skyscrapers are paving the way in the industry with creative uses of technology and infrastructure.
The impact of urban development on the environment would be significantly reduced if 50% of all new skyscrapers worldwide could be sustainable. Eco-friendly buildings minimize electricity consumption and cut carbon emissions by drawing power from built-in renewables and strategic design elements, such as green roofs. It is also worth recognizing that as the tallest and most visible buildings in today’s cities, these structures could spark green building surges in other kinds of architecture.
Starting With Energy Goals
The design process for any building starts with the most important components of the building. For some, this is the form or unique shape of the building. For others, functionality or affordability is the top priority. Energy efficiency has to be at the heart of sustainable skyscraper design.
Interestingly, the size and design standards of these buildings are the cause of their power needs as well as the solution. When most people picture a modern skyscraper, a tower of glass panels is often what comes to mind. The glass that is so characteristic of skyscraper architecture today is also a great way to seamlessly integrate solar panels. In fact, the CIS tower in Manchester, England, is completely covered in solar panels and was at one time even the tallest building in the United Kingdom.
Sustainable skyscrapers can also be designed with solar panels or wind turbines on the roof. Any integrated renewable energy sources will help reduce the building’s carbon footprint as well as its draw on the power grid. However, architects must have integrated renewable energy sources in mind from the very beginning to reach their full potential. This is especially true with a building the size of a skyscraper.
Sustainable skyscrapers should be designed inside and out to use energy in the most efficient way possible. Every component of the building’s internals, like the way it is wired and maintained, has an impact on this. For example, designers have to make sure they account for the right transformer to handle the power input from any integrated renewable energy sources. This is a difficult and expensive piece of equipment to replace after the fact. The same goes for many other energy-related elements within the skyscraper. Every part should contribute to sustainable power usage.
Integrating IoT and AI
Technology plays a major role in improving a building’s environmental impact. Optimization and visibility are critical to understanding why a structure draws so much power and where inefficiencies are occurring. Architects and designers are using Internet of Things (IoT) tech and artificial intelligence to transform sustainability in skyscrapers.
The combination of AI and IoT is, in many ways, the perfect pairing. IoT sensors inform the AI of conditions throughout the building, and the algorithm rapidly identifies ways to adjust various components to improve optimization. In fact, IoT and AI are central to the sustainable skyscraper boom in Hong Kong.
Edward Tsui, the managing director of one Hong Kong skyscraper’s IoT program, commented on the tech to BBC. “It's like a body check, if you like, of the building. Every single day we can monitor what the energy savings are. If we see any abnormal activities, we can reset or we can do some quick maintenance before it really wastes any energy.”
Tsui’s explanation perfectly encapsulates the value of IoT devices in sustainable skyscrapers. IoT allows these buildings to operate in the most efficient, environmentally-friendly way possible by increasing connectivity and visibility. It also improves building maintenance and reduces energy consumption. AI can even automate many optimization processes. This turns sustainability into a structure’s lifestyle beyond just its design or construction.
Materials and the Supply Chain
The materials used in a skyscraper’s construction are a key part of sustainable design. Every single material, from the flashy exterior to the invisible insulation, should be part of a new building’s sustainability assessment. Similarly, the supply chain that supplies come from must be analyzed, as well. Even “green” building materials may not actually be sustainable if they are not being produced or sourced properly.
There are all kinds of environmentally friendly building materials that can be used in skyscrapers today. Some may not be effective due to the sheer size of these buildings, while others have great potential. For example, recycled steel could be used for parts of the frame, and a specially designed cooling roof could reduce the power consumption of the building’s HVAC system.
3D printed construction may have the potential for building skyscrapers. It’s just beginning to gain ground in mainstream housing, with the world’s largest 3D-printed neighborhood breaking ground in Texas in 2022. Additive manufacturing methods are greener than conventional construction, faster and much less wasteful. Construction-grade 3D printers may be able to create next-generation sustainable skyscrapers shortly.
Raising the Bar for Sustainable Skyscrapers
Sustainable skyscrapers are the future of urban architecture. These revolutionary buildings utilize cutting-edge technology to minimize their carbon footprint as much as possible. Combining built-in renewable energy sources and today’s leading optimization technologies lets sustainable skyscrapers benefit building owners as well as the planet.