Urban Heat: From Region to Building

Adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change and mit­i­ga­tion of that change nec­es­sar­i­ly coin­cide, mem­bers of the symposium’s first pan­el con­tend. To address both aims suc­cess­ful­ly, we must inter­vene on mul­ti­ple scales. Region­al-scale shifts in trans­porta­tion modes, as Jef­frey Raven, FAIA point­ed out with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to New York City’s ener­gy plan, can reduce both green­house gas emis­sions and waste heat; sin­gle-build­ing design strate­gies that increase ener­gy per­for­mance have sim­i­lar effects when repli­cat­ed. Tech­no­log­i­cal strate­gies informed by nat­ur­al mod­els and by detailed rethink­ing of mate­ri­als’ ener­gy-man­ag­ing prop­er­ties show promise of scal­ing up from small units (e.g., bricks) to larg­er sys­tems, Jason Vollen sug­gest­ed. This poten­tial is ampli­fied when these tech­nolo­gies are
con­sid­ered along­side behav­ioral adap­ta­tions. BASF’s Amy Patel expand­ed on this prompt with a dis­cus­sion of prod­ucts whose phys­i­cal prop­er­ties con­tribute to the emerg­ing indus­tri­al sec­tor of green chem­istry. Chris Bene­dict, focus­ing chiefly on the build­ing lev­el, exam­ined the fun­da­men­tal ener­gy inputs and out­puts of var­i­ous build­ing com­po­nents, draw­ing the log­i­cal con­nec­tions to Pas­sive House design prin­ci­ples.

To address both cli­mate change adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion suc­cess­ful­ly, we must inter­vene on mul­ti­ple scales.

A com­pa­ra­ble rethink­ing of exist­ing con­struc­tion prac­tices ani­mat­ed Wolf­gang Rieder’s accounts of his company’s efforts to improve on com­po­nents and prac­tices that were devel­oped under unsus­tain­able assump­tions. It is clear that even when faced with a tide of skep­ti­cism with­in an estab­lished indus­try, such as con­crete pan­el design and fab­ri­ca­tion, process improve­ments are pos­si­ble and nec­es­sary. The Glob­al Cool Cities Alliance’s Kurt Shick­man reflect­ed on the rela­tion­ship between eco­nom­ic incen­tives and aspi­ra­tions of improve­ment at the civic scale, offer­ing prin­ci­ples of val­ue to pol­i­cy­mak­ers every­where who strive to rec­on­cile finan­cial cal­cu­la­tions with the phys­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal costs and ben­e­fits that dif­fer­ent built forms present to com­mu­ni­ties and ecosys­tems. Mod­er­a­tor Anna Dyson point­ed out a com­mon theme among the pan­elists’ com­ments: that “the large major­i­ty of urban heat island effects are accru­ing as a result of the replace­ment of nat­ur­al sys­tems or liv­ing sys­tems with hard sur­faces [and] engi­neered sur­faces.” Dyson acknowl­edged the corol­lary that human tech­no­log­i­cal appli­ca­tions may always lag behind nature’s coun­ter­parts, but might still use­ful­ly har­ness the effi­cien­cy of bio­log­i­cal process­es that trans­form both ener­gy and infor­ma­tion.

We are inher­i­tors of the late mod­ern tra­di­tion of treat­ing a build­ing as a steam engine, or a kind of closed sys­tem, and pre­tend­ing we’re going to
min­i­mize the loss of ener­gy that comes in through fos­sil fuels, when really…it’s an open sys­tem.

The more gran­u­lar the knowl­edge that humans can attain about nat­ur­al oper­a­tions, the greater our capac­i­ty to con­serve ener­gy, air, water, and oth­er resources through our cities’ arti­fi­cial sys­tems – par­tic­u­lar­ly in what Bene­dict termed “the mushy, gushy, icky stuff on the inside of the build­ing, down in the boil­er room and cir­cu­lat­ing through the build­ing.” Much ener­gy wastage inevitably takes the form of heat, so it fol­lows that min­i­mized waste will help reduce the heat that arti­fi­cial sys­tems cre­ate. Every process from the mol­e­c­u­lar lev­el to the wider cir­cu­la­tions of resources, which Raven described as “region­al metab­o­lism,” remains account­able to basic New­ton­ian con­ser­va­tion of ener­gy. “We are inher­i­tors,” Dyson not­ed, “of the late mod­ern tra­di­tion of treat­ing a build­ing as a steam engine, or a kind of closed sys­tem, and pre­tend­ing we’re going to min­i­mize the loss of ener­gy that comes in through fos­sil fuels, when real­ly, it’s an open sys­tem.”

The "Urban Heat: from Region to Building" panelists in discussion with moderator Anna Dyson.

The “Urban Heat: from Region to Build­ing” pan­elists in dis­cus­sion with mod­er­a­tor Anna Dyson.

Click here to read addi­tion­al insights by Raven, Vollen, Patel, Bene­dict, Rieder, and Shick­man.