Even before the first pueblo fire was lit in the Los Angeles basin and the first cars arrived in Shanghai, the atmosphere was toast. The dirty yellow glow of Beijing and southern California, although capable of producing beautiful sunsets, stands as a troublesome reminder of an atmosphere in demise. Mere neutrality is not enough. The sheer mass of ineffective and bad building technologies has to be recalibrated and an over-correction applied. We are developing a building that moves beyond itself, and through an act of supererogation, attacks the more global conditions. One building can only have so much of an impact but a collective, that leads by examples and inspires other progressive green thinking, can truly make a difference.

This tower takes an active stance and attacks the problem of dirty air by aiming to help purify the air of our cities. The tower pulls dirt, grease, and bacteria out of the air, producing only oxidation and water as a result. The reaction is triggered by the use of a nano-coating of titanium dioxide on the outer skin of the project. The reaction is naturally powered by sunlight acting on the titanium dioxide during the day and supplemented by ultra violet light at night. These UV lights are powered by energy collected through PV panels during the day. The tower will be a glowing indigo object at night varying in intensity according to the amount of solar energy collected during the day. The indigo glow will become symbolic of the cleansing, counteracting the yellow haze that dominates the daytime hours.

The formal design moves of the tower are shaped by basic passive solar ideas that are amplified in magnitude, by a focused analysis of wind and light. Every twist and pull in the massing is set off by a series of interrelated environmental considerations. The passive solar attributes are enhanced by the additional layer of technological innovation provided by the titanium dioxide. Keeping the technology as simple as possible, we avoid the inherent traps of technological problems by piling on more technological solutions. We realize that the liberating aspects of the technological solution are often tied to the imprisoning traits that follow as a result of the solution.

The tower is split into three bars to 1) increase the amount of surface area, 2) provide southern light to the south face of each bar, and 3) focus and increase wind speed. The added surface area allows for maximizing the amount of titanium dioxide that can be placed on the building—enhancing the amount of air being cleaned. The focused and increased winds speed not only power a series of vertical wind turbines, but also pushes the air across the titanium dioxide panels and provides cross ventilation for every room of each unit in the towers. A positive pressure is created on the southern face of the towers and the resulting negative pressure on the northern facades creates optimal conditions for cross ventilation. A series of wind turbines are mounted on bridges connecting the three towers. The air flow is compressed and directed by the form of the building to generate maximum wind pressure at the location on the turbines. The bridges are all two-story spaces, each containing a small garden to help mitigate the buildings internal humidity levels. The units are also two stories to reduce the amount of elevator stops needed for the building while creating a natural separation between living and sleeping. Each unit has both north and south facing facades to take advantage of the beneficial light and heat gain potential. The east and west facades have minimal glazing to neutralize low-angled and uncontrollable light.

The skin design is inspired by the pocketed and cellular texture of the titanium dioxide molecule (TiO2). A series of organic cells cover the building and are tapered to naturally collect the water, a byproduct of the skins chemical reaction, and to collect and slowly release rain water. The skin pulls off of the building on the south facades to provide natural shading and pushes into the inner skin of the north façade to maximize daylight and provide fifty percent coverage to reduce heat loss during the winter months. The skin also floats off the building to conceal the UV lights which can be harmful to humans who are directly exposed to it, and further maximizes the building’s envelope.

A series of gardens are located at regular intervals all the way up the tower. They become public gathering spaces as well as marsh lands to collect the water from the chemical reactions of the skin and to filter and process grey water from the towers. The plants also turn the carbon dioxide, created in the chemical reaction of the skin, back into oxygen. It is paramount to have the plants help maintain the base-level carbon neutrality. A large pool around the base of the tower is the final collection point of the filtered water which goes to support a large amount of animal and plant life. Water is also pumped back up the towers from the pool to service toilets. Furthermore, the pool at the base acts as a heat sink for the release of the heat generated from a back-up air conditioning system. Here, the heat is released slowly, thus helps reduce the heat island effect.

We also propose the use of self-cleaning windows and bathroom tiles, which are available in the market for more than a decade. Scientists have been working on a solution on developing a “smart coating material” which can wash away dirt and keep the surface clean. However, it is not sufficient for the rapid urbanization we face. The ultimate challenge is how we can destroy the molecules of the pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, which are mainly the effects of heavy industries and automobile emissions.

The density of our large cities brings the additional complication of transmittable disease. The nano-material we propose can also be used on internal hallways, trash rooms, and elevators to remove or reduce bacterial agents. In an age of globalization with more potent infectious diseases, a building that can help neutralize bacteria within it can help curb infection rates. SARS and now H1N1 have demonstrated to us that our buildings are not ready. A sanitized walk-off mat is simply not going to prevent the next global pandemic. The air streams that blow out of each individual unit, as a result of cross ventilation, are designed to disperse the contaminated air away from the building and prevent back flow into adjacent units.

With the advancement on today’s nanotechnology, scientists can now modify and enhance the coating technology on building facade panels for incorporating the light activated nano-titanium dioxide (TiO2). The TiO2 based photo-catalysts can trigger a series of chemical reactions to generate hydroxyl radicals when exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light.  The artificial near-UV light source will give the maximum power on the photo-catalyst reaction. These radicals will oxidize and degrade most of the airborne urban pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or nitrogen oxides. They can even assist in deactivation of bio-contamination. This technology can make any surface anti-bacterial and mold-free. It can purify our ambient air and protect our buildings from bio-aerosol contamination.

The building is an explorative exercise aimed at taking full advantage of passive solar technique carefully married with the benefits of a titanium dioxide skin. The location of the project is set in Qingdao, China. Profitability will play a key role amongst investors in the shift towards our sustainable solution. We believe that coming out of a global recession, the consumer will be looking for a stable investment. The choice between purchasing a residential unit with a positive environmental attitude and not, will hopefully become a simple one. To get the product to market, significant tax breaks will be needed to help secure the positive direction the developers and consumers are looking for. Such architecture should be backed by progressive policy.

Designed by: Ted Givens, Benny Chow, Mohamed Ghamlouch

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