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In terms of defining sustainability – whether on a street, campus, or city level – the buildings that we surround ourselves with must form an integral part of the equation. Therefore, in the movement towards thoughtful and sustainable development, architects now have quite a large responsibility with each commission earned and each design choice they make. This summer I began to explore a new and often undressed aspect of design: material choice.
Although the word “sustainable” or “green” building and materials has been thrown around a lot recently, I wanted to see what criteria this specifically means and how it is being applied to design in the modern era. Ultimately aiming to provide clarity to future construction decisions, my work aims to bring the materials choice from an after-thought in the design process to the forefront.
The first step towards reaching this understanding is to classify the range of architectural materials and their general characteristics. I was able to begin this in the summer of 2010 and continue though the previous fall semester in developing a Materials Library for Penn Design under Professor Franca Trubiano. As a project still underway, it stands to benefit from my continued research on “sustainable” materials.
The next step in my research I completed this summer through the Climate Action Grant in Hong. This research involved gathering case studies from the most intensive building type found in the modern day world: the mixed use super high-rise tower. The shear scale of such buildings begs to question whether it can in any way be considered environmentally conscious – however the density of its development proves to economical, and it is the go-to method for emerging cities in China to create an icon and sense of progress. Thus, I examined the cases in which environmental considerations would be needed most. In Hong Kong, I collected raw data through building plans, models, and interviews – compiling case studies of building projects from the architectural firm KPF in arguably the world’s most intense urban environment. Material choices in this part of the world are relevant because of the dense population, importance on air quality control, and the blending of Western and Eastern cultures – trends indicative for the future of many cities, in China and the rest of the developing world alike. Additionally, because these types of areas will constitute most of the building stock in the next 50 years, it means they will be drawing largely on our remaining natural resources. Specifically, I examined KPF’s projects in the Pearl River Delta, the heart of China’s industrial production – three specific buildings in three different cities: the ICC in Hong Kong, an Ping IFC in Shenzhen, and the CTFC in Guangzhou. The buildings are unique in that they stand in the central business districts for each of these cities, about to be interconnected by a high-speed railway in the coming years, improving the mobility of Chinese citizens.
This grant gave me the opportunity to highlight the importance of materials in the built environment. The research I collected this summer documents a rapid building process of which has never existed. These observations will form the base line of my studies of recommendations for improved material use, thus feeding into my senior thesis combining my two majors of Environmental Studies and Architecture. Additionally, this project will be applied back to Penn in the completion of the Penn Design Emerging Materials Library, currently under construction – be to utilized by both undergraduate and graduate students. The culmination of the project will be a display in the library’s exhibition space - providing a design-oriented visual aid of my research.
This project helps translate my academic goals into my profession career goals focused on improving the build¬ing industry. I want to promote a clean, reliable source of energy and material use in buildings. I want to further this intelligent use of resources in order to grow both create healthy interior and exterior environments. And with the world’s ever growing population, the need to effectively allocate resources in building operations has to become the national and global standard.