The next generation of eco-conscious design breathesnew life into old spaces
he concept of recycling materials to create art is as ancient as art itself. What is a discarded cardboard box if not a child’s potential spaceship? Since the first Earth Day in 1970, however, the global pursuit of reclaiming old materials and turning them into something new has been wholly transformed as technology makes it possible to realize our green dreams on a grand scale. This year, a spate of new designs raises that bar even higher. From a building in Seattle that amasses its own water supply to a floating grove of elms in a Dutch river, here are some of our favorite bio-ethical art and architectural projects to watch. Some might still be in the dream phase, but that may very well change by the next Earth Day.
On April 22, 2013, Seattle will have the greenest commercial building in the world when the Bullitt Center opens its doors. As America’s first urban midrise commercial project to meet the Living Building Challenge standards as laid out by the International Living Future Institute, it features some of the most innovative eco-friendly initiatives around. The record-setting structure boasts a laundry list of achievements, but perhaps its star is a basement-level 56,000-gallon cistern in which collected rainwater is filtered and stored for daily use. It’s the structure’s sole water source, making the Bullitt Center one of the only buildings in the country to adopt such a self-supporting feature.
As Bullitt Foundation president Denis Hayes asks, “Why pump water hundreds of miles when Mother Nature delivers it to your roof for free?”
In New York, a creative-minded artist set out to remedy the problem of polluted water. New York’s river water is filthy. To clean it, Plus Pool (or +Pool) founder Dong-Ping Wong created a swimming pool structure with walls that act as a filtration system. On a daily basis, the filter can remove bacteria, contaminants and other impurities that pollute the city’s waterways from 500,000 gallons of river water. Designed as four pools in one to cater to all swimming skill levels, from newcomers to professional athletes, the Olympic-sized, 9,000-square-foot, X-shaped pool operates like a giant strainer. The result is safe, swimmable water, and thanks to a floating dock connected to an East River park, the pool is easily accessible to anyone who wants to walk over for a lesson, a lounge or a workout.
Plus Pool may soon change not only the way we see the city’s rivers but also how we experience them. “I still always forget that New York has such an extensive coastline,” says Wong. “[With Plus Pool], the rivers would shift from being boundaries to being a unifying thing that ties the entire city together.” The project is slated to open May 25, 2015, and has the potential to be a game changer, both environmentally and recreationally.
Until floating pools become the norm, New Yorkers and tourists alike continue to gravitate to parks when they want to escape the concrete jungle. From Prospect Park to Central Park, these lush city havens draw millions of visitors season after season, and the High Line—western Manhattan’s recently opened park and promenade built atop a decommissioned elevated rail line—is one of the city’s hottest attractions. Inspired by the High Line’s success as both a public space and a recycling project, architects Dan Barasch and James Ramsey now hope to do something similar underground with the Lowline. Like its elevated predecessor has, the Lowline will take on the challenge of reinvigorating a long-forgotten public transit space by repurposing the former Williamsburg Trolley Terminal on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into the world’s first subterranean park. To make this verdant vision possible, the Lowline has sunlight filtered in through remote skylights and fiber-optic light sources to fuel the growth of lush greenery.
Barasch and Ramsey see the Lowline as more than just a park. They envision it as a cultural hub, an extension of the Lower East Side’s thriving art scene and a potentional new neighborhood unto itself—one filled with public art, performance venues and commercial real estate. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign and partnership with the same advisory firm that helped create the High Line, this underground social space could become a reality as early as 2014.
The reinvention of spaces that have outgrown their original uses is also happening across the Atlantic in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where local art agency Mothership is designing a project to revive the city’s harbor. Like New York’s abandoned tunnels, much of Rotterdam’s old harbor basins suffered neglect as the city expanded its port, which is the largest in Europe. In September 2013, in partnership with Dutch-Colombian artist Jorge Bakker, Mothership will unveil the whimsical artwork Bobbing Forest in the Rijnhaven, one of those forgotten basins.
Composed of elm trees replanted in old buoys that are set afloat and anchored to the river floor, the Bobbing Forest is a perfect study in recycling. “The harbor basins aren’t functional nowadays,” says Mothership’s Siobhan Burger. “But they are a beautiful part of the city’s cultural heritage.” This project, she explains, is just one of the many opportunities that neglected spaces provide for cities and public works in need of revitalization.
Mothership’s hope is that the Bobbing Forest will spark new interest in Rotterdam’s harbor basins and create new green spaces in a wholly unexpected way. Who wouldn’t be charmed by floating trees?
Following the theme of revitalizing unexpected spaces, the Stefano Boeri architecture studio will unveil its vertical forest–cum–residential towers called Bosco Verticale in Milan in late 2013. The two skyscrapers are packed with enough planted vegetation to fill a hectare of actual forest, allowing the buildings to naturally filter dust and pollution, provide shade and sunlight and become a brilliant addition to the city’s skyline. It could pave the way for a new trend in urban building that not only cultivates sustainable architecture but also improves the city’s air quality.
As these eco-minded projects break more ground, the green standard for creativity will become the norm instead of the exception. Plus Pool founder Dong-Ping Wong is optimistic. “The more people realize that there are ways through design, infrastructure and innovation to connect more directly with the natural resources in a city and make those resources better, the more they will demand it.”
CHADNER NAVARRO writes about travel, fashion and design. His work has appeared in print for Nylon Guys and DuJour and on websites such as the BBC.