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lass-clad, steel-framed towers have been flavour of the month for major urban centres, and their Central Business Districts, for the past few decades. The ultimate symbol of corporate strength, their glittering facades maximise space, light and construction efficiencies. However New York’s mayor has them in his sights, believing them to be part of an energy-inefficient past which he is trying to make a concerted move away from.

Bill De Blasio, making a stand against President Trump’s long-established climate change scepticism, has

announced that he will be stopping the construction of more glass towers in the city, based on their CO2 emissions. However the ‘takeaway’ from what he actually said is somewhat opaque: “We are going to introduce legislation to ban glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city, or in our earth anymore.”

The Mayor then caveated with: “If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use all the glass, if they do all the things needed to reduce the emissions.” The overall emphasis is clearer than some facades in New York may in future be though – that buildings that are purely “monuments to themselves,” i.e. which do not consider energy use in every facet, will “no longer be allowed in New York City.”

He has added further clarification, that rather than ban glass buildings, the energy code for building will be tightened. So it may be a case of the devil (for climate change activists), being in the detail. The stats on New York do perhaps bear out that glass buildings bear the lion’s share of the city’s carbon footprint. This may be more due to the sheer floor area they represent than intrinsic energy-take of glass buildings, but it’s a truism that glass buildings absorb huge amounts of heat and need commensurate cooling. Half of NYC’s CO2 emissions comes from two per cent of the built environment – large glass skyscrapers.

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Driven by the global alarm on climate change, and a seemingly new sense of purpose on halting it before effects are irreversible, The Green New Deal is major new driver in building specification, its goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 making the UK’s 2050 target look somewhat lukewarm. Harking back with nostalgic weight to Roosevelt’s New Deal, it is this initiative which is underpinning De Blasio’s resolve to make major interventions to stop the built environment being such a large part of the problem in the future. If the goal is to be hit, there’s going to need to be some serious self-examination across the building industry.

Spacious interiors can be achieved without having complete transparency, but architects will still want to explore the possibilities offered by all-glass facades. Brick and concrete buildings are of course not the panacea – the large numbers of such heritage buildings in New York have been contributing

proportionally large amounts of CO2 for decades. Whatever the case, architects working in the city, are likely to find the way to erecting glass towers is considerably more obstacle- strewn than it has been in the past.


05.19 adf

James Parker Editor

ON THE COVER... 1 New Oxford Street is an office regeneration that considerably enhances the original Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture, including adding a glass atrium

For the full report on this project, go to page 17 Cover image © Timothy Soar – Orms


ADF MAY 2019

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