31 March 2017

Techs and the city

In lots of regions around the world, the city of the future will be dense and vertical. The city of Houston, Texas, is the opposite of this vision. Like several of the big cities in the US, Houston is a widely spread city. It will take time for the Texan city to transform, if it ever transforms. There, the American Dream is still to own a big house and a big car. And spending two hours a day in the big car does not seem to be a major concern for the Texans.


However “if a house has to be built, I want it to be a very high quality house which will last for decades,” Scott says. Scott Frankel is the Co-President of Frankel Building Group, a design and build construction company founded by his father. The company is the leading green home builder in Houston.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
Every year the US National Association of Home Builders gives away a BIG award, a Best In Green Young Professional of the Year. It recognizes the work of a young professional who make the building industry more green and sustainable. Scott won the award last year in 2016. We had the chance to meet him in his office, in western Houston. The office is full of the awards the construction company won in the past.

Scott explains: “To me, green first means durable. This is what the company thinks: it is wrong to build a house which will fall into ruin after only 15 years. It is wrong for the environment and it is wrong for the image of the company! And you know, the weather here is tropical; it can be very hot and very humid during summer. The constructions are having a hard time! They face extreme conditions, the degradation is fast.

There are hundreds of different materials which you can use to build. One needs to choose those materials correctly and the construction can last much longer, and save energy every day. This is what we do. We are continuously surveilling technological innovation. We are constantly learning. I regularly spend time in class!” Scott adds: “Furthermore we want to limit as much as possible our impact during construction, through environmentally-friendly methods. Also our construction mistake indicator is low; we almost never redo.”


“Since 2009, we have worked closely with our suppliers to choose the right elements and raise the quality,” Scott says. “An example is our insulation technologies. Firstly, efficient insulation will protect the structure and the inside of the house from humidity, preventing degradation. It also makes the inside air healthiest. Secondly, good insulation saves lots of energy!” Scoot took us to one of his houses under construction. He showed us the insulation technology which was used, the Zip System sheathing. The layered sheathing is composed of engineered wood on the outside and foam on the inside. The wood comes from local sustainable forestry. “The system goes with a 30-year warranty,” Scott says. Durable! Globally speaking, wood is a very good option for the structure of not-so-large buildings. Wood is biodegradable, it has good longevity and it insulates better than concrete.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
The Zip System, by Huber. ©Huber

Heating or cooling a building can represent up to 60% of its energy consumption. Efficient insulation can dramatically reduce this consumption. In France for instance, estimations say 20 million homes are not well insulated. These last years, the country has put into place incentives in order to accelerate thermal renovation works. It is expected that these renovation works of old buildings and houses can divide by 4 the energy consumption related to heating. This is probably the France's biggest challenge in regards to their transition to a low-carbon society.

Glass (or glass wool) insulation material is a sustainable natural material. In particular it can be made from recycled glass. It is thermally efficient and it can be chemical free. Brands are for instance: EcoBatt, Foamglas and Isover. In Paris, the recently built Louis Vuitton Foundation is insulated with Foamglas technology. ©EcoBatt/Foamglas

“Another example is the high quality windows and doors which we install,” Scott adds. “Our double-paned windows are filled with argon gas, which improves insulation. They are very resistant and mechanically robust: we won’t need to change them before a very long time!” The Manager concludes: “We continuously have around 40 houses under construction. Thanks to large volumes, we manage to offer houses with similar prices than our competitors, but with higher quality and durability. We industrialize, we standardize.” The existing technologies may not be environmentally perfect but they show the path to sustainable construction.

One Climate One Challenge Meza Gheung Houston engineered insulation technologies city dense vertical durable sustainable energy consumption (1 (1)
Despite the humid local weather, the structure of the house we visited is made of wood. Wood is an environmentally friendly material. Excellent insulation ensures its protection.

Why will the city of the future be denser and more vertical? Because it will mean less greenhouse gases emissions. More vertical city means residential buildings instead of individual houses. Some researchers even declare that the city of the future must be made only of massive skyscrapers. A truly vertical city. The key purpose is to get the homes, the offices, the schools, the shops closer together. Dense and vertical cities reduce transportation distances, thus emissions. People can walk more, or use their bike. The concept of Central Business District (CBD) should disappear: a large city should have several business districts. People can live closer to their workplace.

A concept of vertical city, in Singapore, by WOHA. ©WOHA

In addition a dense and vertical city reduces the need for roads and decrease air pollution. It gives space to parks and preserves arable land around the city; food can be more local. It also makes the inhabitants of a district feel part of a community. This is complicated sometimes in a spread out city like Houston. A dense city facilitates sharing economy. And lots of studies show that sharing economy must grow in the future in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry. We can share cars, bikes, washing machines or electric drills. We do not necessarily need to own one. There is one Earth only; we must learn to share.

©Vertical City

Taking off from Houston!


No comments:

Post a Comment