No One Is Going To Ban Skyscrapers. Right, Elvis?
The words you choose are important, especially when attempting to communicate very complex issues to a broad swath of people. Take for example Mayor Bill de Blasio’s statement during his press conference to announce the passage of the Climate Mobilization Act, which intends to cap greenhouse gas emissions for all buildings in NYC:
“We’re going to ban the classic glass and steel skyscrapers, which are incredibly inefficient. If someone wants to build one of those things, they can take a whole lot of steps to make it energy efficient, but we’re not going to allow what we used to see in the past.”
In theory, we agree whole-heartedly with the spirit of his message. However, by using the term “ban” the mayor has thrown more gasoline onto the tire-fire that rages in the hearts of his detractors. Remember when the city tried to ban large, sugary soft drinks? If you Google “ban steel and glass buildings” the first five posts are from hard right-wing publications, one with a Flintstones-esque depiction of the mayor.
Rather than focusing the conversation on the merits of the legislation and the serious problem it is intended to address, the mayor’s language accomplished just the opposite. Here’s the rub: the mayor is correct. Large steel and glass skyscrapers are inefficient creatures – roughly 25% of NYC’s carbon emissions come from the 50,000 buildings that are over 25,000 square feet in size. But no one is going to “ban” them.
Instead, the city should work with all the stakeholders – developers, contractors, building owners and operators, legislators and the people they represent – to modernize building codes. The path to a decarbonized future is paved with energy efficient materials, advanced architectural techniques and HVAC strategies that balance energy conservation and resiliency with tenant comfort and patient outcomes.
We have witnessed firsthand new buildings being constructed in NYC that utilize resistive, electric perimeter heating to keep condensation from forming on the windows, and little to no insulation between floors to maximize ceiling height.
Vanity at the expense of energy efficiency should have no place in modern architecture and design. We can construct buildings that provide luxury amenities while simultaneously maximizing energy conservation measures. As we see it, tenants are already selecting homes and office space based on their “green score” as much as they do traditional amenities, such as bathroom fixtures, concierge services, marble atria and the like.
The buildings of the future will incorporate construction materials that minimize thermal transfer, 100% LED lighting solutions, on-site power generation (Resiliency is the ultimate amenity), efficient heating and cooling technologies (such as geothermal and heat pumps), PV solar and water collection / conservation measures.
No one is suggesting New York City return to the Stone Age. To the contrary, we are encouraging our legislators, architects and designers to move our city into the future – fast. To that end achieving ambitious carbon reduction will require less inflammatory rhetoric and more bold, collaborative effort from us all.
In the immortal words of The King:
A little less conversation, a little more action, please
All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark