Vertical Gardens Exhibition at Exit Art Gallery, NYC

Exit Art, a gallery in New York City, has just opened an exhibition, Vertical Gardens, which explores architectural models, renderings, drawings, and photographs of vertical farms, urban gardens or green roofs. The exhibit features concepts and real-life projects by architects and artists that envision greener urban environments. 

Exit Art Gallery explains: “The past decade has seen a greater emergence of green roofs and vertical gardens created by artists, designers, architects and urban gardeners to combat the lack of flora in the city. Buildings around the world — from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, to the Queens Botanical Garden in New York — have embraced green walls or roofs for all their economical, environmental, and aesthetic values. Vertical farms and gardens are also being envisioned as new ways to feed local and organic foods to city dwellers. Largely based on the principles of hydroponics, vertical gardens would also be mostly self-sustaining because they would capture large amounts of natural sunlight and water, and could use wind as an energy source. In a country where cities are suffocated by high rises, cement and industrial materials, where can green space exist? As this exhibition demonstrates, one possible answer is up.”  

The exhibition features projects by major landscape architects, architects and artists, including: Abruzzo Bodziak Architects; ATOPIA; Bob Bingham and Claire Hoch; Patrick Blanc; Bohn & Viljoen Architects; Dickson Despommier; Evo Design with Mica Gross; Todd Haiman; Haus-Rucker-Inc.; Edmundo Ortega and Dianne Rohrer; Claude Boullevraye de Passillé; Oda Projesi; Rael San Fratello Architects (Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael); Naomi Reis; Roomservices (Evren Uzer and Otto Von Busch); SITE (Denise MC Lee, Sara Stracey and James Wines).

Go to Exit Art
The exhibit runs from March 28 to May 23, 2009.

Image credit: Todd Haiman, Master’s degree candidate, Landscape Design, Columbia University

Using Plants to Clean Indoor Air

Kamal Meattle, an Indian clean air activist, discusses how three basic plants, if properly positioned within households, can dramatically improve indoor air quality and lower energy costs. The three plant types he highlights are:  

  • Areca Palm
  • Mother in Law’s Tongue
  • Money Plant

Areca Palm removes C02 and turns it into oxygen. A household would need four shoulder-high plants per person. Mother in Law’s tongue is a “bedroom plant”  because it converts Co2 into oxygen at night. Households would need a few waist-high plants. Money Plants, a common plant, can remove volatile household chemicals. Meattle says “you could be in a bottle with a cap on top and not die if you had these plants, and no fresh air.”

In Meattle’s building in New Delhi, there are 1,200 of these plants for 300 occupants. Studies on the effect of the plants on the building’s air quality showed a 42 percent probability that residents increased their blood oxygen by one percent if they stayed in the building for ten hours. Asthma, headaches, lung impairment rates fell by more than 10 percent. Human productivity rose by 20 percent and energy use fell 15 percent because less air circulation is needed. Delhi’s city government says Meattle’s building is the healthiest in the city.

Some next steps for Meattle — a bigger demonstration project in a 1.5 million square feet building with 16,000 indoor plants. Meattle says given that the world’s energy requirements are expected to grow 30 percent over the next few decades, indoor plants will be increasingly critical to make buildings more energy efficient, and healthier spaces for people.

Watch the video on

Designing Views of the Natural Landscape: Norway’s National Tourist Route


The National Building Museum (NBM) has a few upcoming events that may be of interest for those in the Washington, D.C. area:

By the Way: Designing Views of the Natural Landscape

March 30, 6:30 – 8:00pm

Norwegian architects Henning Kaland, partner, Code: architecture, and Tommie Wilhemsen, head of his own firm, discuss their designs for Norway’s National Tourist Route. Brad Cownover, ASLA, of Scenic America, joins them to discuss the history and current state of scenic byways in the U.S. and Europe. Martin Moeller, senior vice president and curator at the Museum, moderates. The exhibition Detour is open for viewing prior to the lecture. $12 Member and Student; $20 Non-member. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

Sustainable Communities: Water Knows No Boundaries

March 31, 6:30 – 8:00pm 

Will Baker, president, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Iris Miller, ASLA, The Catholic University of America; and Tommy Wells, Washington, D.C. Councilmember, discuss practical solutions for cleaning up watersheds that cross multiple municipalities, with a specific focus on the 40-year effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Moderated by Joe Palca, correspondent for NPR’s science desk. $12 Member and Student; $20 Non-member. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

Go to the National Building Museum site to register

Mandatory Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emission Reporting in U.S. by End of 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is creating a national database of greenhouse gas emissions, a critical first step to better tracking and then reducing emissions in the U.S. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), the EPA’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule is open for public comment for 60 days. A final rule is expected in late 2009. The New York Time’s Green Inc blog says that the proposal would cover 85 to 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions

The registry would require 13,000 facilities to report their GHG emissions. Any facility that emits 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually would need to report; small businesses will be exempt. Reporting for sectors such as the utilities, oil and gas producers, and chemical refineries is expected to start in 2011. Automobile manufacturers will start reporting on 2011 models. Green Inc contends that “auto manufacturers will be required to report the grams per mile of the vehicles that they make.”

Legislation passed in December, 2007 that required the EPA to design a national, mandatory GHG emissions registry. Work on a national registry was slowed under the previous administration, but, WRI says, has been put on the fast-track under incoming EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. WRI argues that “a national greenhouse gas registry is a major development in U.S. climate change policy, because it is the cornerstone of cap-and-trade, or indeed, any policy to measure and reduce emissions.” Also, a GHG registry is good for business. “Experience with voluntary programs shows that as companies measure their emissions, they typically gain a better understanding of where they are coming from, for instance, their supply chain, transportation, or in their electricity, heating, or cooling use. That knowledge helps identify cost-effective, even “no regrets” strategies for reducing their carbon emissions and improving their bottom line by saving energy.”

Go the EPA’s site on the proposed rules and WRI’s brief on the GHG Registry

Organic Vegetable Garden at the White House

The New York Times
reported that the Obamas will plant a vegetable garden on the White House South Lawn. The garden will grow organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, and be used to “to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.”

The 1,100 square foot plot will be used to grow foods used in Mexican dishes, such as cilantro, tomatillos and hot peppers, lettuces like romaine, green oak leaf and galactic, as well as a berry patch.  The plots will be fertilized with compost from the White House, crab meal from Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. The total cost of the seeds and mulch is expected to run USD 200. Students from a local elementary school will dig up the plot, and an assistant White House chef will plant and maintain the garden.  (In addition, apparently one of the White House carpenters, who is also a beekeeper, will keep hives for honey). 

The New York Times says the vegetable garden is the result of considerable lobbying. “Whether there would be a White House garden had become more than a matter of landscaping. The question had taken on political and environmental symbolism, with the Obamas lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally, and organically, can lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.”

Read the article

Photo credit: Stephen Crowley / New York Times

Cooling Cities by Painting Roofs and Roads White

The Guardian (UK)
wrote about a plan by a scientist, Hashem Akbari, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, to re-paint all urban roads and rooftops with white paint, which would cause significantly more sunlight to be reflected back into space, and help buy time to cut carbon emissions and address climate change. Akbari hopes a dozen large cities will re-paint their roads and rooftops with reflective, lighter paint.

The Guardian contends that “study after study has shown that buildings with white roofs stay cooler during the summer. The change reduces the way heat accumulates in built-up areas – known as the urban heat island effect (UHIE)- and allows people who live and work inside to switch off power-hungry air conditioning units.”  Reflective paint colors, such as white, or even light grey can help cool urban temperatures. “Computer simulations of Los Angeles show that resurfacing about two-thirds of roads and rooftops with reflective surfaces, as well as planting more trees, could cool the city by 2-3C.” Cooler cities also means less energy use for air conditioning. “On hot days in North America, up to 40% of all electricity can be consumed by air-conditioners, and each degree a city such as LA warms is reckoned to see the air-con turned up enough to need another 500MW – the output of a decent sized nuclear power station. Akbari estimates that widespread use of cooler rooftops could slash $1bn from electricity bills in the US alone.”

A few states and cities in the U.S. have already bought into the plan. In 2005, California has mandated that warehouses and other commercial premises with flat roofs re-paint them white.  U.S. cities, such as Houston, Chicago, and Salt Lake City, are considering his plan.

At the global level, roads and roofs cover more than half of surfaces in urban areas. Urban areas spread over 2.4% of the Earth’s land. If a majority of roofs in urban areas were re-painted a lighter, reflective shade, the amount of sunlight bounced off our planet would increase by 0.03%, enough to cool the Earth and cancel the warming caused by 44bn tonnes of CO2 pollution. However, critics note that the plan won’t stop many of the adverse effects of climate change. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, said to The Guardian: “It won’t tackle global warming because carbon emissions are still rising,” he says. Like all geo-engineering schemes, it will need to be kept up indefinitely, he says, and does not address the growing acidification of the oceans, caused as extra CO2 dissolves. The cooling effect and energy savings in cities would be welcome though.”

Read the article

How to Re-Grow a Rainforest

Willie Smits, a Brazilian biologist, purchased land in Borneo and re-grew rainforest to create a new habitat for Orangutang, as well as sustainable economic opportunities for local inhabitants. Borneo’s rainforest was burned for fertilizer and to create space for plants used for biofuels. Smits has a blueprint for restoring other rainforests, and describes how his plan is a ‘recipe’ for addressing the different needs of animals, plants and people.

Smits discusses how sugar palms, if planted around restored rainforest, can create a buffer against burning and can be tapped for biofuels in a sustainable manner to create economic opportunities for locals. To restore burnt-out rainforest area, Smits brought in fast-growing trees, slower-growing trees between them, and fungi with the aim of restoring, step-by-step, the rainforest’s enormous diversity. 1,000 trees were planted per day and their growth was monitored via satellite. 

According to Smits, trees trigger rainfall in tropical zones, whereas ice crystals create rain in temperate areas in most developed countries. As a result, re-growing the rainforest changed the local weather: Temperatures came down 3-5 degrees celsius, clouds increased 11 percent, and rainfall increased 20 percent.  137 species of birds have returned to live in the restored area. 

Smits discusses the positive, inter-connected effects that result from restoring the rainforest. Watch the video on

Also, check out a video on Nalini Nadkarni’s work on rainforest treetop ecosystems.

Forum for Urban Design Spring Conference 2009: The 21st Century Park & The Contemporary City

The Forum for Urban Design will hold its Spring Conference 2009 on May 13 and 14 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Forum for Urban Design will “host two panels comprised of leading figures from North America to discuss different visions for the 21st century urban park. Discussions will range from the ways in which innovative and creative designs are redefining the park and city of the 21st century to questions about development strategy, financing, operations and management.” The landscape architecture panel, alone, may be reason enough to attend: 

Landscape Architecture Panel
May 13, 6:30 PM

Moderated by: Ken Greenberg
Principal, Greenberg Consultants

James Corner
Principal, Field Operations

George Hargreaves
Senior Principal, Hargreaves Associates

Michael Van Valkenburgh
Principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Respondent: Anthony Flint
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, author, Wrestling with Moses

The Forum meeting will be held in the Celeste Bartos Theater (Education and Research Center, 4 W. 54th Street). The Forum is free and open to the public, but registration is required.  Go to the Forum web site to register

Cleaning the Atmosphere

The Economist
wrote about new “air capture” machines which can be used to scrub carbon dioxide from air. A form of the technology is in use — submarines and spacecraft currently remove carbon dioxide from in-cabin air. Supports of air capture see it as a way to remove bulk amounts of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere; the CO2 captured could then be sold for industrial use, stored underground, or in turn used to generate energy. (See a related article by The Economist on the state of Carbon Capture and Sequestration pilot projects).

According to The Economist, a few different methods for air capture are being explored. “In each case air is brought into contact with a “sorbent” material, which binds chemically with the carbon dioxide. The efficiency of this process depends on the surface area of the sorbent, and an easy way to increase the surface area is to spray a liquid sorbent into the air as a fine mist. At PARC, researchers propose building towers several metres high through which the air would be wafted, coming into contact with a sorbent mist. Having absorbed CO2 from the air, the liquid would drain into a chamber where the gas would be extracted from the sorbent by a series of chemical reactions, or by applying an electric current, depending on the system’s design. The sorbent can then be recycled, and the CO2 compressed into liquid form for removal.”

Air capture machines are electrically powered, so they also raise the question: Can they capture more CO2 than they will generate through their own operation? This is particularly important if they are to be rolled-out at any mass scale. Global Research Technologies (GRT) estimates that the CO2 emissions for each machine would be just 5 percent of the CO2 captured over the life of the machine, so they could significantly reduce CO2 amounts beyond the amount they generate. The market cost of any industrial CO2 that could be collected by the machines could also eventually off-set the costs of the technology if the price of air-capture related technologies came down enough. 

Air capture machines could also be used to create energy. CO2 pulled from the atmosphere could be combined with hydrogen, leading to the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. While the costs remain prohibitively high for hydrocarbon fuels generated in this manner (4-5 USD per gallon), connecting air-capture systems with wind turbines could be a way to take advantage of the extra energy created by wind farms in off-peak hours. In this scenario, wind farms would run the air capture systems.

The Economist relates air capture technologies to previous scientific breakthroughs that had widespread impact. “In 1909 Fritz Haber, a German chemist, discovered a new way to combine nitrogen from the air with hydrogen to produce ammonia. Previously, this was known to be technically possible, but the process was hopelessly inefficient. Haber’s new process, subsequently scaled up by Carl Bosch, meant that ammonia could be produced in industrial quantities, for use in both agricultural fertiliser and explosives—with momentous historical consequences. Haber was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for producing “bread from the air”. Ammonia synthesised using the Haber-Bosch process underpinned the “green revolution” in the second half of the 20th century and its associated population boom; today it sustains one-third of the world’s population. A century later, might scientists tinkering with another apparently inefficient process be on the verge of another unexpected breakthrough?”

Read the article