Grist – A More Sustainable Skyscraper? Imagine a ‘Spaceship Designed by Jenga.’

Two architects dreamed up a high-rise they think could inspire the next generation of climate-friendly buildings.

The steel exoskeleton of Seattle 2030, a futuristic skyscraper, braids around a tower of wood. Curved balconies teeming with trees and turf no doubt offer killer views. Topped with wind turbines and a drone port, the structure looks a bit like a spaceship designed by Jenga.

Architect Ro Shroff and Shaina Yang, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, dreamed up the 1,300-foot building as a thought exercise exploring what cities might look like after COVID. They wanted to design something so alluring that the folks who fled to suburbs or beyond would be enticed to return. In their view, avoiding a post-pandemic urban slump simply requires a little imagination to build healthier, safer, more joyful places to live.

Many of the biophilic features Shroff and Yang use to achieve that offer environmental benefits as well. A structure like Seattle 2030 increases urban density, which makes it easier to get around by walking, biking, and riding public transit. That in turn can slash car-related pollution and promote exercise. Its walls of greenery and open-air elements contribute to energy efficiency, while liberal use of wood keeps the carbon footprint small.

These are no small things. Manufacturing materials like steel and concrete, erecting buildings, and then running them accounts for about 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Accommodating a global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 requires more housing, especially in urban centers where two-thirds of all people will likely live by then. How do communities construct more buildings while belching less carbon? Seattle 2030 attempts to answer that question.

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