URBAN AIR TECHNOLOGY OVERVIEW
by Russell Fortmeyer, Senior Sustainability Consultant, ARUP
Plants absorb harmful chemicals and pollutants out of the air, which is why we often place plants in our homes and offices. The bamboo trees in Urban Air can do the same for our cities, since bamboo is one of the most effective trees for absorbing carbon dioxide, as well as harmful chemicals like benzene and trichloroethylene.
Metal, concrete, wood, and plastic surfaces in the city absorb solar radiation throughout the day, storing heat in urban surfaces and increasing temperatures in cities by several degrees over typical ambient air temperatures. This so-called "urban heat island" effect increases the demand on the use of air conditioning systems throughout the city, which leads to increased energy consumption and less sustainable cities overall. We can combat urban heat island effects by increasing the reflectivity of surfaces or by increasing planted areas. The bamboo trees in Urban Air reduce urban heat island effects through evapotranspiration, where moisture from the leaves evaporates into drier, warmer air and provides natural cooling effects.
Embedded network sensing is increasingly used to connect data sources in the city, such as traffic conditions, public transport schedules, air quality, and, perhaps most commonly, air temperature. Urban Air could be installed with embedded wireless sensors for soil moisture content, air temperature, and air quality, as well as web-cams. These sensors could provide a new node in the city as a publicly accessible data feed, including smartphone applications, to understand how Urban Air is affecting microclimate conditions wherever it's installed.
Urban Air provides a garden in the sky where there would normally be nothing except paper or plastic and the structural armature of a billboard. This garden of bamboo trees can attract insects, birds, and other wildlife, depending on the season and the location, that will improve the biodiversity of the neighborhood, providing shelter and a resource for such wildlife in the midst of the city.
Urban Air can collect rainwater in those cities with significant annual rainfalls, funneling rainwater into the bamboo trees for irrigation. In drier cities, such as Los Angeles, Urban Air's bamboo trees could be irrigated as needed using dedicated sprinklers designed to prevent over-watering and unnecessary runoff.
Urban Air could reduce energy consumption by eliminating the need for lighting of the billboard during the night. Light pollution is a significant problem in cities, obscuring the view of stars and the sky and affecting the schedules of birds and other wildlife that evolved under cover of the moonlight only. In addition, many billboards pollute neighborhoods with bright light that can affect human sleeping habits. Urban Air's bamboo trees can bring darkness back to the sky.
Russell Fortmeyer is Senior Sustainability Consultant at ARUP. His focus is the intersection of people, architecture, and technology — including urban microclimates, sustainable materials, urban informatics and pervasive sensing systems, and engineering design culture. His recent book, Active Envelopes, explores developments in kinetic and thermally active facades. Russell is involved in master planning, building projects, advanced digital modeling analysis, and sustainability framework/development. Key projects include the Seattle Public Library, TreePeople Center for Community Forestry in Los Angeles, and more.