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    Tearing down all the old inefficient buildings and replacing them with new high-performance ones is not affordable or practical. For a start, it would cause enormous environmental damage. Already, one-third of all waste in North America is building waste. If London alone were to demolish just its high-rise towers, it would generate around 40 million metric tons (44 million U.S. tons) of building rubble. Rebuilding would also consume resources at an almost unimaginable level, including vast amounts of cement, whose manufacture is one of the most carbon-intensive of all industries. Importantly, it would also take decades, if not centuries to accomplish — far longer than we have to turn things around.

    There are now well-established techniques of improving buildings, such as upgrading heating and ventilation systems, fitting low-energy lights, draft-proofing and so on. These kinds of retrofitting programs are underway around the globe in cities like Johannesburg, Mexico City and Mumbai. A project in Washington, D.C., is investing US $175 million in retrofitting 400 government and private buildings with the aim of saving US $36.5 million in energy costs per year. In the United States, President Obama has committed his administration to improving the energy efficiency of all federal government buildings.

    But retrofitting alone will not bring the reduction in carbon footprint we need.

    The Re-Skinning Awards

    What do re-skinned buildings look like? What techniques and materials do they use? How do they improve their communities?

    The 2010 candidates for the Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards represent a cross-section of the latest approaches to re-skinning and retrofitting buildings. They range from a small post-war bungalow to futuristic solutions based on new materials and technologies.

    All entrants were asked to submit projects that satisfied the following six criteria:

    1) Efficiency: the finished building had to be energy-efficient.

    2) Aesthetics: the design had to enhance the existing building and its neighborhood.

    3) Economy: the project had to pay for itself over a period of no more than 20 years.

    4) Reproducible: the re-skinning and retrofitting technologies had to be scalable internationally.

    5) Intelligent: where possible, the buildings had to embed new "smart" energy systems.

    6) Good Neighbors: the project had to benefit the community.

    Of these, reproducibility is the most important. This is an unusual criterion for an architectural prize, since such programs usually reward uniqueness. However, the scale of our building problem is enormous and we won't solve it unless we come up with practical, cost-effective and scalable solutions. Building types are often similar across cities and across regions, with architectural fashions, including materials and building techniques, adopted very widely. We need common solutions that can be reproduced globally, where economies of scale reduce costs and where training and skills are readily transferable.

    The biggest cause of energy inefficiency with older buildings is their lack of insulation. Without a thermal break between the interior and the outside world, older buildings just capture heat in the summer and leak it away in the winter. Retrofitting older buildings will not be successful without new ways to design and insulate their external envelopes. What these buildings need, in effect, is a new "skin."

    Re-skinning is more than just adding a layer of cladding to the outside of a tower block to freshen up its looks or protect its deteriorating exterior. In addition to adding an essential layer of insulation, a new skin can hide added piping, cabling and other services, making retrofitting internal systems quicker and cheaper. A well-designed re-skinning project can also alter the face of a building, making it easier on the eye while also making it a more comfortable, energy-efficient and flexible place to live or work.

    Re-skinning is about rethinking the state of the art in retrofitting. It is about looking at the building as a whole and tackling the major cause of the problem head on. It is about creating a proper thermal barrier so that all of the internal improvements that we make, in terms of lighting, heating and so on, can have their full impact.

    The Economics of Re-Skinning

    If we analyze the costs of re-skinning and look at the payback — cutting carbon emissions also means cutting energy bills — it quickly becomes apparent that we can cut emissions dramatically in a payback period that is economically attractive. So why aren't we doing it?

    The answer is in the economics. The number of existing buildings is vast, and the cost of retrofitting them all is enormous. Individual building owners lack the capital resources needed to do it. Asking government to foot the entire bill through grants and subsidies is like asking them to print money for years. It is also beyond their means, especially during an economic recession.

    But here is a clue to how it could be done. If the cash flows from the benefits of the retrofitting (i.e., the reduction in energy costs) were to be credit-enhanced, then the benefits could be packaged and sold to the financial markets in a multitude of high-quality financial products. For example, instead of funding the retrofits directly, the government insures the benefits that result from the savings in energy costs. By backing the cash flows, the government would create a market in financial products that would provide the funding for the retrofits. In this way we get two major advantages.

    • For a fixed level of government funding — for example $100 million — applied to insuring rather than capitalizing retrofitting projects, we could get up to $10 billion worth of retrofits based on a one percent default rate in the cash flow payments.
    • The financial markets, rather than the government, would become the vehicle to fund the intensive retrofitting program that is required to achieve a meaningful and timely impact.

    For example, taking this approach, the US $25 billion that President Obama has dedicated to retrofitting could be leveraged to between $1 trillion and $2.5 trillion worth of actual retrofitting. Twenty-five billion dollars does not make a significant dent in the retrofitting needs of a major country, but $2.5 trillion will.

    It is important to note that this investment will not only prevent massive amounts of carbon from entering the atmosphere and improve the environment of our cities, but it will also provide jobs in a new green economy. The economic and social opportunities are enormous. Here are some benefits that large-scale investment in re-skinning and retrofitting programs could bring:

    • Research and development of new materials, processes and manufacturing technologies related to building retrofits;
    • Infrastructure investment, including large-scale energy-savings projects like district energy systems, solar arrays, geothermal, etc.;
    • The creation of millions of jobs globally to retrofit millions of buildings that are candidates for this type of renewal; and
    • Education and job training for a new generation of workers who will be required to support this expanding industrial sector.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Zerofootprint is an enterprise with a mission to apply technology, design thinking, and risk management to the massive reduction of our environmental footprint. Zerofootprint operates both in the for-profit and non-profit domains through two entities: Zerofootprint Software and Zerofootprint Foundation.

    This article is excerpted from Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards 2010, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, Zerofootprint.



    ArchWeek Image

    Chart of U.S. commercial building stock energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

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    The 36-story 100 Park Avenue building in New York City was built in 1949.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

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    Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects designed the enclosure retrofit for 100 Park Avenue, which includes a fully glazed east facade.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

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    The West Park Court housing project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, underwent a retrofit in 2007 to replace its EIFS (exterior insulation and finish system) facade with an aluminum pressure-equalized rainscreen (PER). Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel Architects designed the retrofit.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

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    The brick-and-stone-clad Hespeler Library is a 1922 Carnegie library in Hespeler, Ontario, Canada.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

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    The Hespeler Library's 2007 expansion, designed by Kongats Architects, included selective demolition of earlier additions, then enclosure of the original building within a glazed box.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards

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    Seen here before a redevelopment by Todd Architects, this University of Ulster building in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a typical, aging, energy-inefficient example of a 1960s International-style building.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The renovation of the University of Ulster Belfast building involved first wrapping the existing facade in a new roof and curtain wall, and then dismantling the original facade from the inside and refurbishing the building's existing concrete slabs and frame.
    Photo: © 2010 Zerofootprint Re-Skinning Awards Extra Large Image


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