This is the architectural rendering of a building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; it is planned to be 71 stories, 2.2 million square feet, and have a "net" zero-energy footprint. The building is designed to use wind turbines, radiant slabs, microturbines, geothermal heat sinks, ventilated facades, waterless urinals, integrated photovoltaics, condensate recovery, and daylight responsive controls. I first noticed mention of this incredible project in an article of Architectural Record Magazine.
According to Roger Frechette, director of MEP Sustainable Engineering at SOM, Chicago, the building’s facade was designed "to accelerate the wind as it moved through the opening in the building." Power potential is the cube of wind velocity, and SOM initially estimated that the design would increase wind velocity to 1.5 times ambient wind speeds. Actually, models tested wind speeds of up to 2.5 times ambient wind speeds in some cases. In translation: the building design could generate power 15 times greater than a "freestanding" turbine.
According to a PR Newswire article, groundbreaking is set for July 2006 (which I’m not sure if this happened or not) and occupancy in fall 2009. In addition to the wind energy concept, the building will be designed with avant-garde solar technology to capture solar rays for conversion into energy.
So what are the benefits of a modern, sustainable commercial office building? First, the building looks amazing! Second, it can be an experiment and model for future buildings. Third, buildings that are built to be sustainable, or energy independent, are better. They are not dependent on the grid. They aren’t levered to the cost of grid energy (such as the price of coal, nuclear energy, or even other alternative sources provided into the grid). They leave a lighter footprint on the earth and its atmosphere–zero energy buildings are the epitome of natural resource frugality. Fourth, it can be healthier to live in. Fifth, it will create attention and draw tenants for publicity and other reasons. Sixth, the operating costs of this type of building are optimized and likely to be minimal when compared to non-sustainable buildings. Etc. Etc.
This building is a step in the right direction for commercial building design. I hope more and more buidings of this caliber can be transplanted all over the United States. Through sustainable design, countries can place themselves in a position to be less reliant on natural resource providing countries. As we’ve seen with the oil situation, that can be a big-time jam. Sustainable building–commercial and residential–is the road we should be taking.