Could Air-Cleaning Skyscrapers Create a Sustainable Chicago?


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An innovative air-filtration system is the central feature of the proposed CO2ngress Gateway Towers, a skyscraper project envisioned by two students at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Situated over the busy Congress Parkway interchange, which serves some 77,000 vehicles a day, the two towers would capture CO2 from the air and feed it to algae grown in the building. The architects, Danny Mui and Benjamin Sahagun, explain that these algae could be used, in turn, to generate lesser-polluting biofuels:

The scrubbers are the first step in a process that generates fuel for a fleet of eco-friendly cars for building residents. The system raises public awareness of air pollution and its impact on the health of Chicagoans.

The proposal also features a double-skin façade, which will insulate traffic noise, and create an opportunity for enclosed balconies and passive ventilation (see below).

While these architectural renderings are no doubt impressive, (earning the IIT-trained designers an honorable mention in the 2012 Council on Tall Buildings and the Urban Environment student competition), one can’t help but wonder if this vision is just another instance of paper architecture, an idealistic and fantastical piece of design with almost zero chance of being built. The potential role of tall buildings in cleaning the air of downtowns is valuable to consider, and presents an exciting possibility in future construction projects. But keeping this proposal in perspective, in reality a wide variety of strategies will be needed to address the entrenchment of driving and all of its negative externalities.

These architects have articulated a possibility, but it is helpful to remain realistic about the possible impact this proposal will have. Sustainability will not be achieved through the construction of one building.

By Andrew Kinasi – contributor to Global Site Plans – The Grid, a This Big City partner site.