Bringing Vertical Forests to America

As I was leisurely browsing the Internet on a bus ride home, I stumbled upon an article (found here) about a vertical forest being built in Nanjing, China. As a structural engineer, my first thought was how? How are they (they being the structural engineers) able to accommodate that amount of weight? How large are the plants going to be? How much would it cost to build something of this magnitude?

As I read the article, I only found myself asking more questions. I decided to do some more research on the topic and found that vertical forests, like the Nanjing Towers, exist all over the world. In Milan, Italy, the Bosco Vertical (more information here) is a residential building that incorporates nature (more than 900 trees to be exact) into its design. The trees produce oxygen, help eliminate smog, aid in the temperature regulation of the building, and reduce noise from the surrounding city. The Italian architect who designed this complex, Stefano Boeri, also designed the Nanjing Towers. Additionally, Stefano Boeri has other vertical forest designs being built in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Nanjing Towers, Nanjing, China

Generally, these vertical forest buildings are residential. After conducting research on these buildings, and having sufficiently answered my initial questions, I was lead to one last question; what if we created a vertical forest that was non-residential? If instead of building a residential structure we used the allotted space for a structure filled entirely with plants, we would have an amazing green space that was easily accessible for everyone in/around the city. The structure would serve as a multi-level park, with the possibility to have different themes on each level of the structure.


Bosco Vertical, Milan, Italy

Giving this type of building more thought has lead me to a preliminary design that includes railing around the perimeter of the building instead of walls. Additionally, this building would only utilize stairs as a way to go between floors, instead of the traditional elevator. This space would serve as a way for the community to explore nature and get exercise on a daily basis. Because the nature would exist in a building, with open walls, people would be more likely to visit the space on rainy days than they would be to go to a traditional park. Lastly, placing a structure like this in the middle of a busy city would help improve the air quality greatly. The residential Nanjing Towers in China will be producing around 132 pounds of oxygen per day. It is my opinion that we need more ways for people living in cities to enjoy nature, and I think a building with different parks inside would serve as a great solution to this issue.



Bringing The High Line to Seattle

The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program is filled with errors and missed opportunities. For the sake of time, I will not go into detail about the unfortunate situation revolving the tunnel (and the $223 million spent to fix Bertha). If you would like to learn more about the details of this project, they can be found here. Instead, I want to talk about just one missed opportunity: the conversion of the downtown waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to a raised nature walk.

Seattle is a beautiful city, in a great location. You can drive 30 minutes in one direction and be at a beach, or you could drive 45 minutes in another direction and be in the mountains. Additionally, there are great parks for children throughout Queen Anne, Capital Hill, and Ballard. Downtown, on the other hand, is in need of more spaces dedicated to nature. Yes, there are some places downtown where you can catch a glimpse of the water, however there are no designated areas to really be immersed in nature. I don’t think anyone would argue with the idea that downtown could be improved with more access to nature; the only questions are how and where would these spaces exist? New York, one of the densest cities in the world, has found a way to make nature enjoyable for everyone: Central Park. While it would be ideal to create a giant park in the middle of downtown Seattle, it’s just not
feasible. The lack of real estate available makes for building new parks (even small ones) practically impossible.

In 2014 New York finished a new park called the High Line (pictured above). The High Line is a 1.45-mile long, elevated park created on a section of railroad that was no longer in use. Having visited the High Line, I can say from personal experience that this park is unique and very successful. Just above the bustling streets of New York there is a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to preserving natural plant species and giving its visitors the benefit of walking through a thriving park. Planners took advantage of an existing structure and turned it into an amazing outdoor experience instead of tearing it down.

Seattle should learn from New York and use the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct waterfront section to create a raised park similar to the High Line. A raised park in the middle of downtown would not only allow more people to experience nature in their day-to-day lives, but could also encourage more people to walk to and from work. The creation of this park would lower CO2 emissions by reducing the amount of passenger vehicle miles traveled as well as through the CO2 absorption done by the plants. To me, this is the largest missed opportunity of the project and a waste of already constructed space.

The Future of Nuclear Power

Technology involving nuclear power is still developing. Though nuclear power is not currently classified as a renewable resource it has the potential to evolve into a source of energy production that is self-sustaining. Breeder reactors produce more fuel than they consume while producing energy; these core reactors are essentially renewable. From Figure 1 below, it is observed that the core reactor has a closed loop due to the self-generation of fuel needed to power the reactor. Though this seems ideal at first, there are still a lot of issues with breeder reactors, the main problem being that sodium, the systems form of coolant, “reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air” (Thomas B. Cochran, “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status”). In addition to this, if the core of a breeder reactor reaches extremely high temperatures there is a higher chance of a nuclear explosion. Though the technology is not yet available to make nuclear power a form of safe, renewable energy, there is hope that one day we will be able to harness power from atomic fusion (Energy Informative, “Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons). The ability to control atomic fusion, which is the same type of reaction that fuels the sun, would make nuclear power a sustainable and renewable source of energy.


Figure 1: Diagram of a Breeder Reactor (Source: Cameco U101) 

Living in a time where reducing green house gas pollution is essential is driving the search for new forms of energy. Nuclear power has been around for decades, however it is just now receiving attention for being essentially a zero emissions form of power. Another major attraction to nuclear power is its ability to sustain high amounts of energy production. Pairing nuclear power with power from renewable resources would allow for an uninterrupted flow of energy production with close to no pollutants. Nuclear power could some day be considered as a renewable resource if our technology continues to advance. A goal must be to continue to strive for the ability to harness atomic fusion energy; achieving this would lead to a nearly limitless amount of energy.

The Job Market and Fairness

The future of the job market that appeals to those of lower education is bleak. Though this statement may seem harsh it is easily backed when a true understanding of the future of AI has been reached. In today’s world, we look to our brightest citizens to lead the way in innovative technology. On the surface it appears that the majority of our society is excited and pleased with the advances we have made thus far. However, taking a closer look would suggest that those who fall into the “lower class” category (if we assume a society divided by classes through education, level of income, etc.) are not so enthused.driverless

Take, for example, the uber driver from your latest trip. Whether you needed a ride to the grocery store in the middle of the day, or you needed a ride home from a night out at 3 am, there was someone driving the car you ordered through uber. In fact, there are over 1 million uber drivers whose jobs are at risk according to uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.  From my experience there are two types of uber drivers; those who use uber driving as supplemental income, and those who use it as primary income. For those who use uber as their main source of income imagine how devastating it must be to know that some form of AI, a driverless car, will inevitably replace them. Imagine that this uber driver was not blessed with the opportunity to attend college and must therefor work jobs that do not require a degree. The options left for this driver are slim.

Oxford researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne made the observation in 2013 that approximately 47% of current jobs have the ability to be fulfilled through automation. The most important question that stems from this is as follows: What happens to the 47% of society whose jobs become automated? If we generalize that the jobs susceptible to automation are those that require lesser education (such as factory jobs, taxi drivers, and fast-food workers) then the argument that this will result in an increase in the homeless population can be made. Society operates on a basis of what is fair, and what is not. How is it fair that the less fortunate will be pushed out of their jobs by something that was created by people who were given the opportunity to obtain an education? It’s simply not.