June 17, 2019

The Towers of Glass Energy Crisis & the Ishiumura Skeletal Solution


Trust The Tyee’s Chris Cheung who consistently finds the story in front of the headline, and his latest article does not disappoint. Douglas Coupland wrote a book on Vancouver called “City of Glass”  describing  Vancouver’s towerscape, which is tall, not particularly inviting to look at, and appears to have a whole lot of glass.

Chris Cheung  introduces Genta Ishiumura, a recent graduate in Architecture who looked at Vancouver’s glass landscape after taking a course on “window behaviourology” in Switzerland from Tokyo architect Momoyo Kaijima.

In a time when we are moving toward a more sustainable city, Ishimura notes that the floor to ceiling glass walls of towers are energy wasters, requiring a lot of energy to maintain ambient temperatures. The glass towers are also rather impersonal~in Vancouver it has not been about the close views, but the long range distant vistas. And focusing on the long range views adds “a lack of intimacy and creates a disconnection between occupants and the world outside”.

Ishimura suggests a two fold approach in his thesis work: firstly, create a new exoskeleton for existing towers to deal with the energy loss of huge windows. Secondly, use the opportunity provided by the exoskeleton to create new windows and balconies for more floor space with a flexible use.

“His proposed exoskeleton for the building would be constructed like this. Skin the building by removing the existing windows and replacing them with new framed window walls. Then, install balconies for each unit. To enclose the balconies, install a second skin of framed window walls.”

With  this thermal-bridge construction energy could be retained within the building, also providing protection from heat in the summer.The exoskeleton also creates shading from the south and west, which are prone to overheat in the summer, reducing the need for air-conditioning.  And there is a precedent-you can take a look at  the before and after photos of Grand Parc in Bordeaux France where a 1960’s building received a new exoskeleton and a new lease on livability.

In terms of getting this done, Ishimura thinks the city may allow increased floor space for the balconies as there is already a floor space bonusing  for net-zero buildings.

You can also explore the cultural  importance of windows in this YouTube below featuring Atelier Bow Wow architects  Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima .



Image: The Guardian

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  1. Great idea, done almost everywhere already (the Seastrand in West Vancouver where I once lived, for example, enclosed over time from the 1980s). But here’s the problem: it just moves the glass wall outwards. Over time, residents eliminate the interior glass wall (or just leave it open) and move their furniture outwards, creating an even bigger wall of exterior glass, but this time usually not the highly insulating kind because the exoskeleton wall wasn’t intended to be insulating by itself. So even more heat loss. Look at any real estate photo of the Seastrand today and you will see this.

    In the end it just amounts to free FSR for every development because you can’t police what happens inside the new glass wall.

    So, no.

  2. Exoskeletons and new windows need to be accounted for in terms of carbon emissions, they do not come free of environmental impacts in terms of their manufacture, transportation, fabrication, installation etc.

    In Vancouver buildings are either heated by good old B.C. Hydro (87% renewable energy) or natural gas boilers which are carbon emitters (problem buildings).

    In many buildings the costs of heating are divided by all the occupants making it difficult for any one occupant to effectively control heat loss in terms of a personal financial reward. This is why you can often see heat pouring out of a window in the middle of winter: because there is no direct financial consequence for the occupant. It would be better to focus on developing and installing electronic sensors, controls and software capable of recording the actual energy use of an apartment. This would be a technical advance that would give control back to the individual where the day to day decisions are made.

    The best way to control energy loss in these glass towers is to turn down the heat and start wearing layers of clothing instead. Given that energy prices will continue to rise; it is really necessary to give control back to the occupant.

    1. A lot of people in Vancouver condos do not use much heat in winter.
      Single family houses use far more energy for heating (ie per occupant).

      This is all probably moot anyways, as many newer residential building are being built with smaller windows than in the past or with wraparound balconies to provide sun shading. There is a lot of [ugly] spandrel glass being installed in towers instead of vision glass to cut down on solar gain.
      i.e here’s the south side of the Cardero under construction:

  3. Retrofits are one issue, but continued construction under existing building codes perpetuate the problem. Example: since the 1990s, most Vancouverism towers have balconies, which are big attractions to prospective buyers. It’s my understanding that floor slabs for each level are poured as one piece,. This means that on cold days, heat from the living area of the slab is sucked into the outdoors. On hot days, the process reverses, encouraging overheated residents to install air conditioning. The building code should require a thermal barrier between balcony slabs and residential slabs.

    Trying to apportion heating costs by individual use is a fraught issue. Heat rises. We almost never have the heat on in our suite, because the heat from lower units warms our slab and heats our living space. How would you apportion that?

    In towers that use suite-metered electric baseboard heaters, Large numbers of residents use their decorative gas fireplaces for heat, since the gas is a shared strata cost. Those fireplaces should not be allowed (there are fake electric alternatives for those who like fakes).

    Of course, we could also mandate high-efficiency windows for retrofits. Light and fresh air are critically important components of apartment living.

  4. Last night the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion to declare a national climate emergency in Canada. This means that we have to curb and curtail our carbon emissions in all our activities. It is platforms like PriceTags that can help spread the word and educate Vancouverites as to the ways and means of getting to carbon zero.

    Educators have a big role to play in this effort, particularly design schools where carbon emissions should now be considered the foundational gateway of any design proposal. We can do this if we think about it, but it will mean a big change in our design process, how we prioritize issues and the way we go about the design of nearly everything. It is a new state of mind with a promising future.

    1. Unfortunately the Canadian climate emergency proclamation means absolutely nothing. There is no room in a climate emergency for a new bitumen pipeline. Pure pathetic meaningless politics.

      Only Sheer madness would be worse.

      1. You got that right! And to think just last week Toyota, the largest car manufacturer in the world, announced that it is accelerating its world production of electric vehicles to half of all sales by 2025, up from 2030. Just in time for the most optimistic pipeline completion estimate. This follows at least five other majors who are responding to the call in the EU and China to limit internal combustion engines and promote EVs.

        This is the primary market for Alberta dilbit which is currently shipped mostly to the US. Beyond 2020, the above effort in EVs will probably be catalyzed by the Democrat’s Green New Deal in the US should they win the executive branch along with the Congress they already hold.

        It is rather pathetic that our federal and Alberta governments have so utterly failed to do the math.

        Yes, cars in general are the problem. But more efficient cities will likely evolve even with EVs because their numbers cannot possibly equate with today’s ICE vehicles as there isn’t enough electricity or lithium to replace oil at 1:1. Transit funding is key to correct that, as is non-lithium battery storage technology, like liquid metal.

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