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Demonstrating the viability of sustainable concepts and practices in urban environments through research, education, and hands-on projects.

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Chicago 2175

Mike Repkin at the podium

UHC President Mike Repkin presented UHC Lecture #3 on “Chicago 2175”,
an initiative which challenges Chicagoans to think, plan, and act to benefit the next seven generations during the current generation (2006-2025).

Some key points of the lecture:

  • By de-vegetating the urban environment, we create more dark surfaces which absorb solar energy, raise the temperature, and reduce the surface area able to absorb and treat stormwater. Plants on a greater amount of our built surfaces, including roofs and facades, can help solve these problems.

  • Plants cool a microclimate by evapotranspiration, whereby the material from which moisture is being drawn is actually cooled. The temperatures of adjoining areas are in turn cooled by default.

  • Building homes to last more than a generation with integrated heating and cooling strategies such as with massive walls to moderate temperature, south-facing glass for solar gain in winter, and glazing screens with deciduous plants to provide shade in summer will lower bills in the short term, leave a lasting legacy for future generations, and foster a better connection to the places we live.

  • Decentralization, or recentralization, would help create meaningful communities where waste is treated, food is grown, and power is produced more locally. Having no central power or waste treatment plants from which services extend would also create a more secure, stable, and self-reliant infrastructure.

The presentation featured images and a description of the “Alpha One” 2175 prototype home (more images available upon request).

2175 Alpha One House
2175 “Alpha One” prototype house, showing vegetated screens, green roof, and thermal mass structure. Image copyright 2006 by Michael Repkin Designs.

The presentation ended with some questions (Q) and answers (A):

Q1: Can existing concrete buildings be retrofitted to be more sustainable?
A1: Yes. Retaining existing buildings is desirable, while planning better new buildings. Some strategies include installing vegetated screens, shading devices, or second skins as discussed in UHC Lecture #1: Fabric in Architecture over existing walls or large glass areas.

Q2: Does silvered or mirrored glass affect plants?
A2: Yes. The heat from these highly reflective surfaces can damage plants - sufficient distance must be provided from these surfaces.

Q3: Are there places so shaded that plants can’t grow?
A3: If there is enough light for you to see the surfaces of the building, something will grow there. Though not as effective as plants that receive more light, mosses or algaes operate moderately well in low light conditions and can absorb, treat, and use stormwater to help cool a surface. Some vegetation is better than none.

Q4: Can high-rise buildings be greened?
A4: Conceptually, yes. Wind speeds might be able to be reduced, microclimates introduced, and even the ability to… gasp… open windows. Collection troughs for soil and water distribution would need to be provided at proper intervals.

Learn more

Malcolm Wells’ earth-sheltered buildings
Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens

Available soon - transcripts and audio clips of this and other lectures.


Lynda Chick on May 17, 2006

I have not been so inspired in a very long time. I wish I could have attended the Chicago 2175 presentation, but I am pleased I was able to read the transcript.

I met Mike at the True Nature tree sale, and I told him of my great interest in the work you do. I want to learn all about this “growing” way of sustainable architecture. If there volunteer opportunities on any projects, please keep me in mind.

Thanks, Lynda

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