Many cities are threatening to become veritable blast furnaces in the coming years. Large cities in particular are heating up more and more as a result of climate change. A designer has now come up with a bizarre solution. He wants to cool street gorges with artificial clouds, which also open up new spaces and make them usable.
By Michael Foertsch
It’s a sight that goes on in a sci-fi and cyberpunk universe just like that blade runner or Western world would not look out of place. Large white cubes float between narrow street gorges. They simply hang in the air like buzzing balloons – over streets, sidewalks or next to giant high-rise buildings bordering small parks. With their full-bodied whites, the strange constructions are a bit reminiscent of balloon animals. And not by chance. These are buildings that are conceived and constructed as vehicles that are lighter than air. They could both create extra space in the big cities and ensure a better climate.
The idea is that [schwebenden] Structures can be programmed according to what is needed in the neighborhood
Behind the concept called Oversky is the architecture, research and design studio Framlab based in Norway and the USA. Its founder Andreas Tjeldflaat has for a number of years been concerned about climate change and in particular how it will affect the most populous places in the world – the metropolitan areas where billions of people live worldwide. Due to the dense settlement, the masses of heat-storing concrete and asphalt, the lack of green areas and passage zones for fresh wind, these become heat islands. The temperature in a city center can be two to three degrees Celsius higher than outside the city.
Some researchers fear that the phenomenon will only get worse – and parts of cities like Tokyo may become uninhabitable during the summer months. This is exactly what Tjeldflaat wants to do. “I can not pinpoint the exact moment the idea for the project arose,” he told 1E9. “There were different interests, points of reference and discussions that overlapped and then at one point came together to form the basis of this concept.” A concept that should make it possible to cool cities that are getting hotter and hotter in a sustainable and permanent way – and without using electricity.
Cloudy is said to have been primarily inspired by clouds. As a cloud moves across the sky, the shadow it casts becomes noticeably cooler. And although some of the mechanics are not yet fully clarified, they have a massive impact on the global climate. Tjeldflaat thought about how static clouds could be created that would bring the local climate of a city back into a balance that people can tolerate. The technology for such structures is there, as the Norwegian designer says. And in the form of rigid airships – like the legendary zeppeliners. Unlike an airship where a giant balloon is filled with gas, several smaller gas-filled balloons are inserted into a skeleton of stiffeners. The space in between is free and usable.
Tjeldflaat’s idea is therefore to produce cubes about ten meters wide, which can be linked and combined using a modular system. They would be made of a light but strong fabric, kept in shape and floating by a frame made of carbon and helium pumped into thin bulkheads. Not each of the cubes had to stay in the air. Instead, individual cubes filled with numerous gas balloons should act as support units that, when placed in the right places, provide buoyancy to the entire structure. This idea is not only inspired by airships, but also by Cloud Nine, an idea from the legendary inventor Buckminster Fuller, who believed that entire cities could be accommodated in floating spheres.
Since several of the floating cubes can be connected to veritable boulevards or archipelagos, Tjeldflaat believes that they could create a new space in the previously “unused air space” in the building gaps public space arises “The idea is that it [schwebenden] structures in that direction program depending on what is needed in the neighborhood, ”says the designer. Classrooms, yoga studios and cafes could be decorated in the cubes. The roofs of the cubes, on the other hand, could function as floating sidewalks or as bridges that could also connect buildings. Different houses could provide access this way. The floating clouds could also be accessed via spiral staircases on sidewalks, which would also serve as additional supports.
With Oversky, new space can be opened in cities practically from the air. That alone makes the concept valuable, Tjeldflaat believes. But it must also cool the cities – not just with the shadows from the artificial clouds. And using radiation cooling, which is made possible by a special coating on the outer skin of the cubes. A thin, foam-like nanomaterial packed with countless small air pockets is said to “reflect sunlight and thermal radiation at a certain wavelength,” says Tjeldflaat. The radiation is thrown into the atmosphere, where it then escapes into space. The result: the heat is reduced and the area around the cubes is cooler.
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This technology is not only theoretical, it is already in use. Swiss researchers are experimenting with a similar concept to cool glass sheets several degrees below ambient temperature without electricity and thus draw water out of the air. And NASA uses it radiation coolingto keep parts of the James Webb Telescope at their optimum operating temperature. How many degrees the connected cloudy cubes could cool a city, Tjeldflaat does not want to comment definitively on. But the effect would be noticeable. Because elements that radiation cooling activate can be up to five degrees colder than their ambient temperature. This feature would also allow for additional cooling options. For example, the floating cubes could catch rainwater, circulate it through thin tubes in the hull, and then expel it like a cool mist from below.
Science is right, the materials are there, and we also have the technology – it’s all there.
Andreas Tjeldflaat himself can only shrug his shoulders at whether and how Oversky could be implemented at some point. At present, the flying dice are mostly a “speculative project” aimed at demonstrating the possibilities of existing technologies and concepts and motivating their use – but it is still possible. “Science is right, the materials are there, and we also have the technology – everything is there,” says Tjeldflaat. “Of course, the project needs a lot of further development, models and prototypes are needed to balance capacities and load limits.” But in fact, there is nothing to stop this science fiction scenario from becoming a reality at some point. Or other projects that address Oversky’s principles. There is at least interest, says Tjeldflaat.
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