Ecological Urban Renewal

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Another important trend evident in several of the study cities is the incorporation of ecological or environmental design features when buildings and neighborhoods are re s t o red or renovated. Numerous examples of ecological renovations in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere can be cited (see Danish Town Planning Institute, 1996). A number of such ecological renovations have taken place in Berlin, including pilot projects at Unionplatz (see Mega, 1996) and the now well-known Block 103 p roject (Berlin-Kre u z b e rg see European Academy of the Urban Enviro n-ment, 1997). These projects typically involve greening initiatives (gre e n-walls, roof gardens, tree planting, and the replacement of pavement with green), rainwater collection systems with rainwater treated through a vertical biological filter and used for toilet flushing (in the case of Block 103), the use of environmental building materials, and solar energy systems (180 square meters of photovoltaics in Block 103), among other impro v e-ments. Block 103 also involved a social dimension, incorporating a community kitchen that served residents organic meals on a weekly basis (see

Kennedy and Kennedy, 1997). The results of this pilot project have been quite positive.

The urban regenerative project at Fredensgade in Kolding is one of the most spectacular ecological urban renewal projects for several reasons. Comprising about 140 flats, the blocks of four- and five-story buildings were creatively renewed and renovated, incorporating a number of ecological features. Two older buildings were demolished, with two new buildings constructed (with one made entirely of recycled building materials). (Construction was completed in 1993.) Parking has also been limited in the development. Most of the interior courtyard space is off limits to cars, but there are about fifteen spots. A beautiful green courtyard and play space were created.

By far the most impressive aspect of the Fredensgade project is the glass pyramid greenhouse and wastewater treatment facility, which is known as the "bioworks," situated in the center of the interior courtyard. It comes into sight spectacularly as one enters the courtyard from one of several street entrances. The project was built in a collaboration between the city of Kolding and the social housing company Byfornyelsesselskabet Denmark, and funding for the bioworks project comes from the Danish Green Fund (which provides monies for a variety of pilot environmental projects). (The functioning of this urban "living machine" is described in further detail in Chapter 8.)

Rainwater is also collected in a below-ground cistern, purified in a pond, and then pumped to the flats for toilet flushing and for use in washing machines. Some of the units have added solar hot water heaters, and many have installed passive solar winter gardens and glass rooms. Additional insulation, energy-efficient glass, water-saving fixtures and toilets, and extensive recycling and composting facilities were also added. Extensive use was made of recycled brick and other materials. There is at least one section of rooftop that has been converted into a glass solar terrace. A series of photovoltaic panels in the interior provides most of the power to run the pumps and motors in the bioworks. The PV panels also power hookups for charging electric vehicles.

The Solgarden urban renewal project, also in Kolding, illustrates how older buildings can be effectively retrofitted to incorporate photovoltaics and solar energy. Just completed, this project (its name means "sun court") includes "architecturally integrated" photovoltaic panels in four curving arrays on the rooftop and on the exterior walls of new enclosed balcony sunrooms (Municipality of Kolding, 1996). The explicit objective in the renovation of this late 1930s apartment building is a 50 percent reduction in the fossil fuel consumed by residents of the building.6 In total, the building includes 846 photovoltaic modules and will provide more than half of the electrical demand of the buildings. A number of other environmental improvements have been made to the building (e.g., additional insulation, use of water-conserving bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and the installation of energy-efficient appliances), along with other general enhancements (such as the installation of elevators). The photovoltaics in the structure have been heavily subsidized by the Danish Ministry of Housing, with one of the key objectives of the project being to demonstrate how photovoltaic technology can be applied in urban renewal and renovation projects. The result of this creative integration of photovoltaics, is the use of otherwise wasted rooftop space, and the creation of a most visually distinctive building, strikingly visible from many street-level vantage points around this particular neighborhood.

In Germ a n y, other notable ecological renovation projects include the re d e-velopment of 167 units in the Unionplatz area in Berlin, incorporating new gre en e ry composting facilities, and solar hot water units, among other im p rovements (Forum for the Future, 1997b). In Denmark, other ecological renovation projects include an eight-block renovation in Slagelse (including the incorporation of active and passive solar, a waste-sorting initiative, and traffic enhancing measures) (Ministry of Environment and Energ y, undated).

Many European cities contain remnants of Corbusier's ideas of the radiant city—especially the 1960s large high-rise residential blocks, set in a green sea of open land. Increasingly, there are efforts to redesign or reconfigure these estates to make them more green and to incorporate ecological features. The Bijlmermeer district in Amsterdam is one example, dating to the mid-1960s. These flats were seen as a desirable alternative to overcrowded living conditions in other parts of the city, and their average size tended to be substantially greater. Over time, the area acquired the perception of undesirable housing: buildings seen as oppressive in scale, concerns about crime and safety, open spaces that could not be socially managed or controlled. (Interestingly, the density of the Bijlmermeer is only about 40 units per hectare, and the same density could easily be accommodated through a more traditional urban street pattern and thus at a much more human scale.) The city is now working to reconfigure the space and to include new green features, such as a lake and small stream.

The efforts of Berlin to green its large housing blocks, especially in eastern Berlin, is another example of this effort. Here, the city has undertaken a variety of measures to make these housing areas more visually attractive and to enhance the quality of living there. Specific actions taken include the tearing up of asphalt and concrete and their replacement with trees and shrubbery, the building of green play areas for children, and extensive painting and structural upgrading of the buildings. Interestingly, the experience of high-rise block housing, although not a very positive one in most western European cities (e.g., in Amsterdam), has been much more favorable in eastern European countries, where it has been viewed as desirable housing (and not stigmatized as places of crime, drugs, and low-income residents, in the same way as in western European cities). In Berlin, enhancing the attractiveness of these housing areas, checking physical or social deterioration before it occurs, is seen as critical to preventing the exodus of middle-income residents from these areas. This strategy is considered an important partial solution to Berlin's housing problem (e.g., the most effective and sustainable strategy is to try to keep residents of these housing estates where they are and make it attractive for them to stay there).

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