Detox Towers: Architecture that Cleans Urban Air

Buildings are among the largest contributors to anthropogenic climate change – but could they be part of the solution instead? One concept for urban architecture doesn’t just cut the structures’ environmental footprint through energy and resource efficiency, but actually uses the buildings to clean the air. Detox Towers, a finalist in the 2011 Evolo Skyscraper Competition, uses bio-filters made of algae and synthetic membranes to strip pollutants from the atmosphere.

Though highly efficient buildings running on renewable energy are a big step up from the wasteful urban infrastructure that is currently in place in most of the world’s largest cities, simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions may not be enough as emerging global economies put an even bigger strain on resources and release ever more toxins into the air.

The creators of the Detox Towers concept, BIOMSgroup and Maria-Paz Gutierrez, envision an innovative dual-layer membrane system on both the outside and inside of a skyscraper. Algae, lichen and synthetic materials utilize nature’s proven filtering techniques to both detoxify the air and control the transmission of light for air quality, natural lighting and temperature regulation.

In addition to the filtering system, Detox Towers offers a novel concept for expanding urban populations without spreading beyond a city’s boundaries or necessitating constant construction. A flexible floor and wall system could allow residents to create their own layouts that change over time through an expansive/contractive composite material made of elastomer and/or thermoplastic. In effect, rather than purchasing acreage of land, residents would purchase a ‘sky lot’ that limits the expansion of their property.

While the technical details have not yet been fully developed, Detox Towers aims to promote discussion and innovation in these technologies as a possible future archetype in urban planning.

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