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SOM’s ‘Carbon-Absorbing Design’ – Urban Sequoia

 Monday, November 14, 2022

Expanding on the research presented at COP26, SOM has spent the last year perfecting Urban Sequoia. It is a radical reimagination of the architecture and construction of buildings and cities, to develop a design that is buildable right now. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) debuted Urban Sequoia NOW, a concept for a structure that can be easily built today and can absorb carbon throughout its lifecycle, during COP27, the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in 2022. Partner Chris Cooper presented the design, which was produced by a multidisciplinary team at SOM, in the Buildings Pavilion Auditorium.

Going beyond net zero

A pressing need to reconsider built environment design and construction is now addressed by Urban Sequoia. The world’s urbanized areas produce about 75% of the world’s carbon emissions, despite only making up 3% of the planet’s surface. A further 230 million square meters of building stock will be required in cities by 2050 to accommodate growing populations, according to the United Nations. In order to achieve this goal, SOM has begun to view buildings as living entities that have the capacity to dramatically reduce embodied carbon, produce energy during operation, absorb carbon from the environment, and endure considerably longer than the average 60-year lifespan of a building. Structures can be created that are more carbon-neutral than net zero by combining these techniques. SOM’s high-rise prototype for 2021 is now a constructible reality thanks to the design. When compared to a standard high-rise, the building would cut upfront embodied carbon by 70% (only from construction). The tower could achieve a net zero decrease in whole life carbon emissions within the first five years of operation. An Urban Sequoia structure would absorb more than 300 percent of the carbon produced during construction and operation during a long, 100-year lifespan.

“To accomplish these goals is to radically rethink the way we design buildings,” said SOM Principal Yasemin Kologlu. “Urban Sequoia is a concept that encompasses every aspect of the design and construction process, reconsidering the way we select materials, design mechanical systems and structures, and integrate innovative technologies—a reimagination that converts them into carbon absorbers.”

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