New Skins for Old Towers: The Z-Prize For Low-Carbon Retrofit


At Architecture 2030, Ed Mazria tells us that buildings generate nearly 50% of the greenhouse gases in America; in the cities it is far higher. We know we have to cut the energy consumption of new buildings (not that anyone is taking this particularly seriously, but that is another post) but what to do about our existing buildings? The thousands of apartment towers around the world? What ideas are there out there for fixing them?

Ron Dembo of Zerofootprint wants to find out, and has launched the Z-Prize, an international design competition "to develop a smart, reproducible, beautiful, cost effective, energy efficient solution for the re-skinning of buildings."

And as always, Ron thinks big, with big prizes and a killer jury.


Toronto apartment buildings, Uno Prii, circa 1960

Like the X-Prize, the participants don't just design something, they have to prove that it works. Five finalists will be given a cash prize to be shared by the architects and the owners of the building for which the design was crafted. The project will then be executed and monitored for three years to see who they perform, and the Z-Prize will be given to the building that has most reduced the energy per square foot.

The killer jury: Thomas Auer, Andrew Bowerbank, George Baird, Judith DiMaio, Stefan Benisch, Edward Mazria, William McDonough.


It isn't a new idea, and is happening all over the world; here, an entire neighbourhood in Bratislava has been reskinnned.


As we noted in an earlier post, Toronto Architects Graeme Stewart and Michael McClelland of ERA Architects are working on a facade-retrofit strategy that adds a second skin to the existing brick filing cabinets without disturbing the tenants; it has integrated sun shading, insulation, solar hot water heating and vertical chases to bring in new services. The balconies are enclosed (but with big operable windows) to eliminate heat loss. Result: a modern, efficient building built without a gut job that displaces and disrupts everyone inside.


Building on the work of ERA, Mayor David Miller of Toronto introduced the Mayor's Tower Renewal project, calling it

...a program to drive broad environmental, social, economic, and cultural change by improving Toronto’s concrete apartment towers and the neighbourhoods that surround them..... They are some of the city’s most inefficient buildings, and they present us with an incredible opportunity.

Worldchanging provided great coverage of it in Julia Levitt's post Worldchanging: Bright Green: A Suburban Future of Concrete and Gardens -- Nice. Right?


But like the X prizes, the Z-Prize may bring out new ideas and methods that take it to a whole new level.

The goal of the Zerofootprint competition is to advance the state-of-the-art in retrofitting older, energy-inefficient buildings through better design and improved materials technology. The resulting retrofitting systems will be scalable to a large number of buildings and deployed globally. The competition welcomes teams from all over the world.

The competition will be judged on the aesthetics, energy efficiency, smart technology, return on investment and potential as a solution for a large number of buildings. The deadline for the submission of designs is September 1, 2009.

There is not a lot of information out yet about exact submission requirements or the the actual dollar prize (or I just didn't look in the right place) but start at Zerofootprint

More on Zerofootprint in TreeHugger:
Zerofootprint Offers Earth Day Carbon Calculator
Will that Be Coffee, Tea or Carbon Offsets?
Thomas Homer-Dixon Chooses His Carbon Offsets
Zerofootprint and Unilever Launch Water Calculator

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