Smarter Buildings, 10 Ideas From Around The World

The "Energy Bunker" in Hamburg has been converted as a symbol of smart energy use
The "Energy Bunker" in Hamburg has been converted as a symbol of smart energy use
Wilfried Urbe

BERLIN — Worldwide researchers are experimenting increasingly with moss, algae and potted plants as a way to turn houses into multifunctional buildings. The question is "how a facade in a city neighborhood can generate additional value," says Steffen Braun of the Stuttgart Fraunhofer Institute's Urban System Engineering. Behind that lies "a whole new approach to engineering."

Buildings should clean the air, cool the surroundings, keep out noise, and capture energy. Here are 10 working ideas to help achieve that end.

1. Moss cleans the air
Like Braun, the Fraunhofer Institute's Holger Wack is among the researchers who believe that houses should offer an additional purpose. He wants to see large expanses of house walls covered with moss.

"Tests show how air behaves in high-rise street canyons and that it often comes into contact with facades," Wack says. "Moss-covered surfaces clean the air."

Because moss doesn't have roots, it has to get its nourishment from the air. It takes in pollutants too that integrate with the plant mass.

2. Color fights pollutants
To clean the air, scientists also use chemical substances — for example, nano titanium dioxide, which is found in food additives and is also mixed with paints to degrade air pollutants.

The material, which some researchers say is carcinogenic, already figures in the first commercially available coatings such as Eco Clean made by the French company Alcoa.

If the sun's ultraviolet rays hit a facade painted with a coating containing nano titanium dioxide, the chemical compound becomes a catalyst. It frees oxygen radicals, and they break up the nitrogen compounds in the contaminated air into water and nitrate. In this way the immediate surroundings of the building have markedly less industry and car exhaust than the rest of city air.

As the surface attracts moisture from the air, a thin film of water forms on the outside that makes pollutants slide off. Street pollution disappears too, thus keeping the facade clean. The coating also acts as ultraviolet protection so that it keeps rooms cool during the summer.

3. Roof gardens provide fresh air
Large green roof surfaces can also help with cooling and pollution.

Some 45 tons of fresh vegetables and fruit can be grown on 1,000 square meters of roof space, and the plants also help reduce carbon dioxide.

Rooftop farming could theoretically eliminate up to 10% of industry-generated carbon emissions from the air.

4. White roofs against climate change
Another idea for improving the climate is to use white tiles instead of red or dark ones for roofing.

By reflecting the sun's rays, they are supposed to slow down warming of the atmosphere close to the earth's surface. Whether the effect could really impact global warming is questionable, but the light-colored tiles would mean using less air conditioning, in turn decreasing carbon emissions.

5. Rainwater cools surroundings
Still-new technology helps to cool a home's environment, which is particularly important in cities where temperatures are often a few degrees higher than they are in the country.

To achieve this, small tubes are mounted in the outer wall. Through evaporation, the rainwater that flows through them reduces the temperatures of surrounding areas.

Facades covered with moss work in a similar way, says Wack.

More moss, please. Photo: Liquen

6. Buildings protect from noise
Giving building facades more than one function was a development that started 40 years ago when houses began to be used as noise protectors. A well-known example is a Berlin housing complex for 4,000 people that stretches for a good 400 meters over a section of highway and protects the direct surroundings from traffic noise.

In the last couple of decades, the idea of using buildings for noise protection was put on the back burner as large living complexes lost attractiveness. But now we're seeing more and more of it to protect "higher value" properties from noise, says Andreas Timmermann of the Noise Protection Planning Bureau in Altenberge.

"In the inner city, such concepts will win out for space and cost reasons," says Timmermann.

The Hülpert Center is the first car park in Germany also conceived as a noise preventer. The building and other elements are meant to protect the houses behind it from too much traffic noise.

7. Algae facades produce biomasses
Houses can be retrofitted to provide at least enough energy for themselves. The Bio Intelligence Quotient House, which has been operational in Hamburg for a year, demonstrates how this can work.

It is the first building in the world with a bioreactor for a facade. On two sides of the building there are glass walls filled with micro-algae and water. The micro-algae produce usable warmth and biomass from the photosynthesis of sunlight.

Even more is possible with the algae house. Researchers want to use hydrothermal conversion to generate natural gas and hydrogen from the algae biomass. Fuel cells make it possible to gain electricity, heat, and the carbon dioxide the algae need. The result would be fully energy-independent houses.

Between the heat protection glass outside and the layer of algae, solar cells could also be incorporated. They would let the red light that algae need through and turn the energy into electricity.

8. Window panes deliver solar energy
Manufacturers can now integrate solar cells into window panes. Largely transparent modules are necessary for this to let in enough daylight.

Scientists at Michigan State University in East Lansing are now developing special foil that concentrates light coming through the panes on a solar cell. The foil contains organic salts that transform ultraviolet and infrared light into invisible light on another wavelength that the solar cells then transform into electricity.

Effectiveness is only around 1%, but up to 7% should eventually be possible.

9. Energy from scattered drops
Energy is being produced by a very special wind turbine developed by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The turbine is comprised of a frame on which numerous thin tubes have been mounted horizontally. Nozzles produce a continuous supply of positively charged drops of water.

If the wind blows, electrons in the frame produce electricity that feeds into the general power grid.

10. Wind turbines make use of drafts
The installation on the Bahrain World Trade Center is particularly spectacular as far as wind turbines mounted on buildings go. Three turbines 29 meters in diameter have been mounted between the building's two high-rise towers.

The towers are elliptical, which increases the speed of the coastal winds that pass between them.

The three turbines produce 225 kilowatt hours of energy and should cover about a third of the building complex's electricity needs.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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