A London –based architectural firm has proposed a desperate measure to protect the Beijing elite from its thick smog by literally bubbling off sections of the city and filtering the air. It’s a desperate proposal at a desperate time for China’s capital city, which has a population of around 21 million, and some 800,000 square kilometers of “heavily polluted” land.
Several cities, including Beijing, have tried to slow the introduction of new pollutants by shutting down or slowing factories, halting construction, and restricting automobile use. Unfortunately, these attempts haven’t been enough to make the air suitable for human life, where just breathing the smoggy air for one day is akin to smoking 21 cigarettes. It seems as though, sometimes the easier “solution” is to not fix your problems, but to find a way to live with them.
That’s why Orproject has proposed a sealed, rolling glass bubble made of translucent solar cells that will help protect those lucky enough to afford a spot, as well as catch the few rays of sun getting through the toxic clouds.
The project, simply named “Bubbles,” includes a centrally based botanical garden and park surrounded by building developments that share an air filtration system with climate control systems from geothermal sources. These buildings can house anything from offices, retail stores and apartments, to more charitable organizations, such as schools or hospitals. Orproject states that the structural design is similar to the veins in a leaf, and would be achievable using ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), the same light-weight material that facilitates the growth of plant life in the record-breaking Eden Project gardens in Cornwall, UK.
The Bubbles project could be the beginning of a green reconstruction of this ancient city. Imagine if this artificial environment were created and over the next 100 years or so, slowly extended by externally sealing and connecting additional buildings to the Bubbles environment, eventually leaving a city that runs on green energy and produces its own clean air. Alternately, these Bubbles could be restricted to only the richest and wealthiest citizens, leaving the impoverished to suffer through smoggy air, which has led some citizens to go so far as to sue the government over air quality.
Leaving behind the idea of closing life off from our problems, we can instead use the technology to reduce pollution production, as well as existing pollutants. The ability to allow plant growth while collecting solar energy is an inspiring feature and by coupling plants that eliminate toxins with plants that have high levels of oxygen production we can help speed the replacement of airborne toxins.
English Ivy is a fast growing evergreen plant that grows well in the low-light climate found in the Beijing area and is included on NASA’s list of top pollutant reducing plants. Zea Mays, better known as corn, has already been seeing huge growth in China and can help increase oxygen production with its high rate of photosynthesis. As an additional benefit, corn ethanol would provide a possible alternative to one of the largest producers of pollution in China, coal powered electricity.
This concept could be utilized in other highly polluted and populated areas, such as New Delhi, India, where the air is even worse. Other biofuel alternatives, such as sugarcane, have been grown there for centuries and offer highly efficient rates of photosynthesis. An increase in plant life such as this may complement new production regulations aimed at decreasing pollution levels.
As promising/dystopian as this project sounds, there is a long, dirty road to cleaning up the contamination problems of one of the most populated cities in the world. As China seeks to decrease the pollution that has made it an economic powerhouse, Mother Nature may still have a fighting chance at catching up on the side effects “Made In China.”