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From Beige to Green – Designing a way forward

17/10/2018 | By: Graham Brown | #Innovation


Can we design our way out of the mess we’re in? Fresh from his talk at UK Construction Week – Britain’s Hyper Filter and the New World’s Spine – Graham Brown, Director at Envelope Architects, shares insights into the innovative design and manufacturing techniques that could save our planet.

The purpose of our presentations was to draw attention to the possibilities of maximizing the Silk Road as the world’s New Spine – a route that heads through some of the most arid and challenging terrain. Its purpose is to improve trade between Asia and Europe – unlike Mr Trump’s rather nationalistic view on World Trade – China’s doors are wide open for business. My view is that the UK should get fully involved in developing this major trading route (as we need to leap frog Europe, because of the disaster that is Brexit).

We have become rather excited by what the Graphene Sieve might bring to the world. Once production costs are more commercially attractive the opportunity to convert salty sea-water into clean fresh water could save our planet.

Let’s face it, the ice caps are melting more rapidly than predicted – Sea Levels are set to rise at an alarming rate. The majority of cities globally are water fronted, if the adapted sea water could be utilized to turn arid landscape into lush and fertile lands… Overall more trees are felled than planted per annum, they are so important as they produce Oxygen. If hundreds of thousands of square miles can become agricultural land and forests then surely this can only be a positive.

There are other devices such as fog capturing nets and Ice Stupas that can bring water to baron parts. To connect the new growing regions we would suggest our lightweight QUAD-RAIL System which is an elevated Hybrid system of either high speed rail (ideally the Hyperloop) running along the upper level with either Standard (or converted Micro’s) Sea Containers slung to the underside. We propose that the containers be converted into either Micro Flats, Offices, Workshops, Retail Units and Hotel Suites. These units could be parked in clusters on manmade lakes. These lakes could also contain Fish and Seaweed. The unit could also be stacked as a ‘meanwhile’ temporary tower.



As you can see from these diagrams the slide it, float it and stack systems with a strong transport link could be a model for future towns. If these settlements were linked with Heavy Lift Air-Ship Stations the fuel hungry airplane and cargo ship could be replaced.


The age of the mega-city and mass urban migration is upon us, so our assumption is that there would be some sizeable cities along the route. Apparently by the year 2030 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

Generally cities want to be connected to other cities globally and locally — they thrive on connectivity. The biggest improvements in Climate Change can come from the sharing of ideas between cities so we need to get the design just right.

Our ‘Tiered Eco City’ presents a conceptual typology as an exemplar of self-financing, self-sustaining infrastructure. It challenges the spatial ‘rules’ that seem to govern current planning policy. Instead the emphasis is placed on stacking ‘layers’ to maximize development land, with each layer responding to its social, environmental and economic needs. By creating a vertical mixed-use infrastructure, the land take is minimized, urban intensification is achieved and a platform for a rich combination of living, working, playing, learning, shopping and caring is provided.


The top tier is a residential plateau consisting of our low rise / high density ‘Orbital Housing’ concept. High Rise vertical botanical gardens can produce Oxygen for the basement layers and also act as Sky-ports for docking heavy lift Airships. The mixed use Sky-port Towers can serve as offices, residential, hotels with Winter Gardens with far reaching views.


There are 9 billion people in the world and they need to be connected online, have a healthy food source and as China prospers the middle classes will need products and goods. The Sky-port Towers will need to work very hard providing accommodation and as an aerial distribution centre. They also create Oxygen for those visiting the basement’s dark box industries. The stacked Spheres contain trees, shrubs and some edible plants that absorb Carbon Dioxide, Sulphor-Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide and release Oxygen. One tree can produce enough Oxygen for four people. These spheres are nature’s air filtering system – but they also act as Winter gardens and should provide a place to enhance well-being. The basement levels would also contain underground fresh water Reservoirs for the residents and also Zip Farming production. Both enclosed Reservoirs and farming would reduce the loss of Water through evaporation.


The tiered Eco-city was originally penned in response to the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission’s (Oxford to Cambridge) Connections Competition. The main aim of the competition is to connect these two great cities of learning and research with a huge arc. One million additional residents would move to this arc that would then become the UK’s Silicon Valley. In my opinion adopting the garden city model would consume too much of our beautiful countryside – so a more efficient urban strategy should be applied. In essence then the UK could be a test bed for maximizing the Silk Route area.


The other related topic of interest for Envelope Architects Ltd is to design through whatever the weather decides to throw at us – with Global warming becoming more intense and severe weather conditions a more frequent occurrence.

Water for example will be a major concern for our future – will we have too much or too little. The Blue Revolution is starting to gain momentum and we should look to develop more Aqua-tecture. Tidal Power Lagoons can protect cities from flooding, but also provide sheltered waters for thousands of floating dwellings (for those who want a more transient life).




Resilient housing like our Orbital House Concept, with a low-rise high density masterplan that can operate as a community even when the main roadways are submerged should be considered more seriously.

PIC 12 WEBIf one was to install an underground culvert system then not only can waste be converted into new building materials, heat and power it could also re-direct excess surface water.


As the destructive powers of storms and hurricanes increase we should be manufacturing a stronger and aero-dynamic structure. Our off-grid self-sufficient cabins can cope with the most intense weather conditions. Our aim is to produce prototypes of these slippery forms packed with technology.





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