An architect designs semi-floating buildings that can help cool the planet

Buildings that float, like a dream.
Deena Theresa
Oversky's modular structures could help combat climate change.Oversky/Framlab

Architect Andreas Tjeldflaat from design and research studio, Framlab, has his head high up in the clouds.

His latest project, titled Oversky, was recently on display at an exhibition on architecture and climate change at Sweden's Bildmuseet art museum

Oversky deals with a series of semi-floating structures in the ariel space between roads and buildings. The modular structures would be based on the technology that allows zeppelins to float, known as the lighter-than-air technology, and would be interconnected and supported by various infrastructural links that connect the street, known as "the cloudscape".

Made of rigid carbon fiber frames that comprise cells of helium lift-gas, the structures are also inspired by the eco-friendly properties of clouds.

To translate, Oversky is not solely an extended version of the architect's imagination. Instead, it is also a significant tool to fight against climate change.

Throwing much-needed shade

The cloud formations connect to the street below and link adjacent city blocks. Source: Framlab

An issue that cities across the world face are the 'urban heat island effect'. The phenomenon occurs when natural land cover is replaced with concentrations of surfaces that absorb and retain heat. The result? It increases air-pollution levels, energy costs, and heat-related illness. 

And if anything, climate change can only lead to more severe heat waves during summer. 

Oversky intends to lend a hand here, all while reducing heat buildup in cities and reclaiming space for people from the areas designated for infrastructure and vehicles. 

Oversky, designed to form cloud-like clusters, is meant to double as shaded microclimates for the city, efficiently reflecting heat while still allowing the sunlight to shine through. The structures are made of a foam-lime material with tiny air pockets that reflect sunlight and radiation in a narrow band of the light spectrum, abiding by what  Tjeldflaat calls "nanophotonic engineering". Though trees provide this type of shade, Oversky claims to be a much bigger canopy.

The initial renderings of the concept reveal the structures covering only a portion of the space between buildings, to avoid completely shutting out the sun to pedestrians and urban dwellers below. 

These structures can also collect rainwater, circulate it and release the same as mist while living a double life as cultural centers, classrooms, art studios, offices, and cinemas.  

Combating multiple evils of climate change

In addition to the above, the usage of a titanium dioxide coating helps the outer surface to clean the air by breaking down airborne pollutants. It absorbs noise from the traffic below, combating a different kind of pollution.

Framlab stresses that Oversky is a theoretical project that aims to explore various alternatives for keeping our city cool. 

Much of the air-conditioning used in cities relies on fossil fuel energy -- Tjeldflaat notes that the problem can only get worse. “The global demand for cooling is estimated to require a threefold increase in energy use by 2050,” Tjeldflaat told Fast Company.

As a result, his project suggests an alternative to the current forms of air-conditioning. A conventional air conditioner discharges a significant amount of heat as well as polluting hydrofluorocarbon compounds, “exacerbating the very issue it seeks to mitigate,” said Tjeldflaat. 

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