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Adapting London for a wet hot future

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  April 7, 2014 01:12 PM

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The prospect of dramatic climate change has inspired a small industry of futuristic architecture—ideas for how our built environment will need to adapt to an age of rising temperatures and severe weather events. On Brainiac, we’ve looked at some of these plans, including ideas for how to save East Boston from the sea, and how to turn water into a positive feature of the New Orleans landscape.

In that spirit, a chapter in a new book called "Imagining the Future City: London 2062" offers some useful tips for how architecture in chilly, dank London could be modified to ward off the worst effects of climate change. The piece is called "Future-proofing London" and it's written by environmental designer Sofie Pelsmakers. She anticipates that fifty years from now, two of the biggest environmental challenges for London will be reflecting heat out of the city, and improving the city's ability to handle intense bursts of rain.

To reflect heat out of London- and temper the "Urban Heat Island effect" that explains why cities are usually hotter than their surroundings- Pelsmakers explains that London's asphalt and concrete veneer should be replaced with greenery: grass, trees, and green roofs that would reflect heat rather than absorb it. As the following diagram shows, she anticipates that those steps would dramatically reduce surface temperatures in the city.

London Heat Reflection.jpg

As for how to protect buildings from flooding during periods of intense, climate change-induced rain, Pelsmakers's ideas are slightly more whimsical: floating buildings, houses on stilts, and a "sacrificial basement" for collecting rainwater.

London House Plans.jpg

All of these ideas seem far-out, but the basic idea that architecture should be informed by climate considerations is nothing new. If today we use double-paned windows and R30 insulation to keep out the cold, why in the future wouldn't we deck our walls in moss and build bladders around our houses to keep out the heat and rain?

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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