architecture: sean gallagher
Eco-Systems Thinking: Three Design Projects
“I come from a tree-hugger, naturalist family,” says Sean Gallagher. His father, a botanist, worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and helped develop Liberty State Park in Jersey City, where Sean now resides. Sean received a Bachelor of Architecture from UNC Charlotte in 2000 and is the Director of Sustainable Design at Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R).
Below Sean describes three recent design projects that demonstrate his “eco-systems thinking.”
Eco-Island: South China Sea Pearl (Concept Design)
Eco-Island was an international competition to develop a strategic vision for an artificial island off the coast of Hanian, China, which aims to become both a public destination and infrastructural storm surge barrier for the city.
Our winning design proposal found inspiration in the deep ocean caldera, a collapsed volcano that fills with water and forms a new habitat. The design merged architecture, landscape, and infrastructure to provide a sheltering island form organized in a way that with time would generate its own materials and nutrients for its new community. The design proposed a new model of architectural infrastructure that adapts to participate with the surrounding ecological cycles to improve health, stimulate growth, and promote awareness.
The system strategy starts at the top of the caldera, where we lined the roof with algae reactors to absorb the direct sunlight and be infused with hot waste water and carbon dioxide from the energy center to maximize its growth rates for harvesting. From this algae we extract oil, bio-fuel, and oxygen to use for the health of the community and in the aquaponic nurseries. Under the algae roof, water is captured and funneled along the spine of the caldera and gravity feed to the membrane bioreactors and storm water filtration beds. All water sources are treated and stored within fresh water reservoirs, which in times of excess support agriculture, aquaculture, and recreational practices. When water is scarce, it recedes back to the lagoon mangrove habitat for shelter from evapotranspiration under its canopy.
Lagoon bulb turbines are placed within the tidal walls, generating power from tidal movements, while at the same time aerating the artificial coast line to help promote mussel habitat. Within the lagoons we placed floating solar panels that act like lily pads – creating shelter for the fish nurseries and slowing down the evapotranspiration rates of the water supply. The water in return helps to slightly cool the solar panels and increases their efficiency.
Water and waste streams are essential to the success of the eco-island urban landscape and renewed habitats. The island design strives to recycle 100% of its water footprint and 95% of its waste stream in an infrastructure mixture that provides the water and energy needs of the island community, but also self-generates the materials and nutrients necessary to promote growth and resilience.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
United States Olympic Museum (Under Construction)
The U.S. Olympic Museum creates a new public place in Colorado Spring's old industrial downtown. It transforms an abandoned railroad site adjacent to a coal power plant into a vibrant plaza, with a bridge to a new park under the backdrop of Pike’s Peak's snow-tipped mountains.
In an effort to provide a healthier environment for the park, the local community had begun the steps to retrofit the coal plant with air-scrubbing technologies to help reduce the carbon emissions and eventually diversify their power supply. Since the museum was to be placed within this context, we wondered, could the museum building itself actively participate in the effort to remove pollution from the air?
Currently, the textile industry is developing fabrics and composite catalytic membranes that are infused with carbon-sequestering solutions that help purify air - sort of like trees. When we looked closely at the wind patterns across the site, we noticed that during the day the winds were predominantly blowing from the south and through the power plant. By wrapping the building with a carbon-sequestering membrane, we could filter the south winds and provide purified air to the park.
But when you wrap yourself in a membrane, you have to make sure that you can still breathe and not overheat. Athletic gear has become very sophisticated in fabrics with weaving technologies to provide protection while maintaining oxygen flow to the skin to remove heat. Could the building learn from this? Going back to the daily wind patterns, we noticed that at night a majority of the cool breezes come from the mountains in the north. We designed the building skin to weave in a way that allows itself to open up at night and breathe in fresh air, while also offering visitors expansive views of the Colorado star-filled sky.
In the end, Colorado Springs is one of those climates that lends itself to experimentation with natural ventilation, daylighting, green power, and radiant technologies. The hope is that the Olympic Museum not only demonstrates to the public those potentials in building technologies, but also becomes a place that brings new life to this area of the city.
Bürchen Mystik (Unrealized)
While the DS+R design for this Swiss hotel ultimately was not chosen for construction, it demonstrates our innovative approach to sustainable design. The net-zero design places no burden on the surroundings and also gives back to the community in various forms, such as absorbing waste streams and returning energy into the community grid. The zero-energy strategy is aligned with the guidelines of the 2000 Watt society approach, in which each of us is limited to two tons of CO2 emissions per year. Bürchen_Mystik meets these goals.
The identity and design of Mystik builds from the unique qualities of Bürchen. Unshaded and on a mountain top, the ski village is in one of the highest solar energy regions in Switzerland. The stable temperature of its soil (6° C) can serve as a heat source and heat sink. As a whole, the design harnesses these sources of energy and transfers them through natural cycles of water and material to balance the hotel’s energy demand and supply. Bürchen_Mystik breathes with the mountain winds, captures and filters the warm sun, and collects and stores the summer heat in the ground to reuse in winter.
The Solar Lake, its most iconic feature, demonstrates the project’s merging of well-being with energy collection. The shallow pool both reflects the surrounding mountains and masks photovoltaic energy collectors under the water's surface. This approach connects three local elements: mountains, sun, and water. Natural heat from the earth below and waste heat harnessed from the hotel kitchen, laundry, and fireplaces keeps the water above freezing, allowing the pool to harness energy year-round. This intelligent energy management system also provides small pockets of heated areas within the Solar Lake, where guests may swim with majestic views in all directions.