Research News

cartoon illustration of a green city.

Integrate natural, man-made systems to make cities more sustainable

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories in which we asked UB faculty mem­bers to think big: If they had unlimited time, money and persuasion techniques, what audacious idea from their fields would they want to implement today?

By ERIN PETERSON

Reprinted from At Buffalo

Published September 30, 2016

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“It would be fantastic to be able to start funding these kinds of projects, which could dramatically change the way our environment is shaped in the future. ”
Mark Shepard, director
Media Arts and Architecture Program

The problem: Unsustainable growth

The big idea: Integrate technology with natural systems in cities and towns.

Mark Shepard.

Mark Shepard is director of the Media Arts and Architecture Program and co-directs the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies.

One of my big ideas would be to actually realize some of the projects that my architecture graduate students are already developing. These are amaz­ing projects that integrate natural and human-made systems to make cities and towns more sustainable.

For example, one student is working on developing roof tiles that incorporate hydrogels. Hydrogels are substances that can absorb water, expanding up to 10 times their size during heavy rains, and then slowly disperse the water over time. If you were to develop roofing that incorporated this system, you could alleviate some of the stress on existing runoff systems in the towns along riv­ers. It would be a line of defense against extreme weather conditions, including flooding, that may be more common as a result of climate change.

Another example is using technology to help improve biodiversity through sound. We know that many animals — frogs, foxes, rabbits and snakes, to name a few — are attracted to or repelled by specific sounds.

So to shape the biodiversity of a certain region, students have developed instruments that look like reeds you might see by the seaside. When they’re blown by the wind, they create certain pitches and frequencies that can help strengthen that region’s biodiversity.

It would be fantastic to be able to start funding these kinds of projects, which could dramatically change the way our environment is shaped in the future.