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New York Skyscrapers Are Transforming to Survive Climate Change

Building abstractThe arrival of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 was a rude awakening for millions of people living in Manhattan and on Long Island. The level of destruction also sounded an alarm loud and clear to city officials and engineers that more adequate preparation was needed for potential side effects of climate change. Now, those preparations are becoming a reality.

Under normal circumstances, another NYC skyscraper wouldn’t be anything special, but the American Copper Buildings being constructed on the East River were designed with the wreckage of Sandy in mind.

Though Hurricane Sandy happened five years ago, residents are still suffering in the aftermath. While the average home can last for 100 years or more, and even furniture like sofas can last 15 years or more, many New Yorkers lost all of their possessions in the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. The storm effectively shut down the U.S. financial capital for multiple consecutive days.

With that level of destruction in mind, engineers at JDS developed the American Copper Buildings for the environmental challenges of the 21st century. Simon Koster, a principal at the company, explained that the company knew a storm like Sandy was a possibility in the future.

“We said, ‘How can we make sure that if we lived here, we will not be facing that scenario?’ So we let the designers loose,” he said.

Koster added that one of the biggest innovations was ensuring that residents would have power for as long as possible in the event of an outage. This prompted the creation of a system in which one outlet, hooked up to a backup generator, is reserved for refrigerators. This will also ensure that residents can charge their phones at any time during an outage.

Although steel, which is usually made of 90% recycled content, is inside most NYC buildings, the walls in the American Copper Buildings are paneled with wood. Not only does it add warmth, but the open side panels allow quick drying and minimal damage if a flood should hit.

But residential buildings aren’t the only ones innovating in an increasingly resourceful city. Workers are currently constructing and putting finishing touches on two new Renzo Piano-designed buildings located on Columbia University’s Riverside Drive.

Other schools, including New York University and Cornell, are following suit as well. These educational institutions are constructing and innovating at “a frenetic pace,” according to the New York Times.

The New York Building Congress reports that private and public universities in the area have been spending almost $2 billion annually on construction projects. The organization says that the Cornell and NYU projects by themselves will generate approximately $33 billion in activity over the next 30 years or so.

Traffic marking paint, used on roads and inevitably in the new parking lots accompanying some of these buildings, was valued at $454 million in 2014. But industrial coatings and marking paint will definitely see an increase with all of this new construction.

Although government support for these new projects isn’t guaranteed, officials have still expressed confidence in their success.

“I don’t know of any other projects in urban environments in the United States, or any place, of this scale, so I think this is really quite an experiment,” said Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia’s president.