A Breath of Fresh Air- The Rise of “Smog Eating” Buildings

With the majority of Britons living outside major cities, the worries of air pollution do not keep many people awake at night. However, in some cities around the world the rise in air pollution levels has become so impactful that architects and engineers are now forced to consider technological solutions in building and infrastructure design.

Data released by The World Health Organisation (WHO) 2016 revealed that air pollution is now the biggest environmental cause of death. Their research shows that 6.5 million people, primarily in major cities, died in 2012 due to polluted air with 268,000 of these deaths occurring in Europe.

Many countries are now working hard alongside international agreements in order to restrict emissions; however some of the worst affected cities are now looking to technological solutions in building and infrastructure design.

One example of this is the Manuel Gea González Hospital in Mexico City. Due to the rapidly increasing levels of air pollution in the city, the owners have added a ‘smog-eating’ façade which covers 2,500 square metres encompassing the hospital.

The revolutionary façade system consists of thermoformed shells which are then coated in photocatalytic titanium dioxide which reacts with daylight to neutralise certain elements of air pollution with the aim of ultimately negating the effects of up to 1,000 cars a day.

The revolutionary façade system consists of thermoformed shells which are then coated in photocatalytic titanium dioxide which reacts with daylight to neutralise certain elements of air pollution with the aim of ultimately negating the effects of up to 1,000 cars a day.

Since Manuel Gea González Hospital revealed their ‘smog eating’ facade, more examples of photocatalytic titanium dioxide are appearing across the built environment. A photocatalytic road has been built in The Netherlands and here in Britain a ‘smog eating poem’ was hung on the side of a building in Sheffield.

The poem, written by British poet Simon Armitage, was printed on a 10m by 20m piece of material coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide. This then used sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air, with the material thought to be capable of absorbing the pollution from 20 cars every day.

Sheffield’s ‘smog eating’ banner associates closely to the creation of “catalytic clothing”; a collaboration between designer Helen Storey and polymer chemist Tony Ryan. Storey and Ryan are exploring how clothing and textiles can be used as a catalytic surface to purify air by adding titanium dioxide nano-particles to laundry detergent, effectively allowing wearers of “catalytic” garments to neutralise pollutants in the environment simply by wearing said garments in natural daylight.

While it is obvious that ‘smog eating’ buildings are a technically brilliant solution to an ever increasing problem facing the modern world, they need to be appearing and increasing at a rate which matches our global crisis.

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