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Amid the challenges posed by climate change is not only the degradation of air quality in urban settings, but also the staggering degradation of indoor air quality in built environments. If buildings, are canonically considered shelters from the harsh exterior, what happens in a setting when the interior is no longer a protective enclosure due its poor air quality?

Heavily air-conditioned buildings usually generate problematic airborne conditions, resulting from a building’s lack of exchange with its surrounding environment. In most sick buildings, there cannot be an identifiable cause for illness, as a causal effect of a specific deficiency. A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality and suffer from what is known as the “sick building syndrome”, a term used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building.
With health and occupant well-being concerns at its fore, the AMPS project (Active Modular Phytoremediation Systems) under development by Rensselaer’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), seeks to alleviate, air impurities by producing fresh air in enclosed artificial environments. AMPS makes the most of integrated plants’ ability to cleanse airborne contaminants which beset indoor air quality and to eliminate toxins, which plague air quality.

More recently, the AMPS prototype was installed at the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed Public Safety Answering Center II (PSAC II) in the Bronx, New York. For PSAC II and CASE, the goal is to regularly clean air and for the building to operate as a closed system for up to a month. In other words, the building has the capacity to completely seal itself in the event of a catastrophic, or terrorist attack. With its introduction at PSAC II, the project has developed into the Active Phytoremediation Wall System for strategic and flexible integration at the facility. Comprised from a series of pods, this modular wall assembly maximizes the air circulation within and through the plants. “The pods form the outer walls of a multilayered system where the inner volume acts as an air return, pulling the cleaned air to the HVAC via the ceiling.” (Active Phytoremediation Wall System | SOM + Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Arch2o)

KEYWORDS: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Airborne Contaminants, Green Walls

CASE / Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (Anna Dyson, Ahu Aydogan, Jason Vollen, Matt Gindlesparger,  , New York, United States, 2003- ongoing
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