Space to Breathe: An Architecture for the Age of Smog

beijing region wind analysis
smog over guomao
building as electrostatic precipitator
existing wind shadows in guomao
guomao wind analysis
exploded axonometric and south elevation
facade component logic and performance
facade section and sky garden
section a-a
guomao on a clear day
site plan
typical floor plans

Primary Author

  • Vuk Filipic


  • University of Calgary


  • Vera Parlac (Assistant Professor of Architecture)


  • Graham David Livesey


The world’s population has grown in unison with economic and industrial expansion. This link has also negatively implicated our environment. Centers of industry and highly concentrated populations are often plagued with smog and poor air quality. These issues are further compounded by broad scale environmental forces. Wind patterns have the capacity to carry pollutants hundreds of kilometers away from their originating sources. But wind patterns may also be instrumental in the effort to alleviate air pollution. Rapid population growth has manifested in dense urban conditions dominated by high rise buildings. As our buildings are the containers of our lives, they are in constant contact with our natural environment. This project aims to capitalize on the relationship of wind currents and highly concentrated architecture in order to ask: can architecture participate in alleviating air pollution? In this perplexing context, it becomes necessary to reassess our relationship with technology. Are we destined to cling on to our sheltered conception of nature by means of prosthetic intervention - seeking a sort of incubation from the complexity around us? Can technology instead operate within this indeterminacy - colluding with its forces in the interest of promoting a favorable human experience?

Project Statement

The objective of this work is to focus on responsive architecture and explore a territory beyond the stasis in architecture. The aim to develop responsive (building) systems/components is grounded in a position that the built world should operate synergistically within larger ecologies. And in return the responsive building systems could act as ecologies in themselves. This approach positions architecture as a discipline that creates built ecologies. It also enables the architectural discipline to re-calibrate its participation in larger systems (larger ecologies) and become a more intelligent and operative participant. As the external socio-economic, cultural, and technological context changes, so do our conceptions of space, shape, form and performance in architecture. The capacity of built spaces to respond dynamically to changes in the external and internal environments is the focus of this assignment. Implementation of new digital technologies of modeling, fabrication and simulation, and new materials and material technologies is encouraged to develop a two-way relationship among the space/component/surface, the environment, and the users.

Project Description

This project investigates and architecturally employs the filtration process used in Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP). These machines ionize air and then subject it to an opposing electric field – causing the statically charged pollutants to separate from the air and attract to surfaces with opposing charge. The first portion of research explores the adaptation of facade assemblies towards accommodating Electrostatic Precipitators. The porous and interlocking nature of vernacular Chinese architecture serves as the inspiration for the study - offering a framework within which ESP components are deconstructed and rearranged. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software tests the interaction between wind and facade arrangements in order to guide the evolution of the facade assembly logic and geometry. Testing is conducted across various scales in order to assess the performance of the evolving design beyond its immediate context. Two considerations are addressed: 1 the impact of the system on architectural space and program; and 2 the impact of system multiplicity towards activating broad scale wind patterns in virtuous operations of air filtration The aggregated research findings inform the spatial arrangement and built order of a high-rise office building and public space in central Beijing. Rather than viewing environmental issues with aversion and fearing the complications that arise from intricate environmental relationships, it is the intention of this project to seek opportunity in complexity. It speculates that existing technology and building methodology form a suitable foundation for future adaptation - that our lives need not drastically change or be hindered in the face of environmental adversity.

beijing region wind analysis