Green Giants

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Philips

Next-generation skyscrapers will not only save energy--they'llgenerate their own.

For the last half century, most Americans have driven to work by themselves. Chances are your commute takes longer than your parents' did, and theirs was longer than their parents'. As we've spread out into farther-flung suburbs, we've created a work-life paradigm plagued by snarled traffic, endless commutes, and a huge carbon footprint. We've heard a lot about the future of the mobile workforce, how a generation of Dilberts will soon be freed from their cubicles by technology and allowed to work from home in their pajamas. That vision may sound great, but only 4 percent of Americans actually worked from home in 2007, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

So what comes next? NEWSWEEK asked three major architecture firms--Richard Meier & Partners, Cooper, Robertson & Partners, and HOK--to reimagine New York City, circa 2030. Each had their own vision of how we will live, work, commute, and play, but they agreed on the big concepts: we must reconfigure our transportation grid, with more and faster trains and improved traffic patterns; create more public green space; and design buildings that not only use less energy but create their own. Not quite hovercrafts and silver unitards, perhaps, but such changes will be critical in a future where the government is likely to start charging for carbon emissions.

The same forces transforming offices will also shape commutes. Fuel prices have increased over the last decade, and most energy analysts believe that rising demand from emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil will make those costs soar over the next 20 years. Many experts now believe that people will end up moving closer to their place of work, which means cities will grow and suburbs will shrink. "All signs point to many more people living in cities," says IBM's Florence Hudson, a vice president of energy and environment. It will simply be more economical for employers and employees to be clustered around centers of commerce that emphasize mixed-use space and public transportation.

While telecommuting will undoubtedly increase, most Americans will continue to work in offices. But those offices are going to look--and function--very differently. Companies are spending billions on environmentally friendly construction: 430 million square feet of office space certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has been built in the United States since 2000, and 24,000 new projects are in the pipeline, according to the U. …