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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared that skyscrapers made of glass and steel “have no place in our city or our Earth anymore.” He argued that their energy inefficient design contributes to global warming and insisted that his administration would restrict glassy high-rise developments in the city.
Glass always has been an unlikely material for large buildings, because of how difficult it becomes to control temperature and glare indoors. In fact, the use of fully glazed exteriors only became possible with advances in air conditioning technology and access to cheap and abundant energy, which came about in the mid-20th century. Studies suggest that on average, carbon emissions from air-conditioned offices are 60 percent higher than those from offices with natural or mechanical ventilation.
As part of my research into sustainable architecture, I have examined the use of glass in buildings throughout history. Above all, one thing is clear: if architects had paid more attention to the difficulties of building with glass, the great environmental damage wrought by modern glass skyscrapers could have been avoided.