As past stories in ARCHITECT's "This Week in Tech" series, the 10 design-tech stories touch upon everything from giant 3D-printed structures to chemically treated super wood and a bio-digital urban curtain prototype. This year, the tech and architecture communities focused on reducing carbon footprint, extending the frontiers of traditional construction, reinventing urban transportation, and seeking innovative ways to reuse plastic waste.

Read—or re-read—our 10 most popular "This Week in Tech" stories of the year to find out more:

Oculus at the World Trade Center
Courtesy Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Oculus at the World Trade Center

World Trade Center Gets Major LED Overhaul
As part of a $7.9 million contract with Baltimore-based energy company Constellation, more than 13,000 light fixtures at the World Trade Center in New York will be switched to LED sources in an effort to reduce the structure's carbon footprint by 4,700 metric tons annually—the equivalent of removing 1,000 passenger vehicles from the road. According to a recent release, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could save more than $715,000 in the first year of the decade-long contract, with continued savings over time. Constellation has begun the upgrade work, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. The retrofit will also switch the existing uplighting at the Oculus, the transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava, FAIA, to color-changing spotlights. [Constellation] —Katharine Keane

Philippe Block

An Ultra-Thin Concrete Structure Shaped by a 3D-Knitted Formwork
Zaha Hadid Architects' (ZHA's) Computational Design (CODE) research group collaborated with the Block Research Group (BRG) of ETH Zurich, and Architecture Extrapolated to design and construct a 19-foot-square, 13-foot-tall, double-curved, thin-shell concrete structure that pays homage to work of late Spanish-Mexican architect and structural artist Félix Candela Outeriño. Called KnitCandela, the experimental structure's dynamic, hyperbolic paraboloid form was created using a 3D-knitted formwork technology developed by the BRG co-directors Philippe Block and Tom Van Mele and doctoral student Mariana Popescu, in a collaboration with ETH Physical Chemistry of Building Materials group's doctoral student Lex Reiter and professor Robert Flatt. The 122-pound knitted formwork supports the 11,023-pound concrete structure. [ARCHITECT] —Ayda Ayoubi

The World's Largest 3D-Printed Structure
Chattanooga, Tenn.–based architectural fabricator Branch Technology claims to have built the world's largest 3D-printed structure for Nashville, Tenn.'s LEED ND–targeted OneC1TY neighborhood. Made of carbon fiber–reinforced ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), the 20-foot-tall, 42-foot-wide structure was unveiled at the 2018 International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, an annual architecture and engineering symposium held this year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [ARCHITECT] —Ayda Ayoubi

Courtesy University of Maryland

Super Wood that Could Replace Steel
Engineers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering have discovered a process that can make wood stronger than steel or titanium alloys. The method begins by removing the wood's lignin—the part that gives wood its color and rigidity—via boiling the material in an aqueous mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfate. The remaining wood panel is then compressed at 150 F in order to collapse the cell wall and rid the material of weak spots. This process also allows for tight hydrogen bonds to be formed, furthering strengthening the wood. “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings—any application where steel is used,” said Liangbing Hu, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute, in a press release. [University of Maryland] —Selin Ashaboglu

Foster + Partners Unveils Vision for Hyperloop Cargo Transportation Infrastructure
Foster + Partners has collaborated with Virgin's Hyperloop One and Dubai port management company DP World to develop a vision for an infrastructure for moving cargo using the high-speed, clean transportation of Hyperloop technology. As shown in its video, the team proposes a network of Hyperloop pods that travel via electric propulsion and magnetic levitation at the speed of an airliner, but at the cost of a truck. "The movement of people and goods is part of the vital infrastructure that binds all our cities together—and cities are the future of our society," said Foster + Partners founder Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA, in a press release. "As Hyperloop looks to reinvent urban transport and logistics, the city of the future is closer than we think. It is important we develop an integrated sustainable vision of infrastructure that will enable us to evolve and adapt our existing cities, and design new ones that will be in harmony with nature and our precious planet." The team proposes initializing plans for such infrastructure in Dubai. [Foster + Partners] —Katharine Keane

Courtesy Recycled Island Foundation

A Floating Park Made of Recycled Plastic Waste
In Rotterdam, Netherlands, a new floating park made entirely of plastic waste pulled from the city's rivers and ports has opened. Dubbed "Recycled Park," the 1,500-square-foot island comprises 28 hexagonal blocks designed and built by the locally based Recycled Island Foundation (RIF) with support from the City of Rotterdam. "The aim of this iconic Recycled Park is to illustrate that recycled plastic from the open waters is a valuable material and suitable for recycling," according to the RIF. "By reusing the retrieved plastics and by producing building blocks with them, the plastics receive new value." The team hopes that this project will help to raise awareness about the amount of plastic waste that fills water bodies worldwide. [RIF] —Ayda Ayoubi

Photosynthetica curtain
Photo by NAARO courtesy Ecologic Studio Photosynthetica curtain

A Bio-Digital Curtain that Combats Climate Change
London-based EcoLogic Studio has unveiled an urban curtain prototype that can capture and store approximately 2 pounds of carbon dioxide per day. The curtain is composed of 16 modules (each 2 meters by 7 meters) that contain living microalgal cultures. As sunlight feeds the cultures—which then become luminescent at night—carbon dioxide and other pollutants are trapped by the mixture and grow into biomass. Ultimately, fresh oxygen is released from the top of the curtain and the biomass can be recycled into the bioplastic used to make the modules. [EcoLogic Studio] —Katharine Keane

Triënnale 2018; STUDIOKCA - 'Skyscraper (the Bruges Whale)'
Matthias Desmet Triënnale 2018; STUDIOKCA - 'Skyscraper (the Bruges Whale)'

This Installation is Made of 5 Tons of Plastic Waste
Constructed from 10,000 pounds of plastic waste pulled from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Skyscraper, also known as the Bruges Whale, was a temporary public installation designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based architecture firm StudioKCA for the 2018 Bruges Triennial in Belgium. Measuring 38 feet tall, 38 feet wide (fin to fin), and 12 feet in diameter, the giant sculpture appeared to leap from one of the city's main canals and arching over the historic Jan Van Eyck Square in the city center. [ARCHITECT] —Ayda Ayoubi

The Boring Company

Elon Musk's Boring Company To Build High-Speed Transportation System in Chicago
On June 14, Elon Musk announced in a tweet that his Boring Co. has been selected by the City of Chicago to undertake a new project in the city. Dubbed Chicago Express Loop, Musk's latest project will bring high-speed public transpiration system to Chicago, and will most likely operate between downtown Chicago and O'Hare International Airport. The new system is expected to transport between eight to 16 passengers in battery-powered cars through tunnels at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, which means that driving to the airport from downtown will take only 12 minutes, according to CNN. [CNN] —Ayda Ayoubi

Photo by Nicky Angunwa, courtesy Little Sun

IKEA to Collaborate with Little Sun to Create Off-the-Grid Lighting Solutions
More than 1 billion people worldwide live without access to electricity. As part of its latest collaboration, IKEA is hoping to challenge this statistic. On June 7, the Swedish furniture designer and manufacturer announced a new partnership with Berlin-based sustainable lighting solutions company Little Sun. Founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen in 2012, Little Sun sells solar-powered lamps and charging stations; for every one purchased, another is sent to be sold locally in rural African communities. According to a press release, "Together, IKEA and Little Sun want to create a series of sustainable off-the-grid tools for everyday life." [IKEA] —Katharine Keane

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