Mexico City Building Exterior Eats Smog

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What can your building do? This latticework exterior on a surgery building in Mexico City has the ability to react with smog, breaking it down into smaller, safer substances. Intense traffic there is putting the new facade to the test.

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Berlin-based design firm Elegant Establishments developed the facade for the Torre de Especialidades building at the Hospital General Dr. Manuel Gea González. The designers created the facade using tiles called Prosolve370e that contain titanium dioxide, better known as a key ingredient in sunscreen.

When sunlight hits the building tiles, the smog reacts with the material. That reaction causes pollutants to break down into substances that are less noxious such as calcium nitrate, carbon dioxide and water, FastCoExist.com’s Zak Stone reported earlier this year. Curving open-weave tiles help spread those reactions over about 27,000 square feet. The building, which opened in April, is expected to continue breaking down smog well into the future.

“The design is inspired by natural shapes. It’s similar in appearance to corals,” Elegant Establishments co-director Daniel Schwaag told CNN’s Nick Parker recently. The designers say their building can neutralize the impact of the roughly 1,000 vehicles that pass by it daily. It also helps with climate control and light filtration, keeping the hospital’s expenses down.

Pollution in Mexico City was at its most horrifying in 1986, when scores of dead birds dropped out of the sky. Although the air has improved somewhat since then, currently more than 4.5 million cars are registered there and that number keeps growing. Government officials are keen to see how this experimental building facade does since it’s part of a $20 billion investment in Mexico’s health infrastructure.

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One building in a city with so many vehicles — and other sources of air pollution — strikes me as a ridiculously small drop in a very dirty bucket. It also can’t make greenhouse gases magically disappear. But more facades like this, especially around parking garages, could be enough to change the air. And maybe even prevent a few trips to that hospital.

Photo: The exterior of the Torre de Especialidades in Mexico City. Credit: Elegant Embellishments