Polar Umbrella: A Very Cool Idea

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

What to do about the increasingly devastating effect of climate change on the ice caps of the world? American architect Derek Pirozzi  came up with a novel idea: save it with a humungous polar umbrella.

Researchers have determined that around Greenland and the Antarctic, ice is melting faster than even previously expected: this phenomena has accelerated from 1992 to 2011, resulting in a rise in sea levels of at least 11,1 millimetres (half an inch), i.e., a 20% global increase. Frighteningly, Greenland is melting five times faster than it was two decades ago.


Rebuilding the Arctic‘s layers of ice is the primary objective of this umbrella proposal, which acts to cool down the Earth’s surface by reducing heat in vulnerable Arctic regions. Pirozzi’s giant floating canopy not only prevents the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice, but also harvests solar energy. The design, which is based on osmotic technology, was awarded first place in the eVolo 2013 Skyscraper Competition, an annual contest that investigates the future of tall buildings.


Pirozzi is ambitious: he hopes to also use the umbrella to create a ‘town’ of these umbrella structures that would desalinate water through solar energy; salt water may be used to produce a renewable source of energy through an osmotic (salinity gradient power) facility housed within the structure’s core; whereas as mentioned, the structure’s immense canopy allows the reduction of heat gain on the arctic surface while harvesting solar energy.

The umbrella’s thermal is entirely made of a series of modules that are composed of a polyethylene piping system that pumps brackish water. This gives life to a system that cools off and rebuilds the underneath ice and simultaneously provides the renewable energy necessary for the functioning of the entire structure. Hence, the Polar Umbrella also regenerates the ice caps using harvest chambers that freeze the ocean water.



The umbrella-town, with its desalinisation and power facilities, would also host the research laboratories NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), along with renewable power stations, dormitory-style housing units, eco-tourist attractions, and ecological habitats for wildlife. A series of these structures would be strategically located in the most affected areas.


With both Canada and Russia threatening to exploit the natural resources of the Antarctic now that the ice caps are melting, and with both those nations, and China, planning more shipping routes through the region with the big melt, this is–quite literally–one of the coolest architectural projects we’ve heard about in a long time.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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