Center Press

How Designers Can Help Keep Our Air Breathable

Smoke from Canadian wildfires turns the sky orange.

Smoke from wildfires raging in Canada blanketed the Northeastern United States this month, turning the skies an eerie orange. Responding to record-setting levels of pollution, officials around the region declared health emergencies. Advice to close windows and run air filters helped mitigate the acute effects of the short-term crisis, but the event also drew attention to how climate change is intensifying chronic air pollution around the world.

Ensuring the safety and quality of air is now an urgent issue for designers. Holly Samuelson, Associate Professor in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), is changing how the design fields think about the complexities of air quality. Protecting inhabitants from outside pollutants is only one part of the challenge. Buildings also need to have proper ventilation and provide efficient heating and cooling systems that could lower the emissions driving climate change in the first place. Samuelson shared her insights with William Smith, editorial director at the GSD.

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