More people are moving into urban spaces. At the same time, development is booming. This confluence of events results in something that scientists call the “urban heat island effect”—a general warming of metropolitan areas due to human activity and lack of vegetation.
What’s there to do? Architects have a few ideas. But the most unexpected of them is a new project from Netherlands architecture firm UNStudio, who partnered with pigment company Monopol Colors to create a white paint they call the Coolest White.
The bright white pigment is designed to reflect heat. The architects and scientists claim the paint has a total solar reflection (TSR) value of more than 80 (translation: This means the paint is able to reflect solar heat at a higher rate than less bright whites).
One of the premises behind the urban heat island effect is that dark, glassy buildings tend to absorb more heat than lighter buildings. The domino effect of a darker building is that more people run their air conditioners, which require energy usage that ultimately generates CO2 emissions and contributes to global warming.
The Coolest White is purported to mitigate at least some of that heat absorption by reflecting the heat back into the atmosphere. “With The Coolest White we have less heat absorption in the city, and we have better room climate, so we need less energy for air conditioning. So what we are doing with The Coolest White is that we are cooling down a complete city,” said Tim Kröger, head of laboratory at Monopol Colors.
How much impact a white paint can have on reducing urban heat is up for debate. Some scientists believe painting a roof white, for example, does little to mitigate the climbing temperatures. Others believe it can reflect heat in a significant way. For what it’s worth, New York City has already painted nearly 10 million square feet of roof a reflective white as part of a plan to lower buildings’ internal temperature and reduce carbon emissions.
UNStudio has plans to take that concept a step further—in the future it wants to build an all-white city in South East Asia. Stay tuned.