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Leon Kaye headshot

Ice Box Challenge an Artistic Ploy to Encourage Better Buildings

By Leon Kaye

No, this isn’t the ice bucket challenge for ALS research that was all the rage a few years ago. This is a different kind of challenge, one that is also beneficial in a different way.

I am talking about the Ice Box Challenge, a global competition that is encouraging designers, architects - and really anyone - to find ways to make homes more energy efficient and comfortable. Think of this challenge as a beefed-up science fair competition: ice boxes are constructed, usually left outside in the sun for 18 days, and then the amount of ice left inside the boxes is measured. The goal is to find ways to reduce society’s carbon footprint without changing our lifestyle.

For over a decade, this challenge has spread the word by being a global road show, starting in Brussels and since moving to cities such as Vancouver, Chicago and Seattle. Last month, the competition moved to New York.

The competition was an architectural take on the classic “how many jelly beans are in the jar” contest. Two boxes, each containing 1,800 pounds of ice, were displayed under Manhattan’s sun in the Garment District at Broadway and 39th Street for over a month until May 23. As usual, one box was built to standard building codes while the other was assembled following the uber-insulated Passive House Standard. In a bid to garner more interest from the public, the boxes were decorated by a Brussels street artist. Visitors were encouraged to guess how much ice would remain in each box for a chance to win prizes such as a trip to Brussels.

The results offered a reminder of how engineers, architects and developers could be more inspired to work together to build more energy efficient buildings. After a month, the Passive House Standard box melted down to 756 pounds, 42% of its original size The other box, constructed with standard construction methods, had only 126 pounds of ice left, or just 7% of its original size.

“The Ice Box Challenge is a visually engaging demonstration for New Yorkers that underscores the incredible opportunities we have to improve energy efficiency in buildings, which is crucial both to battling global climate change and to creating a fairer, healthier city,” Mark Chambers, director of New York mayor’s office of sustainability, said in a public statement.

The overriding challenge, of course, is to find ways to allow these construction methods to actually scale and become cost-effective. Nevertheless, tactics such as the Ice Box Challenge are one way to instill why green building matters when it comes to our homes and offices – and tenants and homeowners will buy in when they can see efficient buildings are comfortable buildings – with lower utility costs and a healthier built environment, too.

Image credit: Alexandre Ayer

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye