A sealed glass box.   A box where you cannot open a single window to get a single breath of fresh air.

Does that sound healthy to you?

No it does not but this has been the model for most of the modern world since World War II for most office buildings.  Now even many residences and hospitals have the same problem.

These buildings are a legacy of the cheap energy boom following World War II.  They are cheaper to build than normal buildings.    People inside are dependent on air handlers on the roof for all air.

In a power blackout virtually no fresh air at all can be obtained.

The Health Risks of Indoor Air

The EPA says indoor air is often many times more polluted than outdoor air.

Indoor air pollution can causes rashes, chronic respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, frequent colds, and irritation to the eyes and ears. It can also lead to increased risk of cancer.

Mold and dust are often present in indoor air. So are nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, radon, and other pollutants. Formaldehyde is often found in furniture, carpets, drapes, and paneling.

Studies have also shown that dangerous flame-retardant chemicals can be found in the furniture and dust of most homes.

Many workers are expected to work in “open offices,” which studies now show reduce productivity and spread disease.

Huge Energy Costs of Modern Architecture

Glass-and-steel skyscrapers are difficult and expensive to heat and cool.

The first major glass building, London’s “Crystal Palace,” was built in 1851 and immediately experienced severe temperature problems.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said that inefficient glass-and-steel buildings “have no place in our city or on Earth anymore,” and London Mayor Sadiq Kahn said “The connection needs to be made between the climate emergency and all-glass buildings.”

“Modern buildings cannot survive unless hard-wired to a life-support machine,” according to University of Cambridge professor Alan Short. “Yet this fetish for glass, steel, and air-conditioned skyscrapers continues; they are symbols of status around the world on an increasingly vast scale.”

Luxury vs. Health

Glass-and-Steel: Dangerous Luxury

A top-of-the-line luxury apartment at 111 W. 57th Street in New York City can be yours for $57,000,000. It has two floors, four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a spiral staircase, and a “great hall.” It has pretty everything you could want, in fact – except windows that open.

The floor-to-ceiling glass walls are spectacular.

But they seal the occupants inside glass, where direct fresh air can’t be had for any price. That’s dangerous.

The window views at 111 W. 57th are impressive. But, as you can see, they don’t open.

The windows don’t open at 432 Park Avenue, either.

Or at the upcoming Central Park Tower.

Or at many other luxury buildings, in New York City and around the world.

Meanwhile, people at all income levels are faced with the threat of indoor air – and the environmental damage caused by energy-inefficient buildings.

Insanity of sealing shut hospital windows

Many hospitals are now sealed glass boxes even though fresh air has almost always been considered a plus for patients.   Diseases are trapped inside and blown through the air exposing all inside to dangerous threats.

Healthy buildings can be built

Office buildings can be built or retrofitted with windows that open.

Central cooling and heating systems can be designed to switch off automatically in a specific area whenever a window is opened. Converting to this system would save an estimated 40 percent in annual energy costs.

It would also make workers more comfortable.

Also, the recent plague has shown the value of having workers work from home.  They can get fresh air and do not waste time and energy in traffic.

Reform is possible.

More About Indoor Air

Indoor Air and Human Health.”

(World Future Fund)

Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.”


New Research Finds Highly Toxic Flame Retardants Widespread in Homes, Furniture.”

(Environmental Working Group)

Indoor Air Can Cause Health Problems.”

(University of Rochester Medical Center)

Dangers of Air Pollution

(New York Times)

More About Glass-and-Steel Buildings and the Environment

 From a news article published in 1851: “‘On Saturday the oppressive heat proved too great even for the attraction of the Crystal Palace, and since it was opened we have hardly seen so small an attendance there. In vain did ladies appear in the thinnest muslin dresses, and gentlemen walk about with their hats in their hands.”

(Times of London)

Building construction and occupancy consumes massive amounts of energy: “36% of final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018 …” (International Environmental Agency)

They have no place in our city or our Earth anymore. If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use a lot of glass if they do all the other things needed to reduce the emissions. But putting up monuments to themselves that harm our Earth and threatened our future, that will no longer be allowed in New York City.”

 (New York Mayor Bill de Blasio)

How air conditioning shaped modern architecture—and changed our climate.”


Experts call for ban on glass skyscrapers to save energy in climate crisis.”


It’s Time to Re-think the All-Glass Building.”

(Building Green)

More About Unhealthy Offices

The Open Office: Plutocratic Dream or Nightmare?”

Productivity went up at this Chinese company when office workers were allowed to work from home.

(Oxford University Press)

The case for office buildings with windows that open.”


COVID and Indoor Air      

That Office AC System Is Great — at Recirculating Viruses (New York Magazine, 5-22-20)

As public life starts to re-open, there are troubling questions about the recirculation of the Coronavirus in the AC systems of the office place.

The more public life reopens, the more indoor spaces we will have to share with strangers, and while we can plainly see whether those around us are observing pandemic protocols, it will be impossible to gauge the safety of the air in every store, factory, and school. We move from atmosphere to atmosphere, trusting engineers, installers, and maintenance staff to keep them safe, just as we trust airplane designers and ground crews to keep us aloft in the sky. “If an infected person introduces the virus into a space, then it’s there,” says Ray Quinn, a principal at the global engineering firm Arup. “No HVAC system can get rid of all your risk, so the best you can do is reduce it. The next question is by how much, and the answer to that depends on each system type and how people operate the building.”



Groups Taking Action

Environmental Working Group: Education and research on environmental health.

Environment America: activism on clean energy, environmental protection laws, and related issues Working for a safe climate and better future.