Sustainable architecture is defined by its goal of minimizing negative environmental impact, and perhaps even having a positive one. This, however, can be executed in so many different ways, making it a diverse and dynamic field, with some truly stunning buildings around the world.
Sustainable architecture attempts to create a more harmonious relationship between the built environment and the natural world, using improved efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, energy, development space and the ecosystem at large. Sustainable architecture uses a conscious approach to energy and ecological conservation in the design of the built environment. The idea of sustainability, or ecological design, is to ensure that our use of presently available resources does not end up having detrimental effects to our collective well-being or making it impossible to obtain resources for other applications in the long run. Energy use very often depends on whether the building gets its energy on-grid, or off-grid. Off-grid buildings do not use energy provided by utility services and instead have their own independent energy production. They use on-site electricity storage while on-grid sites feed in excessive electricity back to the grid.
Many of the practices and principles used in sustainable architecture are rooted in ancient building techniques that were transformed with the rise of modern materials and mass production in the industrial age. The modern consciousness about the need for sustainable architecture can be traced back over 50 years to the anniversary of the first Earth Day, the international environmental movement, and the ensuing legislation that it sparked across the globe. Sustainable architecture is also referred to as green architecture or environmental architecture. It challenges architects to produce smart designs and use available technologies to ensure that structures generate minimal harmful effects to the ecosystem and the communities.
Sustainability has become an important element of contemporary architecture. Environmental standards such as BREEAM and LEED offer guidelines for sustainable building. Responsible architects strive to meet these standards and gain the associated certifications for their projects. But many more designers and builders simply use buzzwords like “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “sustainable” as marketing terms. Essentially, their claims of sustainable practices are exaggerated. Despite all the advances in knowledge and awareness, truly sustainable architecture is still more the exception than the rule.
There are some incredible examples of sustainable architecture around the globe. Most of them are less than a decade old, symbolising an incredible shift in the way new buildings are constructed with sustainability in mind. Spaces spanning Europe to South America are making real statements about what the future holds for keeping green architecture fun but functional. Here is a list of ten of the most incredible Sustainable Architecture buildings around the world:
10 of the Most Stunning Sustainable Architecture Buildings Around the World
1. Copenhill, Copenhagen
CopenHill, also known as Amager Bakke, is a power plant located on an industrial waterfront that is capable of converting 440,000 tons of waste into clean energy annually. It was designed by BIG to double as public infrastructure, and is complete with tree-lined hiking trails and ski slopes on its roof along with the “tallest artificial climbing wall in the world” on its facade.”CopenHill is a blatant architectural expression of something that would otherwise have remained invisible: that it is the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world,” said Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG. The design for the 41,0000-square-metre CopenHill “ski plant” won an international competition in 2011, with the building breaking ground two years later. It is hoped the building will help Copenhagen meet its goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. It is really quite striking because usually power plants are things we want to keep out of sight, out of mind. The combination of a power plant a classic leisure activity, amongst greenery, creates something that seems so at odds, and so impossible.
2. Museu do Amanhã, Rio De Janeiro
Also known in English as the Museum of Tomorrow, this hyper-futuristic and literally over the top building is a sight to be seen. It is in fact a science museum in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was designed by Spanish neo-futuristic architect Santiago Calatrava, and built next to the waterfront at Pier Maua. Its construction was supported by the Roberto Marinho Foundation and cost approximately 230 million Reais. The building was opened on December 17, 2015. The building itself is long, white, and looks something like a spine or an insect. It has a large overhung section that spans out over an outdoor pavilion. There are large fins pointing upwards into the sky all along the top of the building, adding to its creature like quality.
3. The Bird’s Nest, Beijing
This building is truly an innovation in scale and simplicity. The National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, is an 80,000-capacity stadium in Beijing. The stadium was jointly designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron from Basel-based architecture team Herzog & de Meuron, artist Ai Weiwei, which was led by chief architect Li Xinggang. The stadium was designed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, then used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Bird’s Nest sometimes has temporary large screens installed at the stands.In an effort to design a stadium that was “porous” while also being “a collective building, a public vessel”, the team studied Chinese ceramics. This line of thought brought the team to the “nest scheme”. The stadium consists of two independent structures, standing 50 feet apart: a red concrete seating bowl and the outer steel frame around it.
4. Beitou Public Library, Taiwan
This two-storey building is notable for being constructed to be an eco-friendly green building, through architecture that leads to curbing water and electricity consumption. It was designed by Bio-Architecture Formosana. The building uses large windows to reduce the consumption of lighting electricity. The roof was designed to be partially covered with photovoltaic cells(solar panels) to generate electricity and also designed to capture rain water to be stored and used to flush toilets. The building is functionally a public library, serving the people in the community, and thereby contributing to a culture of shared resources. Thoughtfully designed with eco-friendly features, Beitou Library is a sanctuary from the bustling Taipei City of concrete buildings. Entirely made of wood and green features, Beitou Library is an excellent Taipei stop for its architectural uniqueness, as well as more than 20,000 English and Chinese literatures for visitors to peruse at their leisure.
5. Vertical Forest, Milan
Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a pair of residential towers in the Porta Nuova district of Milan, Italy, between Via Gaetano de Castillia and Via Federico Confalonieri. They have a height of 111 metres and 76 metres and contain more than 900 trees. Within the complex is an 11-storey office building; its facade does not include plants.The residential building consists of a plant-based facade that, unlike others built with materials such as steel or glass, does not reflect the sun’s rays but filters them by creating a welcoming humidity-regulated internal microclimate without harmful effects on the environment. The project was designed as part of the rehabilitation of the historic district of Milan between Via De Castillia and Confalonieri in Porta Nuova, which is known to be the richest business district in Europe. Bosco Verticale is one of the biggest European redevelopment projects, consisting of two residential towers. The building itself is self-sufficient by using renewable energy from solar panels and filtered waste water to sustain the buildings’ plant life. These green technology systems reduce the overall waste and carbon footprint of the towers. Lead designer Stefano Boeri stated, “It’s very important to completely change how these new cities are developing. Urban forestation is one of the biggest issues for me in that context. That means parks, it means gardens, but it also means having buildings with trees.” The design was tested in a wind tunnel to ensure the trees would not topple from gusts of wind. Botanists and horticulturalists were consulted by the engineering team to ensure that the structure could bear the load imposed by the plants.
6. Pixel Building, Melbourne
The Pixel Building project is a modest four-level building in Melbourne, Australia with an impressive array of sustainable design technology and innovation. The client had an ambitious goal for Pixel Building to become Australia’s first carbon-neutral office building. The construction covers over 840 sq metres and was developed in 2010 by architects from the Studio505 team. It ranked first in the certificate conceded by the Green Building Council in Australia. The office building includes a native-planted green roof that harvests and collects rainwater. Based on historical rainfall, the building is capable of harvesting all the water it needs inside the office, making this building water neutral as well. Energy efficient design, which includes the use of the pixelated shade screen facade, double glazed windows, daylighting and natural ventilation minimize the need for energy. Meanwhile, solar panels and vertical axis wind turbines on the roof generate enough energy to offset the building’s electricity use. The Pixel Building’s vibrant facade gives it a unique identity and sets it apart from the neighboring structures, and its super sustainable strategies set it above most buildings in the world.
7. Shilda Winery, Georgia
Founded in 2015, Shilda Winery is situated in the principal region of viniculture in Georgia and offers more than 20 varieties of wine that includes both standard and premium wine lines. At the core of the vineyard, the building forms a stream of curved beams that host several activities: wine tasting, wine storing, and wine knowledge sharing. Shilda has high annual solar gain and very dry environment, to address this; the thermal mass of the soil is used to optimize the cooling of the building, and in addition to this most of the facade is facing towards the north to avoid direct solar gain. The structure follows the 2.5m spacing of vineyards and is expressed internally and externally. The structure consists of steel beams with concrete support at the base. The spacing and the depth of the steel beams are accommodating the soil and the build-up for the vineyard. This structural principle emphasizes the idea of embedding the building within the landscape of vineyards.
8. Torre Reforma, Mexico City
Torre Reforma is potentially the greenest building in Latin America – the project, making use of old-school concrete embellishments, saves 30 per cent of its annual water consumption through reusable technologies and over 80 per cent of its materials were sourced from the local region. Located on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s most renowned avenues, Torre Reforma is part of a cultural, historical, and financial district. It is a turning point for vertical urban growth in the megalopolis of Mexico City, having a 2,800 m2 ground site, extremely small for a high-rise building of roughly 87,000 m2.
It’s shape, derived by the architectural-structural parti, takes into consideration many social, financial and environmental factors. The 57 story building, distinguished by its triangular form, is composed of two 246 meter high exposed concrete walls, resembling the form of an open book, closed by a third glass-façade-metallic diagrid, with a panoramic view to Chapultepec Park. Its façades allow for a versatile column free space and have a great impact on the reduction of energy consumption, shifting from an all-glass façade generation. The existing historical house on site is integrated, forming part of the main lobby. The commercial areas at ground floor and first basement allow for the street activity to unfold into the building. The solid concrete structural and architectural facades are influenced by Pre-Hispanic and colonial Mexican architecture where solid materials (concrete or stone) are predominant.
9. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai
The world’s second-tallest skyscraper boasts 43 different sustainable technologies, including renewable energy sources, landscaping for cooling the building, and a spiralling parapet which collects rainwater that is recycled into an air conditioning system. The Shanghai Tower was designed by the American architectural firm Gensler, with Shanghainese architect Jun Xia leading the design team. The tower takes the form of nine cylindrical buildings stacked atop each other that total 128 floors, all enclosed by the inner layer of the glass facade. Between that and the outer layer, which twists as it rises, nine indoor zones provide public space for visitors. Each of these nine areas has its own atrium, featuring gardens, cafés, restaurants and retail space, and providing panoramic views of the city.
Both layers of the façade are transparent, and retail and event spaces are provided at the tower’s base. The transparent façade is a unique design feature, because most buildings have only a single façade using highly reflective glass to reduce heat absorption, but the Shanghai Tower’s double layer of glass eliminates the need for either layer to be opaqued. The tower can accommodate as many as 16,000 people daily.
10. Bahrain World Trade Centre
The Bahrain World Trade Center (also called Bahrain WTC or BWTC) is a 240-metre-high (787 ft), 50-floor, twin tower complex located in Manama, Bahrain. Designed by the multi-national architectural firm Atkins, construction on the towers was completed in 2008. It is the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design. The wind turbines were developed, built and installed by the Danish company Norwin A/S. The building appears as two knives, perpendicular to each other, dramatically jutting into the sky.
The two towers are linked via three skybridges, each holding a 225 kW wind turbine, totalling to 675 kW of wind power capacity. Each of these turbines measure 29 m (95 ft) in diameter, and is aligned north, which is the direction from which air from the Persian Gulf blows in. The sail-shaped buildings on either side are designed to funnel wind through the gap to provide accelerated wind passing through the turbines. This was confirmed by wind tunnel tests, which showed that the buildings create an S-shaped flow, ensuring that any wind coming within a 45° angle to either side of the central axis will create a wind stream that remains perpendicular to the turbines. This significantly increases their potential to generate electricity. The wind turbines are expected to provide 11% to 15% of the towers’ total power consumption, and while that may seem low, that impact that can have on overall consumption of fossil fuels is great. The project has received several awards for sustainability, and has been figured in movies and TV shows internationally.
While sustainable design is a movement, and a category of architecture, it is less defined by an aesthetic sensibility and more defined by material impacts of building on the world. In many of the buildings, however, you can identify similarities. There are features that are common, including curving lines, use of both natural and man made materials, and innovative use of space. The field spans much wider than these major buildings around the globe. There are homes everywhere using much more small scale technologies, and indigenous knowledge and resources to build structures that adapt to their environment, use resources sustainably, and create a positive impact.