COP26: innovative buildings respond to climate emergency

The COP26 Built Environment Virtual Pavilion has shortlisted 17 projects around the world that are redefining the role of the built environment, and are showcased during the UN Climate Change Conference

Wooden school outside
Heart of School, Indonesia
(Image credit: press)

COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021 – will be focusing on the built environment for this year’s 26th edition. Virtual exhibition ‘Build Better Now’, taking place during the event, will consider how buildings and cities can respond to the climate emergency with sustainable architecture.

To encourage the evolving role of the built environment, the exhibition has announced a shortlist of 17 exciting projects around the globe, which are rethinking the possiblities of sustainable building, following an open call in June 2021. The projects, which consider everything from climate mitigation to the possibilities inherent in natural resources, are rethinking the role of the built environment; ultimately, they aim to reduce the impact buildings have on global energy-related carbon emissions, which currently stands at an alarming 40 per cent.

Sara Cultural Centre in Sweden, a tall building part of theCOP26 exhibition

Sara Cultural Centre Sweden. Photography: Patrick Degerman

(Image credit: Patrick Degerman)

Projects were chosen by an international judging panel that considered the positive impact the projects are making on both a local and an international level. An eclectic range of buildings made the shortlist, from an energy-positive office building in Norway which distributes leftover renewable energy to its neighbours as well as powering electric buses, to a building in the UK, which weaves natural local materials thatch and reed into its design.

In the beautiful Scottish Highlands, locally extinct species are reintroduced into 100 acres of land; in Italy, a district is entirely powered by renewable energy sources. The tallest timber building in the world is to be found in Sweden, and the first 3D-printed sustainable homes made from raw clay, in Indonesia.

‘With COP26 in November, the world is ready to tackle climate change, and the built environment has a crucial part to play,’ says Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UK Green Building Council. ‘We know why we must accelerate climate action and “Build Better Now” shows how we can get there. Everyone on the planet has a stake in our buildings and cities. I invite everyone to take inspiration from “Build Better Now” as a global showcase of pioneering solutions to climate change, and hope that it supports the industry to create more sustainable buildings, places and cities of the future.’

Singita Kwitonda Lodge, an outdoor lodge in Rwanda

Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Rwanda. Photography: Adriaan Louw

(Image credit: Adriaan Louw)

The Natural Capital Laboratory, in the countryside in Scotland, UK

The Natural Capital Laboratory, Scotland, UK. Photography: Chris Coupland

(Image credit: Chris Coupland)


Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.