Sustainable architecture: innovative and inspiring building design
From amazing abodes to centres of care and hard-working offices, we chart some of the world’s best examples of sustainable architecture, buildings that not only look good but also do good
The Voxel by the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
The Voxel is a unique prototype designed by students and researchers of the Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB) of the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) under the direction of Daniel Ibáñez and Vicente Guallart. It was created as ‘an advanced ecological building’ made of natural KM.0 materials and industrialized techniques within the natural park of Collserola in Barcelona, Spain. Part of the project is researching wood and its structural and thermal abilities, as well as its capacity to store CO2 in buildings. Using wood sourced through sustainable forest management, the team experimented with the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban charred wood insulation technique to protect the material and structure in an environmentally friendly way.
SLAK Campus by Kéré Architecture
Turkana County in Kenya is a large expanse of beautiful yet arid land of low bushes and occasional trees, home to Lake Turkana, the country’s largest landlocked body of water and the biggest desert lake in the world. Termite mounds, buzzing with activity and up to several metres high, are dotted around the region’s gently undulating landscape. It was these tall structures that first caught the eye of Berlin-based architect Francis Kéré when he started researching the area for one of his latest commissions – a sustainable education campus on the lake’s banks. Celebrating the local context and the termite mounds, tall towers support natural ventilation ‘by extracting warm air upwards, while fresh air is introduced through specially designed low-level openings’, says Kéré. Electricity is produced on site, using solar panels.
TECLA by Mario Cucinella Architects with WASP
Mario Cucinella Architects has built the world’s very first 3D printed house made entirely from raw earth. Named ‘Tecla’, and built in collaboration with specialists in the field WASP, the structure demonstrates the point where natural materials meet technology and has just been unveiled in Italy’s Massa Lombarda region, near the city of Ravenna. ‘Adopted from one of Italo Calvino’s Imaginary Cities, one that is forever taking shape, the name ‘Tecla’ evokes the strong link between past and future combining the materiality and spirit of timeless ancient dwellings with the 21st-century world of high-tech production,’ say the architects.
Casona Sforza by Alberto Kalach
Known for its sandy beaches, green setting and surfing spots, Mexico’s Puerto Escondido now has one more card up its leafy sleeve: a new hotel with strong sustainability credentials, designed by acclaimed Mexican architect Alberto Kalach. Casona Sforza, conceived by the entrepreneur Ezequiel Ayarza Sforza, has just opened its doors and combines an eco-approach with striking architecture and state-of-the-art hospitality and interiors. Set in La Barra de Colotepec, facing Mexico’s Pacific Coast, the hotel’s distinctive form represents its strong ‘ecological commitment’, says the team. Composed of a series of round-roofed brick volumes, the flowing structure feels natural and uses the country’s ancient techniques of brickwork, arch and vault building. This approach not only feels appropriate to the project’s context and the region’s history, but also makes the most of the fine anti-seismic properties of the vaulted shapes.
Haycroft Gardens by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Engulfed in a wild, leafy garden, a new multigenerational home in north London is designed to be functional and inclusive. Haycroft Gardens, created by architect Sarah Wigglesworth and her team, may appear humble, but it takes sustainable architecture to the next level. Commissioned to work on an infill site in Kensal Green, Wigglesworth was invited to create a single-level, three-bedroom home that would accommodate the needs of a young family and an elderly parent within the same domestic scheme. ‘The long-term requirements of the occupants, such as mutual support, accessibility, comfort, energy use and adaptability’, were crucial in the design solution, explains the architect. The project was built according to Passivhaus principles. A specialist timber frame manufacturer was involved, while an air-source heat pump and MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) provide heating and ventilation respectively. The aim was for the house to have a very low energy usage.
Elephant World by Bangkok Project Studio
Elephant World’s architecture nods to both human and elephant needs, showcasing a strong sense of social sustainability but a respect to the environment too. The Wallpaper* Design Awards 2021 Best Sanctuary winner is a design by Thai architect Boonserm Premthada and his practice, Bangkok Project Studio. Premthada worked with local labour and materials to create a complex dedicated to the wellbeing of humans and animals, including an observation tower, a museum and a multifunctional event space. The design blends with the landscape and uses natural materials. For example, the bricks used for the museum were created on site by local workers using loam found in the area.
Powerhouse Telemark by Snøhetta
This ultra-sustainable workspace is a building that actually creates more energy than it will consume over its entire lifespan. Architecture studio Snøhetta, together with collaborators R8 Property, Skanska and Asplan Viak, has recently completed the project, Powerhouse Telemark, the fourth energy-positive building in its Powerhouse portfolio. Located in the city of Porsgrunn, the project creates much needed office space. It features solar panels on its roof; natural shading is promoted, while plentiful insulation ensures heat is retained where possible; and heat is stored in the building elements, to be released slowly, while a geothermal well supports heating and cooling. As a result, Powerhouse Telemark was awarded a BREEAM Excellent certification.
Anandaloy by Studio Anna Heringer
German architect Anna Heringer’s Anandaloy project in rural Bangladesh is a successful example of sustainable architecture, both in terms of social and environmental responsibility. The community centre and textile workshop in rural Bangladesh contains a therapy hub for people with disabilities on the ground floor and a fair-trade textile manufacturing workshop for local women on the first floor. Made out of rammed earth and bamboo, the structure explores age-old local building techniques and materials in soft curves and textures that connect with its place and the region’s vernacular. The building recently scooped the prestigious Obel Award for 2020.
Treehouse by Olson Kundig
US architect Tom Kundig, of Seattle practice Olson Kundig, is behind this sustainable teak holiday house in Costa Rica. Called the Treehouse, the private home is built predominantly out of locally harvested teak, and is open to the elements. This makes sense for Kundig’s clients for two reasons: as avid surfers, it gives them a chic version of a basic surfer’s hut; and as environmentalists, their new home ticks a number of sustainability boxes. Spanning three floors, the building is designed to operate passively, and slatted panels keep it open to the outdoors. ‘Our aim was to create a home that is very leaky to the view and light and air,’ says architect Tom Kundig. The structure also has its own rainwater collection system.
Bahareya Village by ECOnsult
Egyptian architect Sarah El Battouty, head of local studio ECOnsult, led the sustainable design of Bahareya Village, an eco-friendly compound for farm workers in the country’s Western Desert. Created to be home to the farming community engaged by organic tea producer Royal Herbs, the complex uses gravel manufactured from recycled construction waste for the base of its minimalist concrete structures. Cacti scattered throughout the campus offer splashes of greenery without compromising on a commitment to water efficiency. And a technique El Battouty borrowed from desert communities – raising the foundations of the buildings to create distance between the floor and therefore the rising heat from the land – reduces indoor temperatures by eight to ten degrees.
Cold Spring Residence by Alloy
This minimalist and highly eco-friendly house overlooking the Hudson River Valley is the country home of New York-based Alloy’s principal, architect and developer Jared Della Valle. Named Cold Spring Residence, the house sits on the land as lightly as possible. Della Valle worked with passive house sustainability standards to create his retreat, including solar panels for year-round energy, a well-insulated building envelope and careful management of the site’s water resources. The building is also partly sunken and cannot be seen from the street, aligning with its creator’s desire for a ‘a degree of modesty’, so that the architecture doesn’t compete with the striking surrounding natural landscape.
Copper Hill by BIG
The Amager Resource Center in Copenhagen, also known as Copenhill, is one of the city’s latest initiatives that put climate action to the forefront. Designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the building is essentially a rubbish burner; yet it’s also so much more than that. The structure houses an artificial ski slope, recreational hiking area and climbing wall on top of the waste-to-energy plant. Built using aluminium blocks, this piece of infrastructure aims to treat 400,000 tonnes of waste annually. The result is supplying 150,000 Danish households with district heating and 70,000 with electricity from non-recyclable waste.
Flying House by Martand Khosla
Created by architect Martand Khosla for a Delhi-based family of four, this weekend retreat in India’s Dharamshala is rooted in traditional materials and techniques. Set between farmland and a lush forest on the Dhauladhar mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Flying House has been built using local resources – stone, stabilised mud brick, slate and pine. A lot of the earth and stone dug out from the site during the foundation excavation went back into the construction. Building site wastage was minimised and a lot was recycled, making this house quite literally of its place. The construction uses stabilised mud brick, a method local workers were taught, using equipment from Development Alternatives (a social enterprise for sustainable solutions in India). This way, not only would the local stonemasons be able to build this particular house, but they would be able to master the craft and continue using it in the future.