11 Most Effective Sustainable Architecture Buildings in The World

Thet Hnin Su Aung

13 mins read

September 23

An aerial view of CopenHill with its surrounding site
What comes to mind when you think of sustainable architecture? Is it all green buildings covered with plants everywhere in the project? Or perhaps high-tech buildings that rely solely on clean energy sources and advanced technology for efficiency? Both types of projects are commonly found when searching for sustainable design. However, in true sustainable architecture, buildings must be designed to be environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable. Let’s see how some of the most renowned green buildings in the world delivered sustainability.

What is sustainable architecture?

Sustainable architecture is a design typology sprung from the need and the aim to reduce the negative impact on the environment from construction projects. Architects of the modern age have been making tremendous efforts to design environmentally responsive and responsible buildings to help combat the climate crisis. Nowadays, sustainable design is hardly considered a style of its own, but one that can be incorporated into any style or typology of architecture.

Many famous sustainable architects, each with his/her own design philosophies, have proven in the past decades that sustainability can come in different versions and the younger generation of architects are following suit with both old and new approaches.

11 Most Effective Sustainable Architecture Buildings in The World

1. CopenHill by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

A view of the metal facade of the CopenHill from the side of the ski slope

CopenHill by BIG (Source: https://urbannext.net/copenhill/)

Built in line with the plan for Copenhagen, Denmark, to become the first carbon-neutral city by 2025, CopenHill is a waste-to-energy plant designed with a sustainable approach. Its form is not the only design element that stands out; the 10,000 m2 green roof doubles as a ski slope and a hiking trail! Such a large green roof undoubtedly promotes biodiversity on the site while absorbing heat and filtering the air. It is not only a powerplant, but also a public space – a recreation centre that fosters activities for all ages.

2. The Friendship Hospital by Kasef Chowdhury of Urbana

An aerial view of the Friendship Hospital seen against the surrounding rice fields

The Friendship Hospital, Bangladesh (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/)

The Friendship Hospital in the rural Bangladesh delta houses 80 beds with a sustainable and low-cost design approach. It is not a high-tech building; instead, it is a sustainable architecture building that uses the passive design approach, regulating temperature along with natural ventilation thereby reducing the reliance on artificial energy. The pavilion-like building blocks form courtyards that ventilate the wards while providing shaded resting places outside. The construction employed only local materials and craftsmen. This simple design that is responsive to both humans and nature earned the RIBA International Prize in 2021 for demonstrating a socially impactful design.

3. Startup Lions (SLAK) campus by Kéré Architecture

an exterior view of two of the towered buildings at Startup Lions (SLAK) campus

Startup Lions campus in Kenya (Source: https://www.kerearchitecture.com/)

Designed by Francis Kéré, the 2022 Pritzker Prize winner, the sustainable campus for Startup Lions Assets Kenya (SLAK) boasts a sensitive and responsive approach to both site and the local community. You might be surprised by its design concept; inspired by termite mounds, the design focuses on passive ventilation. Termite mounds are an easy find in the local landscape which means they can survive in the harsh climatic conditions of Kenya. The three towers, the most iconic part of the building, help to remove warm air that has ascended in the interiors. Fresh air replaces the warm air through long window slits. Kéré ensured further sustainability with the installation of solar panels on top to produce electricity on site.

4. Apple Park by Foster + Partners

Aerial view of Apple Park

Apple park (Source: https://www.insider.com/)

The headquarters of Apple Inc. in Cupertino, California, is designed by Foster + Partners and has been considered an architectural marvel. The neo-futuristic complex is a ring-shaped building designed to run on sustainable energy from the solar panels on top of the structure. The glare to the interiors is reduced by the canopies installed between each floor. It is the largest LEED platinum-certified office building in North America with renewable energy, green spaces and innovative ventilation systems. The Ring Building is not the only building on the complex. Within the inner circular compound lies the Visitors’ Center, Steve Jobs Theater and Fitness & Wellness Center.

5. Gardens by the Bay by Wilkinson Eyre

View of the domes and the Supertrees across the water

Gardens by the Bay Singapore (Source: https://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/)

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is a horticultural attraction that also exhibits technological innovation for sustainable architecture. The entire garden complex comprises two greenhouse conservatories – the largest of its kind in the world – and the iconic Supertrees among other attractions. Despite the size of the gardens, the architects and engineers worked to minimise energy consumption with passive cooling elements like materials and shading. The facade for the conservatories is designed to control surface temperature and transmission and there’s also an air supply system that conditions air at a low level. The Gardens don’t simply have one or two sustainable approaches to the design. Rather, the entire design incorporates sustainability at the core. Thanks to the efforts, Garden by the Bay has earned Green Mark Award (Platinum) at 2021 BCA (Building and Construction Authority of Singapore) Awards.

6. The Edge by PLP Architecture

Architectural rendering of the Edge building

The Edge (Source: https://edge.tech/)

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), the UK’s sustainability rating agency, called this building ‘the greenest in the world’, giving it the highest sustainability score ever. If other buildings in this list focus on passive design and sustainable materials, the Edge in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is all about technological innovation. The design aims to be sustainable with efficient energy consumption using solar panels installed at the south side of the building. It works so well that the solar panels are able to generate enough energy for all electrical consumption by all employees in the building.

Sustainable architecture and green architecture are terms used interchangeably, although they have slight differences in criteria. Understand what green architecture buildings are with these examples of 15 Best Green Building Projects Around the World.

7. The Atelier by Biome Environmental Solutio

the interiors of the Atelier designed with cardboard tubes and tree-like structures

Interiors of the Atelier school (Source: https://www.biome-solutions.com/)

Unique materials and building techniques make The Atelier by Biome Environmental Solution sustainable, economical and playful, fitting to its purpose. The school, located in Bangalore, India, has been designed as a temporary structure (due to site limitations) that can be dismantled to recover all materials. These materials and components – such as paver block flooring and paper tube partition walls – can be reused at some point to construct the same building elsewhere or for a completely new building.

Do you know that Biome Environmental Solution is also one of the top architecture firms leading the way for BIM technology in India? It’s through BIM that they digitise sustainable architecture, building both green and innovative projects.

8. The PLUS by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

Architectural rendering of the PLUS building surrounded by the forest

The PLUS factory (Source: https://www.wallpaper.com/)

Dubbed the world’s most environmentally friendly furniture factory and set to receive BREEAM’s highest rating, The Plus is an envision of Vestre, a furniture manufacturer, and BIG. It is located in the middle of a forest in Norway; a rather unexpected location for a factory but fitting for the factory’s sustainable approach. As is the case with many other projects by BIG, the design approach is not only sustainable but also playful. The building’s glass facade hides away among the trees, only letting its enormous form be visible up close. In addition to the green roof and solar panels, sustainability is enhanced by geothermal walls and heat pumps that extract excess heat in the interiors generated by the factory’s production. What’s more, over 50 percent of carbon emission from the production processes is reduced.

9. Powerhouse Telemark by Snøhetta

The Powerhouse Telemark building at dusk

The Powerhouse Telemark (Source: https://snohetta.com/)

Powerhouse Telemark received the first BREEAM-NOR certification in the Telemark region, obtaining the second highest level for its energy efficiency and standards for comfort and functionality as the proof of its sustainable architecture. The building was designed by Snøhetta to generate more electricity than it consumes as a solar cell plant. The facade and roof are covered with solar panels to generate electricity for consumption and any surplus is delivered to the grid. Despite consisting of 11 floors with modern facilities, its yearly net energy consumption is reduced by 70% compared to similar new constructions, hence making it both environmentally and economically sustainable.

10. 63rd House by Studio Gang

The aerial view of 63rd House and its rooftop covered with solar panels

The 63rd House for Blue Tin production (Source: https://studiogang.com/)

Sustainable design does not necessarily have to involve a huge, brand new building fitted with the latest technologies. The term ‘adaptive reuse’ has been around for years as a sustainable architecture strategy, and adopted by many projects by established firms, to revitalise outdated and/or abandoned buildings. Some even believe that it is better to reuse old buildings rather than continue the urban sprawl.

63rd House in southwest Chicago by Studio Gang is a good example of adaptive reuse of a 1920 brick post office for the headquarters of Blue Tin production. The apparel manufacturer wanted a space to house their sewing studios as well as spaces catering to the well-being of its workers. The aim of the design was to achieve net-zero emission, and so the architects installed PV panels on the roof to generate energy to power the building. The vegetation on top of the roof and around the perimeter also promote biodiversity and green spaces, in stark contrast to conventional sewing studios or factories.

11. Elbphilharmonie by Herzog & de Meuron

The aerial view of Elbphilharmonie against HafenCity

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall building (Source: https://arquitecturaviva.com/en)

Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, is another example of adaptive reuse as an element of sustainable architecture. The building is a mixed-use project consisting of a philharmonic hall, smaller music halls, restaurants, bars and residential spaces. The current building was designed superimposed on an existing warehouse building known as Kaispeicher, and the deliberate juxtaposition of the old and new design is plain to see. The facade made of curved glass panels resembles an iridescent crystal that changes the reflections in it with the movement of the sun and the surroundings.

In addition to being known for its adaptive reuse, Elbphilharmonie building is also famous for its carved glass facade. You can read about it and other interesting facades here: 10 Fascinating Parametric Facade Design Projects From Around The World.

The scope of sustainable architecture is growing as more architects and engineers explore and test new designs and technologies to counter environmental crises. Its growing scope and implementation has given rise to new career specialisations in the industry that being a sustainable architect is no longer the only relevant career option

For more insights on sustainable architecture and careers, visit our Resources page.

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