10 of the world’s most sustainable buildings
Nature can throw a lot at us. As the effects of climate change become more prominent, we need to find innovative ways to climate-proof our buildings and make everyday life more sustainable. These projects show us the way.
The skyscraper held the title of world’s tallest for five years before the Burj Khalifa surpassed it, but Taipei 101 is still pretty darn tall at 1,667 feet. It’s also on an island prone to typhoons featuring winds that can exceed 130 mph. To stay standing during those powerful storms and earthquakes, Taipei 101 features a tuned mass damper built by A&H Custom Machine. The damper, suspended between the 87th and 92nd floors atop hydraulic cylinders that let the big ball of circular steel plates sway to counteract any movement of the building, keeps it stable when the wind blows or ground shakes.
Woodside Building for Technology and Design
Australia’s Monash University opened the building in February 2020 as a “living laboratory.” The five-story, 215,000-square-foot building is Passive House-certified and part of the university’s drive to have its campuses in Melbourne and internationally be net zero by 2030. The 50,000-sq.-ft. roof is covered with solar panels that help the building operate at 35% of the energy levels comparably sized buildings use. “We went through a process of questioning all the standard solutions because they did not work for the dimensions and complexity of this kind of educational building,” Alberto Sangiorgio, a sustainability team leader at Grimshaw, told Architectural Record.
The Vertical Forest towers in Milan’s Porta Nuova district focus on the relationship between humans and other living species. About 800 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 15,000 perennials and/or ground-covering plants provide an amount of vegetation equivalent to more than 300,000 square feet of woodland while taking up a tenth of that in surface area in the dense urban landscape. The plants regulate humidity, produce oxygen, and absorb carbon dioxide from the residential and office spaces. The Boeri Studio-designed towers won the International Highrise Award and feature a team of “flying gardeners,” arborists/climbers who use mountaineering techniques to scale the buildings and prune the greenery.
Favela de Paz
The favelas (slums) of Brazil’s big cities are among the poorest and most inhospitable urban neighborhoods. The “Favela of Peace” in Sao Paulo is a sustainability project founded by musician Claudio Miranda and his bandmates from Poesia Samba Soul aimed at transforming them into self-sustaining communities. The neighborhood includes a biodigester that converts organic waste into methane gas and fertilizer for the hydroponic permaculture system. Rainwater collection and a solar water heater facilitate hot showers. Project Vegeart conducts sustainable and healthy cooking classes for kids using biogas generated in the neighborhood as a heating source.
Richardsville Elementary School
The first net zero school in the U.S., this learning institution in Warren County, Ky., uses less than a quarter of the energy the average U.S. elementary school uses, and it uses solar panels to generate that energy. Magnifying tubes in classroom ceilings pump sunlight instead of relying on artificial light. On the ground floor, light trays bounce sunlight off the ceilings to light the rooms. The gym floor is made from bamboo wood, and other floors in the school are made with a soy-based stained concrete that doesn’t need buffing. The kitchen eliminates heat by using a combi-oven to steam-cook rather than using grease and ventilation hoods.
The world’s northernmost energy-positive building is in Trondheim, Norway. It stores solar energy on long summer days to use when they shorten in the winter. Overall, it produces more than double the amount of energy it consumes on a daily basis, powering nearby buildings, electric buses, cars, and boats on its own microgrid. The waterfront site was strategically selected to maximize sun exposure for the roof’s solar panels, and the building uses seawater for its heating and cooling systems, which optimize airflow to avoid waste. Powerhouse Brattørkaia has received the BREEAM Outstanding certification, the highest possible ranking by the world’s leading sustainability assessment method.
The program has expanded to New Zealand, South Africa, and Tulum, but it’s the original Bali school that we highlight here. It won the 2021 Architecture MasterPrize for its new gym, The Arc, a series of interconnected bamboo arches that are strengthened by curving in two directions. The classrooms have no walls, to blend with the natural world, and a wall-less yoga studio sits on a riverside. “We have a living campus where nature is our teacher, and her lessons are experienced through all the senses,” Green School’s website states. “Motor skills and cognitive development can be enhanced through walking, climbing, running, slipping, sliding and, best of all, creating adventures that are limited only by their imaginations.”
Sara Cultural Centre
Skellefteå, Sweden, has a long tradition of timber buildings, and this project completed in 2021 is one of the world’s tallest timber structures. A 20-story hotel with views for miles rises above the cultural center, which contains a theater, art gallery, library, and museum. The hotel is made from prefabricated cross-laminated timber modules. The wood came from locally managed forests and the building is powered 100% by hydroelectricity. That and rooftop solar panels allow the center to disconnect from the city grid during peak times. Mighty impressive for a wood structure just south of the Arctic Circle.
Not only will it be home to a Center for Climate Solutions, the island in New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn is a climate solution in itself. The Hills section of the island gradually builds up to a 70-foot elevation, protecting the island from storms and floods. They held up during Superstorm Sandy, which left Governors Island unscathed despite inflicting major damage just a few hundred yards away on Manhattan. The Hills even incorporate the former seawall, no longer necessary thanks to The Hills, as a staircase in the former military base turned public park. They offer panoramic views of New York City as well as keeping the island above water.
Singita Volcanoes National Park
The park is one of the best spots in the world to go gorilla-trekking, and Singita Kwitonda Lodge and Kataza House are part of the One Planet Sustainability framework, 10 guiding principles that guide all of Singita’s operations. The lodges conserve water, run on renewable energy, use sustainable food sources, and protect the land and wildlife around them. “It is our singular and enduring purpose to create habitats that are as close to their natural state as possible, provide refuge for indigenous (and often vulnerable) species, and to empower local communities,” Singita says.