Imagine you’re living in the middle of a big city – but the view from your window shows nothing but lush green. From roofs and facades to balconies and terraces, you can see plants, flowers, herbs, and even vegetables growing everywhere.
Sounds too good to be true? Forward-thinking architects and planners beg to differ. To confront challenges such as the growing shortage of resources and residential space, they have worked out sustainable building designs that are “green” in every sense of the word.
When it comes to architecture, “green” not only refers to plants or garden landscapes. The key goal is sustainability – in social, ecological, and social terms. Which materials we use for our homes not only affects the indoor air quality and our own health. In the long run, it also has a considerable impact on our planet at large. Eco-friendly or “green” architecture follows a holistic approach that takes the entire life cycle of a building into consideration. This includes:
the use of long-lasting and recyclable materials such as concrete or wood
relying on renewable energy (e. g. solar, geothermal, or photovoltaic systems)
utilising a construction’s exposure to sunlight to minimise the energy expenditure
energy-efficient insulation with the help of natural materials such as hemp, sheep’s wool, flax, or straw
space-saving constructions that require as little ground sealing as possible
economical use of water
In theory, these guidelines may seem fairly simple. But how can we integrate green building designs into metropolitan areas? The following projects have come up with some creative solutions.
One of the biggest environmental projects to date can be found in Copenhagen, Denmark. Amager Bakke, a new waste-to-energy plant, serves two essential purposes at the same time: through the disposal of the city’s entire rubbish, it generates electricity and district heating for around 150,000 households. What makes this example of green architecture stand out in particular is its location. Danish architectural firm Bjarne Engels Group chose to place Amager Bakke not on the outskirts, but right within a local recreation area next to the waterside promenade. The massive construction, spanning a base area of 41,000 square metres (or seven football fields), thus blends into the surrounding park just like a huge hill. On the way to the top, visitors come across various attractions – from platforms with breath-taking views to climbing walls and a ski slope that is accessible all year long.
Fei and Chris Precht, the Chinese-Austrian duo behind Studio Precht, have also asked themselves: “How can eco-friendly architecture become part of our food production and thus help to provide for our growing population?“ Their answer is called “The Farmhouse“.
As its name suggests, this project combines two functions – farming and housing – through a modular system. The basic idea: build homes on cropland and grow crops on these homes. With triangular, stackable modules made of wood, the Farmhouse system is suitable for high-rises, single-family homes, or tiny houses. The gables serve as living spaces, complemented by V-shaped cubages to grow fruits and vegetables in between.
Energy efficiency ranks among the top priorities of any future-proof building project – including the European winery Shilda in Kakheti, Georgia. It consists of three wavelike parts which are literally embedded into the vineyards. From a bird’s eye view, you can hardly even spot the building. The distance between the grapevines (2.5 metres) matches the one between the arched steel girders, interjected by plenty of greens and glass. Thermal mass from the ground below serves to cool the building. Since the main facade is directed toward the north, the winery does not require any additional energy for air conditioning.
Did you know? Experts assume that by 2050, around 70 % of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Considering these numbers, the need for green architecture in cities will only continue to grow. With that in mind, the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV has developed the Valley: a complex that spans over three abundantly grassed towers. The first few floors are open to the public, with plenty of space for relaxed quality time in a park-like setting. On the upper floors, residents can enjoy a peaceful ambiance – and impressive view – on private terraces and balconies. The green building houses 198 flats in total, complete with a sky bar on the rooftop.
Another striking example for green architecture is located in the middle of a forest in Matarraña, Spain. Belgian architects Kersten Geers und David Van Severen chose this place to build their Solo House: a round, experimental holiday home set on a high plateau.
The main challenge of the project was to erect a virtually invisible construction that becomes one with the picturesque scenery around it.
To that end, Geers and Van Severen created a design reminiscent of a UFO: two concrete rings with a diameter of 45 metres form the ground floor and roof, supported by pillars and panoramic windows in between. The facades can be opened up completely, erasing the boundaries that separate inside from outside. Photovoltaic modules on the rooftop generate thermal and electrical energy, which can be stored for later usage.
Put simply, the main goal of green architecture is to design eco-friendly buildings. In order to achieve that, we have to find solutions that will work not only for the next few years, but for decades to come.
Sustainability remains the key on every step of the way – from sourcing and processing materials down to recycling them.