From forest cities in China, to the world’s largest waste-to-energy power plant with a ski slope rooftop in Copenhagen; we look at a few global destinations that are making truly sustainable buildings the norm.
Across the world, humans are creating exceedingly innovative ways to fight climate change. In our travels, we have seen some of the world's greenest buildings, but how do these pioneers of architectural innovation contribute to this goal of working to save the planet? To find out, check out some of the world’s smartest and greenest buildings below.
In many places in the world, air pollution levels can exceed 50 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) deems to be safe. Although the source of the pollution is the primary problem, green architecture can play an important role in helping to curb pollution’s effects.
In the Liuzhou region of China, for example, entire forest cities are currently being developed to help absorb up to 10,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, as well as produce 900 tonnes of oxygen. Italian architect Stefano Boeri is behind the project. Boeri and his firm have already designed and built two buildings towering over in Milan known as the “vertical forests”, or Bosco Verticale. Buildings like these are not only good for our physical health, but also have a positive effect on our psychological well-being too.
London, United Kingdom
London, in the United Kingdom, is leading the way in making ‘living walls’ an essential part of the city’s infrastructure. Living walls help to purify the city’s air, which is typically full of toxic carbon emissions stemming from car exhausts, construction sites, high-energy buildings, and more.
Green walls, full of an abundance of different plants, have the ability to absorb these harmful chemicals, and in exchange release oxygen! Living walls can even be placed indoors to increase interior oxygen levels.
It is likely that green walls will be an integral part of our cities in the future, as it is predicted that 75% of all people will be living in cities by 2050. This will mean that an additional three billion people will be moving into urban districts, and we therefore have to adapt our infrastructure to cater to this increased demand.
In 2019, we travelled to the beautiful city of Barcelona, where green architecture was being used to improve the psychological well-being of its citizens. The demolition of an old building in one of the city’s districts left an ugly dividing wall facing the streets. Its high visibility in a busy location had a particularly negative impact on the city’s landscape, so architect Capella Garcia came up with a solution to create a vertical garden that wrapped around and attached to the side of the existing wall. The vertical garden of Bunker Catalana, also known as the first green building to be built in Barcelona, not only softened the previous eye-sore, but also provided passersby with a connection to nature.
Interior access to the vertical garden is possible too, allowing upkeep of the greenery to be done from the inside. The wall also, however, contains a network of connected tubes that automatically feed the plants with programmed doses of water and fertiliser. This has created a new ecosystem that encourages biodiversity, and has also formed a natural habitat for a variety of birds whose homes were once affected by urban development.
The plants provide shade from the heat of the Spanish sun, dramatically reducing the air conditioning requirements inside of the building, and providing shade to the offices next door. Strengthening the bond between people and nature encourages them to be more environmentally conscious of their own moods and habits.
Park Royal Hotel, Singapore
Singapore is a city that experiences what is known as the ‘heat island effect’, or an urban area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. Because of this, the city is taking green architecture to a whole new level. Singapore now has one of the highest population densities in the world; however, before the 19th century, it was covered in lush rainforests, and the only inhabitants were animals who had perfectly adapted to the hot and humid climate.
In the 19th century, mass deforestation occurred and the trees were replaced with concrete, roads, and people, causing the average temperature of the region to increase dramatically. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of greenery within the city in an attempt to reduce the heat island effect within the city centre. During our time in Singapore, we experienced the intense heat, but noticed that the use of greenery and water features at the street level helped keep us cool.
In the Park Royal Hotel, greenery plays an integral role in the overall design of the building. It has won numerous awards for sustainable and green efforts, including the BCA Green Mark Platinum, which is Singapore's highest green building rating. The building reinforces Singapore's tropical image, as well as enhances the quality of life for its guests. Here, the guests have spaces where they can be completely immersed in nature. Even the building’s concrete infrastructure has been shaped to resemble layers of bedrock, known as a form of topographical architecture. This shows that nature can not only be used for practicality and efficiency, but can also be used as a design inspiration.
The Oasia Hotel, Singapore
Also in Singapore, the Oasia Hotel is wrapped entirely in a red ‘skin’ of mesh material. This mesh allows plants to grow on the facade itself. In total, the building hosts 54 species of plants and trees, greatly improving the biodiversity within the city. The 190-metre tall building has large sections cut out to break up the facade, and allow cross-ventilation into the building. These open garden spaces act as a mini oasis in the centre of the busy business district.
Oasia’s green façade totals over 25,000 square metres, while the plot of land the building sits on is only 2,500 square metres. This means the building achieves an overall greenery replacement of more than ten times the site area. Like other living façades, the building generates oxygen and absorbs CO2, and is also able to filter out dust, fumes, and pollution from the air.
Super Trees, Singapore
Finally, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Singapore–the Super Trees in the Gardens by the Bay–is an incredible feat in green architecture. The man-made structures are designed to emulate the biological behaviour of trees. The 18 super trees within the gardens incorporate technologies like cooling channels to help moderate the temperature of the surrounding environment, and photovoltaics to harvest energy from the sun for the evening light show. At their trunks, are also information plaques that teach the public the importance of trees for our survival.
In Hamburg, a more scientific approach to green architecture was taken. Algae and the process of photosynthesis is being used to turn the sun’s energy into fuel. The algae rapidly grows within glass panels, where it is then extracted and put into a bio-converter that turns the algae into biomass. This biomass can then be used for a number of things: it can be a source of food for humans and animals, it can power cars, as well as create electricity and heat for the people living in the building. Whilst we were there, we were told that the process was producing so much energy, that the surrounding buildings were able to be powered too.
Finally, the Amager Bakke waste-to-energy power plant, also known as Copenhill, in Copenhagen allows the public to directly engage with the energy sector, by creating a public park and ski slope in winter on its roof.
Inside the factory, 440,000 tonnes of waste are being converted into clean energy annually. From a distance, you see the toxin-free steam being released into the atmosphere, said to be as fresh as mountain air. This building has shown that creating a sustainable future doesn’t have to be limiting, and it can actually make our lives more enjoyable. The architect Bjarke Ingles hopes that this project will inspire those across the world to create architecture that is both having a positive impact on the public, and will save the environment.
Green architecture does of course propose some problems, however, but all of which have solutions. It can lead to additional costs of initial construction, but in the long term, can lead to saving a lot of money. Similarly, external greenery also adds more weight to the structure, but if incorporated in the original designs, this shouldn’t be an issue.
My takeaway from visiting these amazing places is that green architecture can be implemented pretty much anywhere. I expect to see green architecture used a lot more in the future to help with pollution, as well as to help combat climate change.