Sustainable architecture: 43 innovative and inspiring building designs

Sustainable architecture is a complicated, multi-layered task. Architects need to consider materials, construction, performance and provenance of everything, as well as maintenance and afterlife – social sustainability is critical too. The green agenda should be at the top of everyone’s mind; and luckily, there are a few great projects to provide inspiration and help spearhead change. This is sustainable architecture at its best: the finest examples from across the globe, from amazing abodes to centres of care and hard-working offices. Scroll down, for the lowdown on sustainability’s key principles, as well as case studies of buildings that not only look good but also do good.

Urban sequoia model by SOM

Many architects have developed innovative ways to reduce that carbon debt, both in construction and during a building’s lifetime, through sustainable architecture. One of the industry’s giants, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), has unveiled a model for carbon-negative architecture – meet the ‘Urban Sequoia’.

(Image credit: press)

Table of Contents

Key sustainability principles in architecture

Sustainable architecture: a building’s life

Buildings have long lives – encompassing a past, present and future – and enhancing their sustainability credentials can be reflected in every step of their journey. Sustainably-minded architects ensure projects are constructed in a way that doesn’t burden their environment – be it through the use of locally sourced material that doesn’t travel miles and miles to reach the site, or through building methods that have minimal impact on their surroundings (from prefabrication to new-era concrete, such as Seratch’s carbon-neutral composite cement, which won the 2022 Obel Prize), respecting the existing context, natural and otherwise.

Once erected, making sure a project does its bit to support sustainable maintenance, energy consumption throughout its operational life, and fostering wellness (by minimizing exposure risks for its users to harmful substances, for example), is another important tick on the green building list. Smart ventilation, Passivhaus principles, and the use of natural materials can be equally beneficial to consider.

Kempegowda International Airport by SOM interior with hanging lamps

Kempegowda International Airport recently unveiled its new Terminal 2 structure, a pioneering design using green technologies and bamboo by architecture studio SOM with interiors by Enter Projects Asia. Located in Bengaluru (BLR Airport), southern India, this significant piece of transport infrastructure services one of the country’s largest cities – as well as its wider region. It is all conceived to uphold Bengaluru’s reputation as the ‘garden city’.

(Image credit: Ar. Ekansh Goel © Studio Recall)

Finally, architecture’s afterlife can also substantially add to a project’s claim to eco-friendliness. Many sustainable architecture examples are designed to be demountable and reusable – conceived with the inherent ability to be either completely moved and rebuilt elsewhere as needed, expanding their lifespan, or by recycling individual materials and components, helping, this way, the structure has a second life.

A long life is also important. The construction industry is responsible for a sizable chunk of the world’s carbon emissions, so once a building is up and out in the world, the best thing is to make sure it lives a long, healthy life. It can be designed to serve its purpose for some time; or it can be designed to be retrofitted and reimagined with ease in the future, as its users’ needs change. Overall, thinking about how to best expand a building’s life can play a key role in making it more sustainable.

view of the interior towards terrace at Apartamento Paraiso by Ruina

Apartamento Paraíso is Brazilian studio Rúina’s renovation of a first-floor apartment in the Edifício Olga Ferreira building in São Paulo. A previously fragmented space was transformed into a bright, open home brimming with expertly recycled and repurposed material touches.

(Image credit: Lauro Rocha)

Sustainable architecture’s social side


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