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As human beings gain a greater understanding of the world and their part in it, every aspect of how we’ve been living gets called into question.From our hairspray that depletes the ozone layer to the emissions from vehicles that contribute to the heating of the earth through greenhouse gases, it seems there is no part of human existence that doesn’t have to be revamped if we want our planet to stay healthy

Image via Flaticon

Among these changes is a fundamental part of modern life: living in a house. Luckily, a new wave of sustainable architecture is gaining more awareness and acceptance. Eco villages, global sustainability initiatives, and green lifestyle communes have been popping up all over the world.If we want to continue living on this planet that provides so many of our needs; we need to embrace sustainable architecture.

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Key Considerations of Sustainable Architecture

sustainable architecture example showing building with living plants on large terraces
Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

For many people, especially those inundated with the colonial or excessively modern aesthetics associated with architecture, being sustainable in building a house might conjure images of storage containers and dirt huts. 

Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. Many types of modern sustainable architecture are not only beautiful; they often outshine more traditional types of architecture in terms of beauty.

For that very reason, we have compiled our list of homes and buildings that utilize sustainable architecture. We hope that those who are skeptical about the aesthetic quality of sustainable architecture will be swayed by the aesthetic appeal of these structures.

Those that are already moving toward this lifestyle should  also find inspiration and visual tips for constructing their own, environmentally friendly, earth-saving houses in this article.

We’ll list each of the twenty examples we’ve chosen and explore them in detail. First, however, we will answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about sustainable architecture. This includes:

What Is Sustainable Architecture?

All houses are built to last, right? Well, not exactly. Many homes are projected to stay standing for a long time, but many of these draw resources from the periphery of their given society at a rate which highly outpaces the resources drawn for environmentally friendly houses.

It goes without saying that no matter how hardy you think your house is, nothing will remain if we continue smogging our air with greenhouse gases and punching a hole in our ozone with our airborne toxins.

It is for that reason that countries like Wales have adopted the “One Planet Development” policy, which grants land to families that can improve a seven acre plot and prove that 65% of their basic needs are met by the land within five years. This was of great importance because the average Welsh citizen draws in three times the amount of resources than the average human being.

Sustainable architecture refers not to the length of time a building exists, but to the way in which the homestead does not overly tax the resources of the planet. For example, you may be able to build a house out of durable plastic that will never weather or decay but that simultaneously poisons the watershed on which it is built.

The sustainability that this type of architecture references is that of the planet itself.You must remember that no house is built to withstand the rising of the tides as the ice caps melt. We’re all on this raft amid a hostile cosmic ocean, and it seems that some folks are content just to keep running the air conditioner as they set fire to the sails. 

But those people are becoming fewer and fewer. Sustainable architecture creates houses that operate within their means, and if we have any chance of surviving the trials and tribulations that our own ignorance has set before us, we must start by living within those means.

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Why Is Sustainable Architecture Important?

Whether you believe we evolved on this planet or that we were placed here by a cosmic intelligence, it is true that Earth is the only home humanity has known. We can keep dreaming of excursions to Mars, which we can imagine terraforming into something vaguely breathable in a thousand years or so. But those are currently just dreams.We are part and parcel of this planet and abandoning it to over-development and under-consideration would be a sad state of affairs. Yet, this is the path we have been on for years. Nearly every economic model relies on “growth.”

The talking heads on the news quote the rise in GDP and GNP like it is an inherent good while failing to realize that promoting a model of infinite growth on a planet of limited resources is insane.The only way forward seems to be a model in which as many resources for one’s home can be gleaned from the land the home is on. The sustainable architecture movement values plots that grow their own food, use smart design to heat and cool the home, and communities that meet each other’s needs locally, rather than pulling resources from a distant periphery.

Top Examples of Sustainable Architecture

Council House 2, Melbourne, Australia


The first building to be awarded the Six Green Star Rating, the Council House in Melbourne is more than just a beautiful piece of architecture. The site does more than other buildings to remain conscious of the environment while pushing innovation forward.

Carbon emissions in the building were and are reduced by features such as the gas-fired cogeneration plants. In addition, there is a drop in energy consumption of over 85% percent due to solar panels and new, innovative lighting technology.

DPR Construction Phoenix Regional Office, Phoenix, Arizona


This building has also won awards for its sustainability and green design, earning the Net Zero Energy Building certification besides the LEED-NC Platinum Certification. But this net zero energy award winner does more than save the planet. 

The carefully planned design mimics elements of other famous buildings, bringing to mind elements of the De Young in San Francisco.

The clever design and reduction of an imprint was achieved by incorporating 87 windows. These high tech windows respond to the need of the internal temperature of the building, opening and closing as the air needs more or less insulation or humidity.

In addition, the building uses more technology that was developed during the 1990s by pioneering earth ship engineers, using the natural design of shape and physics to influence the air temperature.

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Shanghai Tower, China


Clocking in at 128 stories tall, the Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world. Additionally, the Shanghai Tower is both LEED Core and Shell Platinum verified. This means that it is not just an impossibly tall building is also an award winning piece of architecture.

Just like Earthships, the tower was constructed using locally sourced materials. Some of these materials went even one step further for sustainability as they were recycled. However, the building sacrifices none design quality being recycled and re-purposed.

In fact, the building maintains a curved design to withstand wind resistance and maintain safety.The double skin front serves to additionally insulate the building, remaining more sustainable that other counterparts. 

Combine these features with sky gardens, rainwater harvesting, vertical wind turbines, and black water treatment to create a picture of the amount of increased sustainability with this project.

The Edge, Netherlands


The Netherlands is not a surprising place to hear about sustainability or green initiatives hitting public consciousness. In fact, the country regularly tries to promote such agendas. The Netherlands is home to the building,

The Edge, which achieved 98.36% when tested for environmental methodology. This is in fact the best score ever received in this assessment.Similar to the Shanghai Tower, the Edge strives to incorporate rainwater harvesting, special LED light bulbs, and occupancy monitoring.

Additionally, the building focuses on sustainable resources like solar power and aquifer monitoring.

Bullitt Center, Washington


This next building is also an internal award winning project and experiment in sustainability. In Seattle, Washington, the Bullitt center was the very first of its kind to win a Living Future Challenge. The building is beautiful, sacrificing nothing to compete with its surroundings in terms of architectural merit.

Featuring almost 600 solar panels that generate 60% of the building’s energy, the sun is a real powerhouse for the occupants. The building has a 56,000 gallon cistern for rainwater collection, supplying the water for the building without sacrificing the environment.

The building has been constructed using sustainable practices, using ethics of forestry that will keep the planet breathing for a long time. All of this adds up to a very profitable and important look into the future of green building.

One Angle Square, UK


Besides the award winning nature, the most impressive component of this piece of architecture is the sight of the building at night. Absolutely gorgeous, the building becomes a beacon of the marriage between sustainable practices and an aesthetic future.

There are also the green building aspects of One Angle Square in Manchester, UK, which highlight a new future in architecture for Britain. The building received the highest rank on the BREEAM, making it an award winner with the best on our list. 

The office building uses rainwater harvesting and recycling in addition to a solar build design to keep on top of the green building competition.

Bahrain World Trade Center, Bahrain


Located in the heart of Manama, Bahrain, the World Trade Center features three sky bridges that use wind turbines, harvesting power for the building. While the practice does not generate enough power for the entire building, the green project is making huge leaps and bounds towards sustainability.

Bank of America Tower, USA


In downtown Manhattan, the Bank of America Tower is another environmentally, friendly office. While it wins no awards for aesthetics, the tower has many green components to its build that make it a unique building in the USA.

The tower is the first skyscraper to receive the Platinum LEED Certification in the United States. Features that helped the building to win this award include recycled building materials, rainwater harvesting for usage, and increased insulation.

The Change Initiative Building, UAE


Bigger buildings can also be incorporated into the green building scheme. The Change Initiative Building in the UAE follows this structure nicely. The shopping complex boasts a 4,000 square meter design, using solar panels, heat reflective paint, and recycled materials for the build.

The Crystal, UK


More than just a venue, The Crystal in the UK is the world’s most sustainable event place. Features that helped the venue to win its title are impressive, including the fact that the venue generates 90% of its own water. The solar and thermal components of the buildings performance are also impressive.

One Bryant Park, USA


Another notable green building in the USA is One Bryant Park. It might be considered the world’s greenest skyscraper, although the color might better be described as gray. The building is an award winning leader in sustainability innovation, achieving waterless urinals. It also boasts a host of other accomplishments in the buildings belt.

Pearl River Tower, China


Guangzhou, China can boast a 309 meter tower that is more than sustainable. WIth features such as low energy lighting, wind turbines, and solar panels the building itself generates and saves a ton of power.

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Powerhouse Kjørbo, Norway


The Powerhouse in Norway shows more than sustainability because of the clever design of the building. Renovated rather than planned, the site shows it is possible to be more green than before, so the ship has not sailed on saving the planet.

Aside from a ton of sustainable features regarding building materials and water processing, the building generates 100% of its own energy created by solar panels. This building shows a new look going forward.

Micro Emission Sun-Moon Mansion, China


The Micro Emission Sun-Moon Mansion in China is the biggest solar-harnessing structure in the world. You might remember this building from when it hosted the International Solar Cities Conference in 2010. Its distinctive fan-like roofing is covered all over with solar panels, and its energy saving sun shades help save this building over 2.5 tons of coal per year.

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, UAE


The United Arab Emirates may be built on the backs of oil tycoons, but that doesn’t mean it is lacking in sustainable architecture. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology does a 51% better job of preserving electricity than its competition, and it is over 50% more effective in conserving water.

Vancouver Convention Center West, Canada


Another highly sustainable building from Canada, the Vancouver Convention Center West uses sea water temperature control, a green roofing setup, a habitat for fish, and an on-site water treatment plant. It recycles about 80,000 kg of what would be considered waste per year.

Vanke Center, China


Naysayers often point to China’s smog to pin it as an “environmentally unfriendly” place. However, buildings like the Vanke Center in Shanghai are clear counterexamples. The Vanke Center is a horizontal skyscraper that sports a landscaped garden.

The design allows for natural air insulation and incorporates multiple types of tropical plants that clean the air. It is even tsunami proof and has a LEED Platinum rating.

Manitoba Hydro Place, Canada


Water constantly flows across the surface of the earth. Rivers, waterfalls, tides, and springs can all be harnessed to generate power. Leave it to Manitoba Hydro to develop a building that offers self-renewable water power.

This headquarters incorporates many elements that respond to climatic changes, meaning its insulation and humidity stay comfortable even in a changing environment.

Qatar National Conference Center, Qatar


This conference center in Qatar is the first building of its kind to be LEED Gold Certified. It is designed to use fixtures that have extremely low waste in terms of both energy and water. It even outclasses similarly “eco-friendly” buildings that have similar designs in the capital city. Some, it even outclasses by an impressive 32%.

CIS Tower, UK


The office skyscraper may be the very image of excessive height and output, but the CIS Tower in the UK proves that a building of this sort can still be based on sustainable architecture.

Not originally a “green” design, an extensive renovation covered the facade with solar cells and wind turbines that now generate every bit of electricity for the building. How much power do they generate exactly? These green practices generate over a whopping 180,000 kWh of electricity.

Sustainable Architecture: Conclusion


We hope that more countries follow Wales’s lead and adopt the One Planet Development policies. The community in Pembrokeshire called Lammas is leading the way in this sort of sustainable architecture and proves to the world that such a program works and its people thrive.

But you do not have to move to Wales to embrace sustainable architecture. The principles behind permaculture farms, earthships, and cob housing can all be used in whole or in part in nearly any environment.

If humanity is going to survive the drastic changes that nearly every environmental expert is forecasting, we will need a healthy dose of inspiration and creativity.The future is either green or it is red (as in fiery, bloody red).

We hope that these examples of sustainable architecture have inspired you to look further into principles of sustainability and that you may be soon living in a joyous community of peers, all of whom wish to save the planet.