Buildings account for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of the world’s energy consumption and 40% of raw materials. While existing building stock will require largescale retrofitting to meet net-zero carbon goals, we also need a higher sustainability bar for new buildings.
Following an international open call, exemplary projects were selected for a virtual reality online exhibition of the world's greenest buildings as part of global climate summit COP26. The projects demonstrate the opportunities to tackle the climate change emergency and limit the environmental impact of buildings and cities.
From one of the world’s tallest timber buildings in Sweden, to a school made from bamboo in Indonesia and an eco-tourism initiative to restore a national park in Rwanda, Build Better Now features 17 solutions to build more sustainably.
Here are some of the top picks. Visit the exhibition here.
Green standards at scale with a conventional budget
Monash Woodside Building for Technology and Design, Melbourne, Australia
The Woodside Building is an important project for the global construction industry as it demonstrates that well-insulated airtight buildings that meet the highest sustainability standards can be constructed at scale with conventional budgets.
“There has been a strong growth in the number of large-scale sustainable buildings constructed in Australia with over 3,050 Certified Green Star buildings. The next step is to design and build the new and refurbished net-zero carbon buildings needed to reduce the impacts of climate change, and it is essential that building envelope performance is greatly improved.” - Andrew Cortese, Managing Partner, Grimshaw.
The butterfly effect: Scottish Highlands meets Australian biodiversity
The Natural Capital Laboratory, Scotland, United Kingdom
The Natural Capital Laboratory is a high-tech rewilding project, restoring native forest and peatlands and reintroducing locally extinct species to 100 acres of land in the Scottish Highlands. The project brings together scientists, conservationists and built environment experts to monitor environmental change and measure the value created by the environment. The team uses remote sensing, drones, virtual reality, augmented reality and eDNA, to monitor environmental change. The findings are published online each year to enable others to undertake similar projects.
And how is this improving Australia’s biodiversity? Not only is the data shared globally for everyone to learn from, but the project is also replicable via country-specific versions of the Natural Capital Laboratory. The team is in the early stages of launching a Natural Capital Laboratory South in Australia, with the aim of expanding to a globally connected network of sites pioneering and sharing innovations to tackle environmental problems.
Going beyond net zero to energy positive - future-proof offices
Powerhouse Brattørkaia, Trondheim, Norway
Powerhouse Brattørkaia is the largest new-build energy-positive office building in Trondheim, Norway. The use of solar energy compensates for all of the energy used over the building’s lifecycle, as well as extremely low energy consumption. Powerhouse Brattørkaia was also built as a fossil fuel-free construction site (with no direct carbon emissions).
The building generates more renewable energy during its operational phase than was used during the construction phase (including embodied energy of materials and potential disposal). Surplus renewable energy is supplied to neighbouring buildings, as well as electric buses in Trondheim.
Carbon negative footprint in one of the world’s tallest timber buildings
Sara Cultural Centre, Skellefteå, Sweden
The primary inspiration behind the design was Skellefteå’s long tradition of timber building; spruce and fir were sourced locally from sustainably managed forests, located within 200km from the site and processed in a sawmill 50km away.
The building relies on an innovative energy system, connected to the urban district heating and cooling grid, powered by 100% hydroelectric power. A geothermal heat pump and 1,200m2 of solar panels on roofs and top floor façades help to switch from the urban grid during peak loads, avoiding unnecessary activation of the grid’s fossil fuel back-up power source.
Sustainable, ethical tourism amplifying conservation efforts
Singita Volcanoes National Park, Ruhengeri, Rwanda
Reducing energy consumption was an intrinsic part of the building design, resulting in a low-impact mechanically assisted natural ventilation and cooling system; The Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) model estimated that the building would be 44% more energy efficient than a similar traditional building. Additionally, the project’s regional grid supply is made up of 100% hydro-generated power.
The surrounding area has been rewilded, combining multiple farmed subsections into one large buffer zone for Volcanoes National Park. The lodge’s on-site nursery, Akarabo, planted 250,000 indigenous orchids, forest shrubs, bamboo shoots and trees as part of an ambitious reforestation initiative. Many of these plants were purchased from local communities.
3D printed clay homes – traditional materials with modern construction
TECLA, Massa Lombarda, Italy
TECLA is the first 3D-printed sustainable home made entirely from local raw clay. This prototype home, designed and built (or printed) in Italy, uses local clay that is excavated, shaped, inhabited and, once it is not needed anymore, it can just go back to the soil, in a virtually infinite loop that leaves no trace on the planet. The walls have an organic cave-like curvature, providing structural stability but also acting as a thermal barrier. The project can adapt its shape in relation to its climate and latitude.
The project responds to both the climate emergency and the growing global housing crisis. Housing modules can be constructed by printers within 200 hours while consuming an average of 6 kW of energy. A team of just two people are needed to support the building of the structure and typical construction waste is almost entirely eliminated.
Local, natural and low carbon – at scale
University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre, Norwich, United Kingdom
The project showcases low carbon, sustainable building with a highly ecological specification, in a design that achieves two major sustainability certifications (Passivhaus standard and BREEAM Outstanding). Future climate data was generated and used to simulate various design scenarios to ensure the best, most robust long-term solution.
The internal stud partitions were made from locally sourced pine. 70% of the cement replaced utilized a by-product of the iron-making industry lowering the embodied carbon as well as the concrete mix using local recycled sand and aggregate. And finally, the building was clad in local Norfolk thatch and reed. Other innovative material choices included a 100% recycled paper insulation, hemp fabric, re-processed glass, clay plaster and nettle boards. These features along with Passivhaus requirements for low energy fitting gave a 68% reduction in Whole Life Carbon against typical buildings.
A bamboo cathedral for learning
Heart of School, Green School Bali, Indonesia
The school was built to appear as though grown from the ground, using bamboo and other local materials. Bamboo is a sustainable, versatile and rapidly replenishing material. The construction of Heart of School helped facilitate Bamboo U, which teaches architects, designers, engineers, environmental advocates and enthusiasts how to build and design with bamboo, promoting the use of the material in architecture in Bali and beyond.
Transforming lives through cheap green energy and innovative thinking
Favela da Paz, São Paulo, Brazil - South America
The Favela da Paz Institute is a community project situated in Jardim Nakamura, a favela in São Paulo, Brazil. The Institute was founded in 2010 by brothers Fabio and Claudio Miranda; together they have created a safe, social gathering space that is recognised worldwide as an ‘Urban Ecovillage’. The project generates renewable energy, organic food in vertical gardens and rainwater harvesting systems.
In Brazil (and in many countries worldwide) most residential buildings and homes rely on non-renewable energy sources, such as natural gas, coal and/or wood for cooking and heating water. Most low-income communities use electric water heaters for showers, which are inefficient, expensive and unsustainable. The Favela da Paz team have installed the first Micro Solar Energy Generator inside the favela. In addition to providing free electricity, the team have also reduced energy needs through solar water heating, providing hot water for those who couldn't afford to pay for an electric shower or the associated fuel bills. Using home-made technologies, they have also created biodigesters, converting organic waste into cooking gas, which is also given back to the community.