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The best of sustainable architecture of 2021

February 21, 2022By Bethan Andrews

With sustainable architecture on the up, urban gardens and vertical farms becoming the key building trend and more and more people making home improvements, we explore some of the most inspiring green architectural examples of 2021

After a year and a half of spending more time at home, many people are putting plans into motion for improving their home and making it a place they want to spend time. In fact, according to figures from Powered Now, Britons have spent over £110billion on home improvements during the pandemic. 

But what could we learn from sustainable architecture, big and small, across the world? How could we use inspiration taken from larger-scale developments and ground-breaking, leading practices to help make our own homes more environmentally friendly? It’s ultimately about making choices that cut carbon, prioritise longevity, and utilise materials that are not harmful to the environment. Energy efficiency and a deliberate awareness of surroundings should be two of the major factors that go into building, renovation and extension considerations. 

In a recent article by Dezeen, as they partner with  V–A–C to produce content about Non-Extractive Architecture, they state: ‘Young architects are rejecting “cookie-cutter modernism” in favour of approaches that prioritise conserving the earth’s resources according to Joseph Grima, who has written a manifesto calling for a new type of non-extractive architecture. Space Caviar co-founder Grima argued that architects increasingly see the discipline as a “form of stewardship of the natural environment” rather than a compositional exercise, as they become aware of the damage that construction is doing to the planet.’ 

Sustainable architecture has come a long way in the last decade and, recently, some of the state of the art developments that have been completed or gone into planning have really pushed the boundaries. Non-extractive architecture looks to building without exploiting the planet, and this can be seen hugely in the growing trend for urban gardens, vertical farms, and urban forest buildings. 

So, from eco cabin offices in the woods to huge-scale green urban developments, we take a look at some of the most inspiring, beautiful and impressive recent examples of sustainable architecture.  \

Earth Tower, Vancouver

Perhaps one of the most revolutionary high-rise urban developments for the next year, Earth Tower in Vancouver is set to shift perceptions and change boundaries in urban buildings. At 40 stories, the mixed-use development will become the world’s tallest hybrid wood tower, dramatically reducing the project’s greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. Going further than that, beyond timber, the project will also be a zero-emissions building. This means that it will not consume fossil fuels, such as natural gas, in operation. It will also support the local community and dramatically improve livability in tall, urban residential buildings. According to the architects Perkins & wIll, through creating meaningful connections to the natural environment, it will restore local biodiversity and provide public areas that are vibrant and accessible.

Take inspiration from the way in which they intend to use elements that celebrate and encourage the love of nature and natural systems – leverage the wellbeing effects green therapy can have on people.

Khor Kalba Turtle & Wildlife Sanctuary, UAE

Designed by British firm Hopkins Architects, the Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on one of the most sensitive and biodiverse nature reserves in the Gulf. It comprises a cluster of rounded building forms that creates a sanctuary for rehabilitating turtles and nurturing endangered birds, connecting with local initiatives and expertise. Due to the rich ecological location, Hopkins Architects used soft scalloped precast cladding made from discarded shells found in the local area which responds to the marine environment and which softens the external appearance of the project to harmonise with its surroundings.

Take inspiration from the use of materials that can be found surrounding your project. Perhaps you have wood that can be reclaimed, or live near the coast and can utilise washed up debris in your home improvements?

The Denizen Pod

Post-pandemic sees us all looking for ways to incorporate home offices into our personal space. In the world of sustainable architecture, this is one of the key influences and trends that will be seen over the next few years. Leading the way, the Denizen Pod is a smart and functional answer to finding a sustainable way to bring the office home for people. The prefabricated office is designed with everything anyone could need. ‘It is ideally suited for high-volume production as a consumer product – more like an automobile or smartphone than a conventional building. Leveraging the latest in 3D printing, robotic fabrication, and technology integration, Denizen can mass-produce high-quality office units that are not only more desirable spaces to work than conventional offices, but also cheaper and faster to build,’ says the team in their press release.

Take inspiration from the simplicity of the design, and the use of natural and easy to come by materials.

Kaj Micro Hotel, Copenhagen

It should come as no surprise that a Copenhagen fixture would feature on this list, as it’s a place full of sustainable buildings and architectural delights. This new little micro-hotel is the town’s new eco-friendly travel destination. They state that they are actually not a hotel. But nor is it a houseboat. KAJ is something in between​. A floating pod of Danish hygge crafted entirely of reclaimed materials.’ According to Wallpaper, the owner ‘also leads Undercover Copenhagen, a company specialising in recycled and sustainable fabrics, while the couple’s own home was created using environmentally friendly ways.’

The use of reclaimed wood is something that could easily be utilised within a simple home renovation, from floor to ceiling.

Shilda Winery, Georgia

Speaking of using nature in design, Shilda Winery in Georgia is an exemplary feat in this. One of the best examples this year of a building that embeds itself within the environment it’s sat in, the Winery can hardly be seen due to the way it utilises nature. As part of the design, X Architecture worked to combat the fact that Shilda has high annual solar gain and a very dry environment. To address this; the thermal mass of the soil is used to optimize the cooling of the building, and in addition to this most of the facade is facing towards the north to avoid direct solar gain.

Take inspiration from the way in which it works with the natural environment, as opposed to negating it.

Anandaloy, Bangladesh

Winner of the 2020 prestigious Obel Award, Anandaloy in Bangladesh by Anna Heringer is a beautiful example of incorporating sustainability by harking back to age-old building techniques. Anna Heringer’s team states: ‘For Studio Anna Heringer, architecture is a tool to improve lives. The strategy of all of the projects no matter if in European, Asian or African context is the use of local materials and local sources of energy (including manual labor) and global know-how. Because the Anandaloy project is mainly built out of mud and bamboo from local farmers, the biggest part of the budget was invested in local crafts(wo)men. Thus, the building is much more than just a structure, it became a real catalyst for local development.’ The building’s architecture explores the plastic abilities of mud in order to create a stronger identity. Although mud is regarded as a poor and old-fashioned material and inferior to brick for example, Studio Anna Heringer uses their creative ability to use it in a contemporary way.

This is something that you could take inspiration from if planning your own building works or renovation project – look to old techniques that are more sustainable than current, off-the-shelf ones.



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