The idea of the ‘concrete jungle’ has become embedded in our modern psyche – from a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers to a range of novels and films. Indeed, today’s built environment is dominated by man-made materials like concrete, with a 2020 report finding that such materials now outweigh all biomass on earth. The challenge for humanity is that buildings made from concrete and metal don’t just create a sense of urban sprawl – they have a tangible impact on the environment
According to the World Green Building Council (WGBC), 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions are caused by the built environment. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) points out that all new buildings—not to mention 20% of the existing building stock—will need to be net zero by 2030 to meet the agency’s net zero by 2050 scenario. The world is not on track to meet this ambitious goal.
World Green Building Week is taking place from 12 to 16 September this year. It is a WGBC initiative that aims to raise awareness of the need for action to scale up solutions for low carbon and highly resilient sustainable built environments.
To mark the occasion, we have highlighted three exemplary green buildings and two further sustainable building innovations that demonstrate what can be achieved by adopting the principles of sustainable construction.
Aussie high-rises fitted with solar facades
Image: Studio Kennon
Australian architecture firm Studio Kennon is making its contribution to the green building movement with a high-rise in Melbourne that will be able to power itself using solar energy.
The building will accomplish this feat with a façade made up of 1,182 solar panels in addition to solar cells on the roof. The façade will use innovative panels developed by German company Avancis that look more like ordinary exterior building glass than traditional solar panels. In fact, each glass panel has the same thickness as an ordinary façade panel, but has thin-film solar cells built in. The panels also come in a variety of colours – from dark grey to deep blue.
In addition to adding solar generation, solid panels will be used on one wall to provide shade and reduce the use of air conditioning. The completed building will eventually be carbon-negative in operation as it will generate more renewable energy than it uses
A record-breaking all-timber buildings
Image: Schmidt Hammer Lassen
Timber-framed buildings are having something of a renaissance, with the advent of cross-laminated timber (CLT). This is an engineered wood product made by gluing together layers of solid-awn lumber. By gluing layers of wood at right angles, CLT can achieve both strength and flexibility. The material is becoming an increasingly popular choice for architects, who argue that the product is not only more sustainable than steel, concrete, and glass, but also offers significant benefits for health and wellbeing.
While there are a number of high-rise timber frame buildings currently in planning or under construction, a Swiss project near Zurich will be the world’s tallest timber residential building once it is completed in 2026. The project, named Rocket&Tigerli, will consist of four buildings, including a high-rise tower.
At 100 metres high, the tower will set a record for residential buildings constructed with load-bearing timber. It highlights how timber represents a viable alternative to concrete and steel construction – even for skyscrapers.
Self-powered, tiny homes for the future
According to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors, the housing shortage in the US is reaching critical levels. The report estimates that there is currently what the association calls an ‘underbuilding gap’ of 5.5 to 6.8 million housing units since 2001. This shortage is pushing house prices and rents higher.
One company that’s looking to address this problem is Cosmic, a San Francisco-based startup that is building tiny houses. The company’s founder, Sasha Jokic, believes that these houses can help fill the gap by creating new rental properties. In addition, Cosmic’s houses are designed to be highly energy-efficient – helping to reduce carbon emissions from the housing sector.
The secret to the design’s success is a standardised frame, which includes built-in solar power and batteries. Each tiny house also includes a built-in roof and floor, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The modular design means that the houses can be assembled quickly and easily, without the need for construction crews. And because the houses are optimised to be energy-efficient, they can be powered entirely by renewable energy sources.
British homes with no energy bills
Image: ilke Homes
Octopus Energy, the UK’s largest independent energy supplier has partnered with off-site construction specialist ilke Homes to build the UK’s first homes with zero energy bills.
The landmark development in Essex will be the UK’s largest zero-carbon housing development. To celebrate the launch of the partnership, two factory-built semi-detached homes powered by free, round-the-clock clean energy are being installed at the site. These are the first of 153 homes in the development, 101 of which will be zero-carbon (meaning they will generate their own clean energy).
The houses will be fitted with air source heat pumps, solar panels and battery storage, which will be used to manage energy consumption and ensure that residents only use as much energy as they need. The ilke Homes pipeline will grow to 3,500 homes as a result of the development. Under its ‘ilke ZERO’ project, the company aims to build 10,000 zero-bills homes by 2030.
The vertical forest complex in Hubei, China
Image: Stefano Boeri Architetti
Architecture firm Stefano Boeri Architetti China announced earlier this year that it has completed construction of its very first vertical forest complex, located in the city of Huanggang, China. The complex covers an area of 4.54 hectares and includes five towers, two of which were designed as a vertical forest. The towers combine open and closed balconies planted with 404 trees, 4,620 shrubs, and 2,408 square metres of perennial grass, flowers, and climbing plants.
The inclusion of plantings in the vertical complex not only adds to the aesthetic appeal – the architects claim it will absorb 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide and produce 11 tonnes of oxygen per year. All of the plants were carefully chosen with the local climate in mind, and painstakingly craned into position. The two forest towers contain a total of 209 apartments, and tenants have already moved in.
According to the architect, the two residential towers represent a new way of thinking about development. The elevations use cantilevered elements to interrupt the regularity of the building and create a sense of movement. In addition, the combination of open and closed balconies generates a ‘transitional space between nature and the human living environment’.
edie’s content partner Springwise is the leading global innovation intelligence platform for positive and sustainable change. For the last 20 years, it has been uncovering and curating the most innovative thinking and ideas on the planet. Today, with a library of more than 11,000 global innovations, Springwise is trusted by thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and tech disruptors as the leading source of inspirational ideas that matter.
Join the conversation at edie’s free webinar on net-zero buildings
On Tuesday 20 September, hot on the heels of World Green Building Week, edie is partnering with Kingspan to run a free-to-attend, hour-long webinar on ‘Building for Net-Zero: Decarbonising the Built Environment Value Chain’.
The session will run from 2pm-3pm BST on the day and will feature exclusive presentations from experts, plus a live Q and A segment. If you are unable to tune-in during the event, register for access to a recording that will be made available on-demand after the webinar.
This edie webinar, hosted in association with Kingspan, will bring together designers and architects, contractors and end-user businesses to showcase how we can deliver real carbon reduction across the built environment value chain.
We are pleased to announce that all speakers for this webinar have now been confirmed. Joining us for this webinar are Kingspan Insulated Panels’ director of sustainability for North America, Brent Trenga; Clayco’s vice-president of sustainability, Ryan Spies; Mott MacDonald’s technical director, Eszter Gulacsy, and Grosvenor Group’s director of climate-positive solutions, Andy Haigh.