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When people say sustainable agriculture, they mean building so that there is little or no human-made impact on the environment. It entails the conscious effort to preserve the environment every step of the way, from planning to construction. So, achieving sustainable architecture involves adopting an eco-friendly approach in choosing building materials, designing and implementing vital systems like the heating, ventilation, waste, plumbing, and cooling systems, and incorporating this new environment into the overall natural landscape.

Sustainable Architecture – the Historical Background

The core basics of sustainable architecture were derived from the medieval building practices, which underwent continuous modification due to the advent of the industrial age and the associated activities. So, the latest efforts to embrace sustainable architecture started at least five decades to the anniversary of the first-ever Earth Day and the resulting environmental movement and legislative involvement across the world.

However, the climate change emergency and other environmental crises the world currently faces mean most environmental legislations dating five decades back need to be reviewed. This is a sufficient ground for the stakeholders in the building sector – consumers, builders, architects, and designers – must demand improved building practices that will fix the problem emanating from one of the most environmentally-degrading industries in the world. For instance, 39% of the CO2 emissions recorded in the United States come from the building sector.

Sustainability is fast becoming the core of modern architecture. LEED, BREEAM, and other environmental standards are all out to ensure sustainable building. Likewise, responsible architects are continually working hard to achieve these global standards and verify their sustainable credentials. That said, we still have several architects and builders who throw in words like “sustainable,” “green,” or “eco-friendly” into the mix as mere marketing terms. So, it is safe to say that there is more to do alongside the current awareness and knowledge to make sustainable architecture the rule and not the exception.

What makes architecture sustainable?

Here are a few characteristics to watch out for in sustainable architecture:

  • Commitment to minimizing human impacts on the environment.
  • Building water conservation systems, for instance, systems that recycle gray water or collect rainwater.
  • Creating more ideal structures that meet the increasing need for sustainable housing while using minimum energy and landmass. Such structures include micro-apartments, tiny houses, and other small structures.
  • Using recycled shipping containers to construct alternative apartment buildings and homes.
  • Introducing floating architecture on waterways to meet the increasing demands of housing in populated coastal areas.
  • Integrating nature via ideas like tree-covered residential towers, green roofs, and living walls reduces interior heat and makes the environment healthier and biophilic for people.
  • Adopting living walls and green roofs as a natural cooling system that ensures the wellbeing of people in the building.
  • Ensuring seamless incorporation of new buildings into the overall landscape.
  • Minimizing energy consumption by adopting natural ventilation, cooling, heating systems, solar panels, and other renewable energy sources.
  • Developing buildings with a net-zero energy effect, i.e., producing at least as much energy as they consume.
  • Choosing renewable materials for building, including soy, flax, cork, hemp, and bamboo.
  • Choosing sustainable materials over traditional materials. For instance, hempcrete over concrete (hempcrete is a combination of lime, water, and hemp), or innovative bioplastics over the standard plastics (bioplastics are made from algae).
  • Adopting more upcycled and recycled materials, as well as modular and adaptable spaces from natural materials, which can be recycled easily.

green architecture

Top Sustainable Architecture Projects

Let’s take a look at some notable examples of sustainable architecture across different parts of the world.

The first on the list is Transitional Cathedral, built by Shigeru Ban in 2013. The Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese combined recycled cardboard tubing as the main building material to build emergency shelters in different parts of the world, including the cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand.

While wood is not new, the idea of gluing layers of lumber together to create a cross-laminated timber is relatively recent. This has been used extensively in sustainable architecture, as seen in city towers and prefab cross-limited timber houses in the United States and other parts of Europe. The 21st century was an upgrade from the steel and glass skyscrapers to timber skyscrapers, for instance, the Mjøstårnet by Voll Arkitekter in Brumunddal, Norway.

CopenHill in Copenhagen, Denmark, is another notable instance of sustainable architecture. Popularly dubbed “the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world,” this architecture boasts a façade included for climbing, a real ski slope, and a roof that allows you to hike.

CopenHill in Copenhagen, Denmark


The push for the adoption of greener building practices currently thrives on excellent public awareness and interesting innovations. However, there is still work to be done to make sustainable architecture the standards rather than the exception.

Many more experts are still unconvinced about sustainability architecture’s viability, considering the planet’s present condition. For such experts, they believe regenerative architecture and design is a more viable and holistic approach. This approach relies on natural resources to produce systems and buildings that can regenerate on their own or be broken down in the future.

Everyone is a victim of climate change, including the poor communities, people of color, and even women. Despite this situation, it is interesting to see regenerative design incorporating social equity into its practices in a world where only the International Living Future Institute Living Building Challenge satisfies the compulsory social equity component requirement among other green building designations.