Our 5 Top Eco Buildings of the Year

By Jody McCutcheon

In the past year, I’ve written about some impressive–and impressively sustainable–architecture projects unveiled around the world, and no doubt, the wealth of this eco-friendly design has enriched residential, commercial and civic/cultural buildings. Green-conscious designers have toed the line and then some, sacrificing neither brilliance nor creativity in pursuit of that perfect balance between function and aesthetics. Led by these thinkers and their ideas, building design moves ever forward, pushing the envelope of eco-architecture a bit further each year.

It was a tough decision to make, but here are my choices for the top five eco buildings of 2013.

Theà¢tre Jean-Claude Carrière

As a performing arts centre, the Theà¢tre Jean-Claude Carrière basically advertises itself with its brightly coloured exterior. The flamboyant building, designed by A+ Architecture, lies at the edge of a pine forest in Montpellier, France, beckoning those looking for drama. As a green building, the Theà¢tre scores a Tony. It’s built of recycled, mostly locally sourced materials, giving it a low carbon footprint. The wooden construction can be dismantled and reassembled, making the building more or less portable; and the timber used respects the wooded zone surrounding the area. Inside, the building enjoys energy efficient heating, insulation and LED lighting. Plus, acoustic insulation eliminates sound pollution and optimizes interior acoustics for the stage area. The Theà¢tre Jean-Claude Carrière offers maximal flair with minimal footprint.

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Algae-Powered BIQ House in Hamburg

The newest material in eco-architecture is literally quite green. Splitterwerk Architects, working with Arup Group Limited, have incorporated algae farms into the Solar Leaf BIQ building, their commercial-residential project in Hamburg. Two hundred square metres of algae-filled bioreactive paneling adorns the building faà§ade or wraps around the building, tube-like. As algae absorb carbon dioxide and transform it into oxygen, the BIQ building reduces carbon dioxide emissions by six tonnes a year, making it an important weapon in the battle against climate change. The building is self-sufficient, energy-wise, as algae colonies are recycled through biomass generators to produce biofuel for the building. Additional advantages of algae paneling include shading, thermal insulation and noise abatement. Green buildings never looked so green.

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Renzo Piano’s Diogene

Architect legend Renzo Piano knows that true luxury can mean simply having time and space to oneself. Piano has created a minimalist, single-occupancy cabin that operates entirely independently of the surrounding environment, in a range of climate conditions. Named after Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who eschewed luxury to live an ascetic life in a ceramic jar, Piano’s transportable abode measures 7.5 square metres, with a ridge height of 2.3 metres. The living space contains a pullout sofa bed and foldout table and chair, while the washroom/kitchen space offers refrigerator, sink and composting toilet. Exterior aluminum panels and triple-glazed windows provide excellent insulation, while solar panels and photovoltaics power the house. Rainwater is collected in a system and heated by a rooftop boiler. As Piano says, “Diogene provides you with what you really need, and no more.”

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COR Miami Building

Conceived by Oppenheim Architecture and Design, and fittingly situated in Miami’s Design District, the COR building is a spectacular blend of structure and environment. Its twenty-five storeys and 480,000 square feet consist of commercial, office, fitness, studio and pure residential spaces. Wind turbines and a photovoltaic system produce electricity, while solar power creates hot water, rendering the COR building completely self-sufficient. A versatile exoskeletal wall serves multiple purposes, acting as building structure and insulator, and also extending up above the roof, providing penthouse terraces with shade. Openings in the wall house wind turbines. Recycled-tile floors, bamboo-lined halls, energy-efficient appliances and plumbing and a grey-water processing system round out the green touches. What’s better than an eco-friendly place to live and work?

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Shipping Container Homes by Arcgency

This just had to be in the list: nowhere else has upcycling on a large scale been so successful.

Designed by the  Arcgency  architecture firm, this house in China rests on three shipping containers, which can be found at most seaside ports in big cities around the world. This sturdy foundation provides the basis for a stunning, minimalist interior which can also be made to be eco-friendlier by adding solar panels to the roof for energy, and of course by using local, sustainable materials for flooring and non-toxic paints and sealants for decorating. Let’s hope that 2014 promises more use of upcycled materials in home architecture.

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Jody McCutcheon
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