The single most important trend in modern architecture is arguably the move towards sustainable construction. Green, eco-friendly buildings are changing our ideas not only about how construction can be achieved in more environmentally sensitive ways, but how we as humans use space in our communities. As more and more architecture firms advance new techniques for green building, our modern built environment functions in greater harmony with the natural world. In Europe, green building is closely linked to their plans for reducing human-caused climate change.
Regional organizations like the Architects’ Council of Europe put forth best practices and guidelines for how green building can be achieved by its member organizations, although the most popular green certification organization worldwide is BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). There are also a number of smaller organizations that endorse a series of international architectural prizes. For example, the European Commission offers the prestigious European Green Capital Award and the Green Leaf Award, which recognize European cities for their extensive efforts to include sustainable architecture in their plans for the future. The Emirates Glass LEAF Awards recognizes innovative design with a sustainable focus.
If you’re interested in exploring some sustainable architecture on your trip to Europe, here are a few examples of the best green buildings from the last few years. They range from private residences to office buildings, and prove that green is always better.
Dragen Children’s House (Denmark)
This modern kindergarten is a sleek example of thoughtful and conscientious design. Conceptualized as a place that encourages green living and creative pedagogy, many features are environmentally friendly while inspiring children to be active. Without elevators, for example, children climb a series of staircases and ramps to navigate the building. The Dragen Children’s House only requires a small amount of energy, uses solar energy to heat their water, and incorporates a heat recovery system to minimize energy waste.
Environmental Learning Center (Amsterdam)
When you start with a mission that’s all about making sustainability a central focus to your visitors, you end up with a building like this one. This Dutch community center epitomizes the best in sustainable design. With features like a series of solar panels, a recycling heat and cooling system, and even bird houses that are designed to reduce the impact the building has on disrupting local ecosystems, the Environmental Learning Center incorporates a variety of green building tactics.
Passive Logements Wauters (Belgium)
This chic Brussels building, the first built to passive standard, is actually a private house. Encompassing two duplexes, this visually compelling structure utilizes a number of green building techniques and features. Building materials were selected for their minimum impact on the environment, and construction practices were calculated to meet standard green criteria. The building also employs geothermal and solar technologies, and achieves near energy independence.
Unilever Headquarters (Germany)
Located on the Elbe River in Hamburg, Germany, the international headquarters of Unilever is uniquely adapted to its environment (it’s actually shaped like a boat) and creatively designed to suit the company’s needs. Design features include wide-open spaces, easy access to various locations within the building, and communal spaces intended to encourage interaction. Green features include the use of natural light, natural ventilation systems, wind protection, and passive and active energy generation.
Badenerstrasse 380 (Switzerland)
A housing development in urban Zurich, the Badenerstrasse 380 is a prime example of design that takes into consideration not only the needs of its future inhabitants, but also how to meet those needs in environmentally friendly ways. The building is built mostly from wood and other natural materials, so it doesn’t create industrial pollution with the creation of artificial materials. All tenants even sign an agreement that they’ll practice an energy responsible lifestyle!
ECOstyle Warehouse (Netherlands)
Part of a community that aims for total carbon neutrality, the ECOstyle Warehouse in Oosterwolde was built for a company that itself has a great ecofriendly pedigree: they distribute educational kits about renewable energy and water efficiency. The building also employs solar technology and air-to-water heat pumps to regulate internal temperatures. They also recycle and purify rainwater.
United States Embassy (England)
Embassies aren’t just about security these days – they’re also about sustainability! The U.S. Embassy in London is a model of the new direction the government should take when it comes to green building. Solar arrays on the roof and heat pumps in the ground supply heat and power to the building, reducing their reliance upon a stressed power grid in busy London. They also recycle wastewater (at an onsite treatment plant) and use it for flushing toilets.
River Plaza (France)
This Parisian residential space has actually been recently renovated not once but twice, the second time being entirely focused on improving their use of green features and sustainable. It’s BREEAM certified, so they meet the highest in modern standards for green building on an international scale. The renovations have improved interior air quality and noise, as well as the outdoor spaces (with the inclusion of a lovely and eco-friendly green wall).
Located in what used to be a completely industrial area in the Swedish capital, Torsplan is a multi-use building that meets diverse community needs. It encompasses office space, restaurants, and a gym. Their most significant green features include individual HVAC units per floor, which helps to reduce heat waste in a big building, and their concrete construction, which also works to keep the interior temperature regulated.
Central Bank of Ireland (Ireland)
This Dublin-based bank is actually the first office building in the entire country to achieve an “outstanding” BREEAM rating. It’s an incredibly energy efficient building, with a 70% reduction in energy consumption over standard Irish building regulations. A mixed-mode ventilation system improves air quality, and offers a combined heat and power source. The design also utilizes natural light to reduce electricity consumption, making for a striking exterior as well.