Sustainable architecture: innovative and inspiring buildings


Sustainable architecture is a complicated, multi-layered task. Architects need to consider materials, construction, performance and provenance of everything, as well as maintenance and afterlife – social sustainability is critical too. The green agenda should be at the top of everyone’s mind, and luckily, there are a few great project to provide inspiration and help spearhead change. This is sustainable architecture at its best: the finest examples from across the globe, from amazing abodes to centres of care and hard-working offices. These are buildings that not only look good but also do good.

Table of Contents


Apartamento Paraíso by Rúina

view of the interior towards terrace at Apartamento Paraiso by Ruina

(Image credit: Lauro Rocha)

Apartamento Paraíso is Rúina’s renovation of a first-floor apartment in the Edifício Olga Ferreira building in São Paulo. Starting with an existing, fragmented space that lacked natural light, and with poor ventilation in original service areas as a legacy of colonial architecture, the studio has transformed the apartment into a bright, open home brimming with craftily repurposed material touches. An inverted beam embedded in the wall between the living room and bedroom was unearthed during demolition, and reappropriated to support furniture facing both sides, ‘sectoring the environments without visually separating them’. Meanwhile, turning the wall between the kitchen and service area into glass sliding windows brings a renewed ‘visual permeability from end to end of the apartment,’ improving natural lighting and cross ventilation.

Kempegowda International Airport by SOM

Kempegowda International Airport by SOM hero exterior day time

(Image credit: Ar. Ekansh Goel © Studio Recall)

Kempegowda International Airport has just unveiled its new Terminal 2 structure, a pioneering bamboo design by architecture studio SOM. Located in Bengaluru (BLR Airport), southern India, this significant piece of transport infrastructure services one of the country’s largest cities – as well as its wider region. Aiming to create a facility that not only can handle the 25 million new visitors expected, but is also rooted in nature and sustainable architecture, the new terminal is rich in interior planting, lush exterior gardens (its landscaped spaces designed in collaboration with Grant Associates and Abu Jani/Sandeep Khosla), and natural materials such as brick and bamboo. It is all conceived to uphold Bengaluru’s reputation as the ‘garden city’.

The Leaf by KPMB Architects with Architecture49, Blackwell Structural Engineers, and HTFC Planning & Design

The Leaf botanical gardens hero exterior of glasshouse

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

Situated deep in the Canadian prairies, Winnipeg’s The Leaf is a new, format-defying greenhouse complex and horticultural attraction. The city, a relatively remote, mid-sized urban centre, is used to experiencing acute fluctuations in temperature. While long winters often see averages hovering around -40°C, summer days peak at +40°C. It’s no wonder that, like other northern metropolises, the city’s 750,000 residents benefit from a network of above and underground passageways, if not also a swathe of climate-resilient construction projects that model the latest low-energy consumption and low-tech climate control solutions. Addressing temperature extremes is a way of life here – and The Leaf truly embraces this and a particularly sustainable architecture approach.  

Tom Lee Park by Studio Gang

tom lee park from above showing playground

(Image credit: Ty Cole)

Tom Lee Park unfolds along the east bank of the Mighty Mississippi. Set to open officially on Labor Day 2023, this is an important, new, green space for downtown Memphis, as well as a place where nature and the city meet. Its creators, Chicago based Studio Gang (the project’s masterplanner and architect) and New York’s Scape (who acted as landscape architect and park designer), describe the old site as a ‘working waterfront’, a previously flat, inhospitable, landfill part of town used for anything between parking lot, dump site, commercial transport route and industrial facility. The team, led by respective founders Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff (both featured in the Wallpaper* USA 300), was called upon by client Memphis River Parks Partnership to reimagine this stretch of the riverside as a centrepiece riverfront green, an urban lung and open space to be shared among Memphis residents.  It was not an easy task. ‘Tom Lee Park is part of a much bigger plan for the city of Memphis,’ explains Gang. ‘The city was turning its back to the river, and we wanted to change that. It’s a very ambitious plan.’ The greater scheme involves a taskforce put together by city authorities in 2017 to transform some six miles of the riverfront into a network of public spaces; the park is just the first one of them to complete. It is surrounded by areas of very different use and character – from residential neighbourhoods to a mud island, an open air concert space, and a museum about the Mississippi. It sits on a bluff, with the water running just below it, so the team also had to negotiate potential flooding from what is North America’s largest river.

 Tate Modern cafe ‘Corner’ by Holland Harvey

Tate Modern cafe chairs and tables

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

The Tate Modern cafe has been given a makeover courtesy of London architecture studio Holland Harvey. The much loved gallery always had a hospitality space on its ground level, yet changing needs and several years in operation, meant the popular northwest corner interior was in need of a refresh. Enter the practice led by Richard Holland and Jonathan Harvey, and now the reimagined cafe has just opened its doors looking better than ever, filled with minimalist touches and sustainable architecture elements. Fittingly named ‘Corner’, the new Tate Modern cafe (commissioned by Tate Enterprises) is a bustling all day cafe and bar area, used by staff and visitors during the day, as well as special events and late-nights as part of the gallery’s busy programme. As a result, this needed to be an interior with some inherent multi-tasking, able to shapeshift and transform from a day to an evening venue, catering for anything from meetings, eating, coffee, bar and bigger parties. 

Slot House by Klima Architecture

slot house exterior detail

(Image credit: Malissa Mabey)

Slot House sits on a ridge in the Wasatch Back region of the Rocky Mountains, just outside Park City, Utah – where architect Chris Price runs his practice, Klima Architecture. It is defined by a series of interlocking gabled masses, and is as informed by earthships as it is by formalism; as influenced by its mountain-climbing clients as it is by Price’s childhood in New Mexico; as sheltered from the elements as it is set squarely within nature. It offers, Price says, a place of solace and protection from which to respect and enjoy this wild landscape. It’s also a gamechanger for Price, marking an evolution of years of quiet, dedicated practice into a crystallised approach. ‘This is the first opportunity where all the stars aligned,’ he says. Designed for a couple who connected with him initially through a shared affinity to mountain climbing, the house marks a solidification of Price’s optimistic, ecologically driven, formally sophisticated approach to architecture. Named Klima Architecture, in honour of his dedication to the Passivhaus movement and all things sustainable (klima being an ancient Greek word that has evolved over time to mean climate), Price’s practice has grown over the last few years as he has connected with a client base interested in projects that are simultaneously cosmopolitan and rugged, inventive and practical. 

Farm8 by Studio Array

Farm8 by Studio Array

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

Nestled within one of New Delhi’s urban villages, Farm8 provides a green oasis dedicated to art. Tactile and raw, the complex’s design by the local architecture practice Studio Array, headed by Rachit Srivastava, aims to bridge the verdant world of nature, right in the heart of one of the world’s busiest metropoles, with the realm of culture and creativity. The project sprang from a concept for a private studio for the exclusive use of its clients, the artists Ranbir and Rashmi Kaleka. Yet Farm8’s brief evolved over time, mirroring the owners’ changing needs and lifestyles. It slowly developed into a more expansive, community-driven space and now belongs to a collective of ten artists, writers and environmentalists (including the Kalekas) that came together in the early 1990s to form a retreat and practise a natural way of farming.

Wooden prefab cabin by CABN

Prefabricated house by CABN

(Image credit: Arash Moallemi )

CABN belongs to a small but highly visible sub-set of prefab makers shooting for the moon with a non-standard design. Looking at the wider history of prefabrication and modular building, prefabs promise so much. If your sights aren’t set especially high, then the vast majority of factory-built homes available around the world will do pretty much exactly what you need them to: provide shelter at a substantially lower cost than a conventionally built house. This Canadian company wants to do more than just be a provider of tiny homes and trailer park alternatives; and it hopes that this showhome points the way to more sustainable, low-cost housing and denser communities. campus by unstudio, hero exterior from the water

(Image credit: Hufton + Crow)

‘What if work could be extraordinary?’ asks Ben van Berkel.’s office in Amsterdam, named City Campus, is his response, and it’s nothing if not ambitious. With its occupants now happily moved in, and a BREEAM Excellent design certificate for sustainable architecture for it under their belt, van Berkel’s architecture practice UNStudio proposes this as a model for 21st century workspace. When a Dutch student in Eastern Holland came up with the idea for in 1996, it was a pioneering thought, and it quickly took off, becoming the global phenomenon of a travel platform it is today, as well as a state-of-the-art tech company. But as the business grew, staff and spatial needs did too, and found itself based in several different buildings in Amsterdam, which was neither practical nor efficient. UNStudio’s brief was to create a home for the company’s some 6,500 staff in town – but one that would stand the test of time, and multitask too. 

The Magasin Électrique at Luma Arles

wide view of atelier luma interior

(Image credit: Joseph Halligan)

‘It was like stepping inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,’ says Assemble Studio co-founder James Binning, describing his first visit to Atelier Luma at the arts centre Luma Arles in the south of France. The design laboratory has been concocting material innovations on site since 2016 – culturing algae for natural dyes and turning potato starch into bioplastics. So, when it outgrew its original space on the complex and decided to renovate the nearby Magasin Électrique, it could offer its collaborators, London-based Assemble Studio and Belgian practice BC Architects & Studies, a spread of sustainable materials to choose from. Rice straw, sunflower stems, salt, soil and limestone waste all find their way onto the fabric of the former railway electrical shop, reimagined as thermal and acoustic insulation and rammed earth interior walls, among other things. Almost every raw or recycled material was sourced and processed within 70 km from the site, with the renovation works acting as a prototype of new kind of low-carbon, bioregional architecture that takes cues from ancient practices – an ongoing project dubbed Lot 8. Most materials are made from waste products from other industries – sunflower oil production, limestone quarrying – creating new revenue streams for local communities.

Stream Building by PCA-Stream

Stream by Philippe Chiambaretta hero exterior from plaza

(Image credit: SALEM MOSTEFAOUI )

The Stream Building by PCA-Stream opens today (31 May 2023) in Paris, bringing with it a vision for urban design for the 21st century. It is a mixed-used structure based on sustainable architecture principles, housing office and commercial activities – the outcome of almost 15 years of studies by the studio’s research arm, Stream Lab. ‘What makes the Stream Building different is precisely that it is not just an office building,’ says Philippe Chiambaretta, the Parisian studio’s founder. ‘The building is a mixed-use laboratory that stitches the city together. It brings together, under the same roof, all the activities of a mixed and dense urban life, in the spirit of the “15-minute city”: offices, a hotel, four restaurants, a rooftop, two food halls. It offers a plural, hybrid and hospitable place, inspired by the mutations of contemporary lifestyles, and becomes a new place of life and resources for the inhabitants in a neighborhood that was cruelly lacking in amenities and services.’

Reference Center of Babassu Coconut Breakers by Estudio Flume

hero exterior of outdoor structures and pavilions at centre for babassu harvesters in brazil

(Image credit: Maira Acayaba)

The sprawling Maranhão Babaçu forests are home to dazzling flora, but also the traditional community of babassu harvesters. This local, predominantly female group living in the north of Brazil has been working in its distinctive, tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion environment for decades, its daily life and economy strongly linked to the region’s dominant plant, the babassu palm. Its product, a coconut-like fruit, can be opened to reveal seeds that can be pressed for oil, whose properties make it popular in the beauty, medicine and food industries. It is here that São Paulo’s Estudio Flume just completed its latest project, the Reference Center of Babassu Coconut Breakers, for this very community. 

Kampala art centre by New Makers Bureau and Localworks

Kampala art centre roofline seen from above

(Image credit: Timothy Latim)

A new Kampala art centre cuts a fine figure in the Ugandan capital. London-based New Makers Bureau has built a richly patterned new home for a local arts trust, 32° East, from materials excavated from the site itself – earth, wood and reclaimed brick. The studio drew on the heritage of earth building in the region, creating Uganda’s first purpose-built community art space in the city’s Kabalagala neighbourhood, while taking inspiration from the Lalibela churches of Ethiopia – sunken, rock-hewn structures created by subtracting material beneath the ground to reveal the forms. ‘We took cues from the idea of archaeology and excavation, literally mining the site for material,’ says founding director James Hampton. 

Spruce House by Ao-ft

spruce house timber exterior in walthamstow

(Image credit: Rory Gardiner)

If Ao-ft co-founders Liz Tatarintseva and Zach Fluker describe parts of Spruce House, their newest project, as a Swiss army knife, they’ve got a point. The home’s extremely high standard for functionality and efficiency truly belies its small but perfectly formed physique. Spruce House and Studio – the name makes sense as soon as you set eyes on its timber-clad façade – is the pair’s joint home in east London’s Walthamstow. Not only has it been a personal labour of love, it’s also the first flagship project of their newly minted architecture practice.  

Citizens House by Archio

approaching the white brick volume of citizens house by archio in south london

(Image credit: French+Tye)

Citizens House lies nestled within the sleepy residential neighbourhood of Sydenham, south London, its light-coloured brick marking a departure from the area’s red-brick counterparts. All clean lines, with nods to minimalist architecture, and touches that appear more raw and almost industrial, it feels elegant and contemporary, created to a design by architecture studio Archio. Citizens House’s success, however, goes far beyond its apparent aesthetic qualities. Welcome to London’s first-ever community land trust housing scheme, offering 11 ‘genuinely and permanently affordable homes for local people’. 

Saltviga House by Kolman Boye Architects

hero exterior of Saltviga House, on the south coast of Norway by Architects Kolman Boye Architects

(Image credit: Johan Dehlin)

What started as an experiment resulted in Saltviga House – an idyllic timber dwelling on the south coast of Norway. Nestled in a wooded plot overlooking the sea, this family home was conceived with ‘gentleness’ in mind, explain its creators, the Sweden-based studio Kolman Boye Architects, founded in 2013 by Erik Kolman Janouch and Victor Boye Julebäk. What underlines this approach, and makes Saltviga House stand out, is that it utilises offcuts from the production of Dinesen oak planks. These compose very visibly its roof and exterior walls, giving it its shingle-like appearance. Taking their cues from the beautiful material, Kolman and Boye crafted a home that feels at once cosy and environmentally responsible; they are deft hands at creating inspiring architecture using timber, as well as the cabin and rural home typology, as work such as Rotunda Serotina for Wallpaper* Handmade 2015 and Vega Cottage demonstrate. At the same time, every piece of offcut used in the house was checked and tested for its durability against the often harsh Norwegian weather. 

Exchange House transformed by Piercy&Company

Reception viewed from Exchange Park

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Exchange House’s distinctive black parabolic arches and exposed industrial trusses, designed by SOM in 1990, make it a landmark in the cityscape of London’s Broadgate campus – winning the AIA’s Twenty-five Year Award in 2015. Fast forward to 2023 and London architecture studio Piercy&Company was commissioned by British Land and GIC to redesign the iconic structure’s interior, aiming to transform its shared spaces, improving tenant amenities, while also pushing the boundaries of sustainable architecture, employing circular economy principles. 


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