The concept of sustainability is widely integrated in contemporary architectural design. However, its latest expressions, and the transition during the last few years from a concept of efficiency to a broader view of social sustainability and wellbeing, are extremely interesting. Here are four cases that reflect four different, visionary approaches.
Waste-to-energy plant or ski slope?
The BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) architecture firm, with partners SLA, AKT, Lüchinger + Meyer, MOE and Rambøll, designed the Amager Resource Center in Copenhagen, known to everyone as the CopenHill, to replace the city’s old waste-to-energy plant. Its steep roof, with its long, curving descending ramp, was designed to accommodate a ski slope and a walking trail, as well as a climbing wall and other community services.
Copen Hill in Copenhagen
Copenhagen, which aims to become the world’s first zero emissions city by 2025, has chosen to build a facility that aims to inspire “a new generation of economically, environmentally and socially sustainable waste-to-energy plants”, also able to redefine “the relationship between production and recreation, between energy infrastructure and social infrastructure, between factory and city,” as BIG partner David Zahle underlined.
In the words of Bjarke Ingels, founder and creative director of BIG,
“CopenHill is so clean that we have been able to turn its building mass into the bedrock of the social life of the city; its facade is climbable, its roof is hikeable and its slopes are skiable. A crystal clear example of Hedonistic Sustainability.”
A building which is both a leading-edge waste-to-energy plant and part of the landscape, with 80 meters of artificial climbing wall, the highest in the world, and a ski slope of 9 thousand square meters for beginners and skilled skiers.
The summit of the hill can be reached by an attractive walking trail, designed by landscape architects SLA together with a biodiversity garden that can absorb particulate from the atmosphere and reuse rainwater. As well as the thermal plant’s offices, the hill also offers a bar and a conference center.
Design for care
The latest Maggie’s center, opened in Leeds in the United Kingdom in June 2020, was designed by Heatherwick Studio. Maggie’s is the main charitable foundation offering practical and psychological support to cancer sufferers. Founded in 1996 by Maggie Keswick Jencks, the foundation has twenty-six centers not only across Great Britain but also in Hong Kong, Singapore and Barcelona.
Maggie’s Center in Leeds
The building stands within the St. James University Hospital site, on a steep lot bounded by an access road on the university campus. This starting point presented difficulties but also great potential, as the architects cleverly revealed.
As Thomas Heatherwick explains:
“It’s been a tremendous experience and honor to design the Maggie’s Center in Leeds. Our aim was to build a home for people affected by cancer that would be soulful and welcoming, unlike other typical clinical environments. By only using natural, sustainable materials and immersing the building in thousands of plants, there was a chance for us to make an extraordinary environment capable of inspiring visitors with hope and perseverance during their difficult health journeys.”
To ensure patients’ wellbeing, all spaces are very comfortable and are created using sustainable materials, and the building always functions with a high degree of energy efficiency.
The building’s structure is built from a prefabricated and sustainably-sourced spruce timber system. Porous materials such as lime plaster help to maintain the internal humidity of the naturally- ventilated building, which has been achieved through careful consideration of the building’s form and orientation.
Heatherwick experimented with a holistic approach, like that of Maggie’s itself, by constructing hundreds of models before defining the perfect form for Maggie’s Leeds. Inside, three counselling rooms are the hub of the foundation’s activities. Large floor-to-ceiling windows combine the various rooms as part of an open vista, allowing abundant natural light to flood in.
The world’s first Leed skyscraper
The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in midtown New York, designed by Cook + Fox Architects, is the first commercial high-rise to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The 55-storey, 2.2 million square foot project is a new landmark in addition to the buildings around the park in midtown.
Bank of America Tower in New York
Cook + Fox Architects
Drawing on concepts of biophilia – people’s innate need for connection to the natural environment – the vision was to create the highest quality modern workplace by emphasizing daylight, fresh air, and an intrinsic relationship to the outdoors.
In response to its dense urban context, the building challenges the boundaries of public and private space with a highly transparent corner entry. A daylit and neutral space, the lobby creates a layered connection to the public realm of Bryant Park, whose restorative green spaces extend into the building through green roofs and a publicly accessible Urban Garden Room.
The natural lobby materials anchor the tower to the nearby park; small, details such as white oak door handles, fossil-embedded Jerusalem stone, and panels finished in soft materials leather establish a tactile sensory experience.
The construction solutions keep the building well insulated and protected from excessive heat: the continuous facade is in low-emissivity glass and heat-reflecting ceramics. The building’s systems are designed also to deliver impressive water saving, by means of greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting systems, and enable the filtration of fresh air with individual control of supply. Thermal ice-storage tanks produce ice at night, reducing the building’s peak demand on the city’s electric grid. An onsite 4.6-megawatt cogeneration plant provides a clean, efficient power source for nearly 70% of the building’s annual energy requirements.
A corporate Domus
The Davines Group, specialist in professional hair and skin care products with the Davines and Comfort Zone brands, opened a new location just outside Parma, in Italy, in 2018. The architectural project was by Matteo Thun&Partners under the technical direction of Luca Colombo, while the interiors were styled by interior designer Monica Signani.
Davines Village, Parma
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Developed starting from the concept of “home”, the Village’s structure is a contemporary reinterpretation of the architypes of traditional Italian rural houses, to emphasize the company’s family roots.
Minimal use of masonry, utmost architectural transparency, green areas visible from every workstation, use of natural materials such as wood, and a special type of pollutant-trapping concrete.
The light-filled “greenhouse” forms the heart of the complex and houses the co-working areas, the restaurant and bar for the employees.
The energy needs of the Davines production location are completely met by renewable sources: gas from fossil sources was rejected in favor of bio-methane and geothermal energy.
Davines is also working to introduce the same policy at the Group’s other locations:
at present, 71.4% of the electricity used at its foreign sites is from renewable sources.
“The point of departure was the wellbeing of employees, the key factor that guided us when designing offices, production departments and the warehouse. We wanted to create a functional village with an attractive aesthetic, that combined the traditional forms of rural architecture with innovative volumes, arranged around the “greenhouse” and the large green areas.” – Matteo Thun told us.
The products used for the interiors of this modern, eco-sustainable factory-village were well up to the standard of the rest of the project. They include large-scale use of porcelain stoneware, a material with a sustainable lifestyle, a very attractive appearance and outstanding technical performances.
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Specifically, the interior designer selected the surfaces of the Industrial/ collection by the Floor Gres brand, in Sage color. The industrial flavor of this series, which evokes the purest, most severe concrete, is technically consistent with the unusual design of the spaces, styled with minimal structures to priorities large green areas.