How 8 energy-efficient buildings were designed to combat the effects of climate change

A view of the Park Royal Collection Hotel at Pickering Street in Singapore.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Much of Singapore’s infrastructure is designed to utilize natural resources to reduce temperatures.
Buildings around the world have been attempting carbon neutrality for years.
Rooftop gardens, wind turbines, and water cooling work to reduce the impact of new buildings. 

With 2023 on track to be one of the hottest years on record, countries like Singapore are trying their best to keep temperatures down — or, at the very least, keep them from rising. 

Singapore has been pouring its resources into keeping cool. Instead of turning to traditional methods, like air conditioning, they have been constructing buildings and greenspaces that work together with nature. 

Buildings are designed to curb wind, walkways are surrounded by trees to reduce heat absorption by asphalt, and windows in buildings are designed to funnel cool air in and push hot air out. 

Singapore is not the only country invested in making buildings that work with the environment instead of against it. Countries around the world are making eye-catching, energy-efficient buildings in an attempt to reduce emissions and increase sustainability. 

Pixel Building — Melbourne, Australia
The Grocon Pixel Building in Melbourne, Australia.

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Australia has many energy-efficient buildings including the uniquely-designed Pixel Building. The building is carbon-neutral and generates its own power and water.

It uses wind turbines on the roof to generate electricity, and its water supply comes from a green roof, which utilizes evapotranspiration, a process in which water moves from land to the atmosphere.

The green roof allows the building to be entirely self-sufficient for all its water needs, allowing it to disconnect from main water supplies if needed.

CopenHill — Copenhagen, Denmark
CopenHill has an outdoor climbing wall as well as an artificial ski slope.

OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images

Whereas some new green buildings are working or living spaces, CopenHill is a power plant that converts waste into energy. 

CopenHill was built in 2019 and converts 440,000 tons of waste annually into electricity and heat for 150,000 homes. The reason for its unique shape stems from an efficient interior that puts machines in order of height.

The architects utilized this unique design and turned the top of the building into an artificial ski slope, the same length as an Olympic half-pipe, with a bar at the bottom. On the tallest vertical side of the building is the world’s tallest climbing wall, with views of the inside of the building on the way up. 

 

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall — Fukuoka, Japan
ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Fukuoka, Japan.

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Completed in 1994, the ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall is covered in 15 landscaped, stepped terraces that invite people from the surrounding park to come and utilize the facade of the building. 

More buildings around the world have been adopting the practice of rooftop gardens and green facades. Studies have shown that green walls can lower ambient temperatures by as much as 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and even lower indoor temperatures by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). 

In some instances, greenery outside a building, like ACROS, can help reduce energy consumption because of its effect on indoor temperatures. Additionally, the vegetation on the outside helps capture rainwater and provides a habitat for animals. 

ACROS is positioned at the end of one of the few green spaces in Fukoka. The architect, Emilio Ambasz, wanted to build a space that merged the building and the park instead of separating them.

Bullitt Center — Seattle, Washington
The exterior of the Bullitt Center in Seattle.

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The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington, is considered to be a “living building” after completing a certification process called the Living Building Challenge.

The requirements include water and energy self-sufficiency, among 20 other categories that fall under the umbrellas of place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty.

In the 10 years since it’s been built, the Bullit Center has generated 30% more energy from its solar panels than needed, enough excess to power 14 homes. The building has also generated more water than it uses.

Marina Bay Sands — Singapore
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

The Marina Bay Sands resort was designed by architects and built from scratch. In some cases, the development of a new, energy-efficient building can sometimes cause unintended harm. It may block wind, add heat, or create shade on solar panels. 

For the resort, developers were able to construct an entire zone of sustainability that worked together to reduce emissions and cool the surrounding area. 

The facades of tall, medium, and short buildings push cool winds downwards toward pedestrians. The 250 acres of green space at the base of the group of 23 buildings also helps to cool down the surrounding area.

Museum of Tomorrow — Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
An exterior shot of the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

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Built in 2015 by Santiago Calatrava, an architect, engineer, and artist, is a sustainable building and public space for all to use. 

The museum incorporates natural energy and light sources by using water from the adjacent bay to control temperatures inside the building.

The museum also utilizes adjustable solar panels on the skeletal exterior of the building to maximize energy from the sun throughout the day and power the building. The integration of sustainable elements into creative design results in the unique canopy above the museum. 

 

 

Vertical Forest — Milan, Italy
Tightrope walkers walk across a tightrope attached to the top of the Vertical Forest in Milan, Italy.

Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Vertical Forest in Milan is comprised of two residential towers built by an architect named Stefano Boeri in 2014, covered by 800 trees and 5,000 shrubs.

The plants provide an amount of vegetation “equivalent to 30,000 square meters of woodland and undergrowth,” according to Boeri’s website. The plants help to absorb dust, produce oxygen, and reduce carbon dioxide. 

The architect is now pursuing other projects to expand the scope of vertical forests, with plans to build a “vertical green city” near Cancún, Mexico.

Torre Reforma — Mexico City, Mexico
An exterior shot of Torre Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico.

Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The second-tallest building in Mexico, the Torre Reforma is impressive for more than just its height. 

The triangular concrete facade of the building was strategically oriented to reduce energy use by minimizing direct sunlight and heat gain.

The building has extensive indoor gardens on multiple floors that help purify indoor air quality and bring nature into the building. The shape of the building, the concrete facade, and the gardens are all elements tailored specifically for the climate. 

It is also built to withstand earthquakes, a common occurrence in Mexico City.

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