Innovation That Matters

Top 7 Sustainable Architecture and Design Innovations From 2019

Innovation Snapshot

From floating buildings to self-sufficient homes, the global population has a growing range of sustainable living options available

Building and accommodating for future climates is an ongoing challenge and one that is being approached in a variety of ways. From floating buildings to creating self-sufficient homes, the global population has a growing range of sustainable living options available.

However, for truly long-term, sustainable living solutions, architecture must surpass carbon neutrality and embrace carbon negative, or climate positive, approach of removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is produced. Leading innovations such as Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Norway prove that you do not need a permanently warm, sunny climate to be energy positive. 

Designs like these could help to mitigate the damage caused by deforestation and the rise of carbon emissions. Combined with smart sensors to allow for automatic monitoring and regulation of energy and water consumption, this could well represent the cities of the future.


Photo source Snohetta

Powerhouse Brattørkaia, in Trondheim, Norway, is an energy-positive office that is now the most sustainable building to date. The office, measuring 18,000 sq m (193,750 sq ft), was designed by architecture collaborative Snøhetta.

The building uses a variety of different technologies to radically reduce energy use in its daily operations. These include a heat pump system, collecting rainwater for use in toilets, and using seawater from the nearby fjord for heating and cooling.

To generate energy, the roof and the upper part of its facade are covered in 3,000 sq m of solar panels. These produce around 500,000 kWh of electricity a year, more than twice as much as the building requires.

The excess energy is supplied to nearby buildings and used to powering electric vehicles, turning the building into a power plant. Energy storage is also built into the building’s footprint. Batteries are used to store surplus energy in the summer, when it is light for up to 20 hours a day, providing energy in the winter months when daylight is at a minimum.


Photo source

Italian architect Stefano Boeri has created plans for a new, eco-efficient forest city in Cancun, Mexico. The Smart Forest City Cancun is designed to accommodate 130,000 residents in plant-covered housing, along with a centre for advanced scientific research. 

The plan calls for the 557-hectare site to contain more than 7.5 million plants, capable of absorbing 116,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Boeri’s firm is designing the city in conjunction with German engineering company Transsolar. It will include elements to create a circular economy, such as solar panels, farmland irrigated using an embedded water system, a desalination system and water gardens to prevent flooding. Other features will include an internal electric mobility system for residents to leave vehicles on the outskirts alongside sensors to collect and analyse data on the use of energy, water and other systems. 


Photo source Geoship

California startup Geoship is aiming to change the construction industry through its use of bioceramic domes. Obtained from wastewater, the bioceramics are largely phosphate-based and self-adhesive. When combined, they form domed buildings that resemble footballs. 

The tiles are energy-efficient, quick to install and naturally repellent to insects and other pests. The dome shape makes it highly resilient to natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. As a result, the homes should last more than 500 years. Costs range from around €50,000 for the smallest building to €250,000 for the largest one.

The structures may even eventually become carbon negative thanks to the bioceramic tiles’ capability of absorbing carbon dioxide. The project will also provide free homes for a number of homeless people in Las Vegas. Production of the geodesic domes is likely to begin in 2021 and the company plans to include renewable energy systems as an option for each building.


Photo source June Tong

June Tong, an Architecture student from The Royal College of Art in London, developed a proposal for an arctic-based thermal bath powered by the waste from cruise ships. The project, “In Murky Waters,” was designed for a small coal-mining town in Longyearbyen, Norway. 

The town, once dependant on coal-powered energy as a main economic driver, now relies on cruise-based tourism. However, cruise ships also take a significant environmental toll, as the waste they expel contributes to the melting of Arctic ice. 

The idea is that thermal baths will help create a “green Arctic experience” for tourists. Guests will be able to enjoy thermal baths that are powered by waste from the same cruise ships that transport them. Arctic bathing will allow towns, such as the one in Longyearbyen, to continue benefiting from the income provided by Arctic tourism without the downside of ice melting.


Photo source Sheppard Robson

Architecture firm Shephard Robson unveiled plans to cover a new building with “the largest living wall in Europe.”  Citicape House will be constructed on the site of the newly-established Culture Mile in the City of London and will include office and event space, a hotel, restaurant and a publicly-accessible roof terrace.

The building will be wrapped in a façade made up of more than 400,000 plants. The façade will also incorporate a rainwater collection system that will irrigate the wall and reduce the need to pipe excess water to the site. At roof level, there will be spaces designed to help threatened native wildflower species to flourish.

The green wall is estimated to provide six tonnes of oxygen and will capture more than eight tonnes of CO2 from the air each year. This will be especially welcome, as the building is located in a heavily trafficked area. It will also help to mitigate the urban heat island effect, lowering the temperatures around the building by three to five degrees Celsius.


Photo source Finnish Cultural Institute

The Zero Waste pop-up Bistro, made entirely from recycled and recyclable materials, was commissioned by The Finnish Cultural Institute in New York. The design was carried out by Harri Koskinen and Linda Bergroth and displayed during the WantedDesign Fair. It has also won a Sustainability Award at the Frame Awards in Amsterdam.

The Bistro was built entirely from recycled food packaging. The furnishings and tableware were also 100 per cent recyclable and came from a variety of partners, predominantly iconic Finnish styles that were selected based on their sustainability.

The food concept was created by Restaurant Nolla, a zero-waste restaurant in Helsinki. Restaurant Nolla aims to use foods that would typically be discarded, to reject food packaging and to minimise waste.

The New York pop-up used local ingredients, along with commonly overlooked food by-products, such as oyster mushrooms and spent grain crumble. In addition to a dining experience, the pop-up event also included workshops and talks on circular economy and zero-waste fashion.


Photo source

Art school graduate student Wojciech Morsztyn’s floating concept home is a largely self-sustainable, two-story structure, powered by renewable energy. Created as an alternative solution to rising sea levels, the homes can be anchored together in clusters. Ideally located only metres away from a city’s coast, each Ocean Community will connect individual homes via walkways. When tethered together, multiple communities could form larger neighbourhoods. 

Each floating home runs off a mixture of solar and electrical energy, and filters and stores water. Due to each community’s proximity to the shore, Morsztyn envisions residents travelling to and from the mainland quickly and easily, as per regular urban commuters. As well as being of interest to individual homeowners, the hospitality industry is likely to show interest in offering the floating homes as additional accommodation.  

Potentially, the homes could be available commercially within 10 to 15 years, and their suggested cost is expected to be around €174,000. Further development of the idea includes expanding renewable energy sources, to enable a community to live completely off-grid.