Courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel

Green by Design: Net Zero Architecture Around the Globe

  1. Greening the Cityscape

    Greening the Cityscape

    Climate change is a global issue, one that architects, designers, and engineers are tackling head-on. Their efforts are particularly visible on city skylines, which are sprouting rooftop gardens, “living walls,” and solar arrays. These technologies, especially when combined, can result in “net zero” buildings, meaning structures that draw no energy from the grid and are carbon-neutral.


    As one of the city’s major urban renewal projects, the Central Park towers in Sydney (bottom right) are integrated into the city’s current layout. The two residential buildings have living walls, which adjoin a public park and commercial space.


    Courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  2. Living Walls

    Living Walls

    Sydney’s Central Park will be Australia’s greenest urban village, housing its own on-site tri-generation plant. This energy source will supply electricity, heating, and cooling using “green transformers” powered by natural gas. The project features rooftop gardens, green walls, solar panels, and smart-metering systems, as well as the biggest membrane bioreactor (MBR) recycled water facility in the world.

    Architects, designers, and landscape experts from Sydney, London, Paris, and Copenhagen pooled their talent to create the mixed-use development. When completed next year, 30,000 square meters of parks and terraces will integrate 250 species of native and exotic plants lodged between floors.

    The hovering cantilever of penthouses includes motorized mirrors that capture sunlight and direct the rays down onto Central Park’s gardens.

    Courtesy Ateliers Jean Nouvel
  3. Low Carbon University

    Low Carbon University

    The EcoHawks Research Facility at the University of Kansas is focused on developing automobiles that run on renewable sources of energy. The high-bay fabrication areas allow maximum visibility and solar gain, while visitors can view works in progress. To offset the high heat transfer and to improve energy performance, the facility is developing aerogel panels that raise and lower behind the glass facade.

    Photograph by James Ewing/OTTO
  4. Naturally Efficient

    Naturally Efficient

    The exterior of the “Clever Treefrog” apartment building in Hamburg has the world’s first bioreactor facade. A “bio skin” contains microalgae trapped between glass panels, which creates energy and also controls light and shade. Fed by liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide, the algae grow and create energy through photosynthesis, which can be processed into biogas after harvesting and fermentation.

    The energy from the sun is absorbed by the algae panels and then used for hot water or ambient heat. The overflow of heat can be stored in the ground using downhole heat exchangers—brine buried 250 feet underground.

    Photograph by Paul Ott Photografiert
  5. Wind Harvest

    Wind Harvest

    A Walgreens in Evanston, Ill., has just inaugurated the first net zero retail space in the U.S. The building is outfitted with 800 rooftop solar panels, LED bulbs and large windows for natural light, geothermal heating and cooling, and two wind turbines. There’s also an electric-vehicle charging station in the parking lot. The space is expected to produce energy equal to or greater than what it consumes.

    Courtesy Walgreens
  6. Green Acres

    Green Acres

    Beddington Zero Energy Development, or BedZED, is located in a suburb south of London. Built in 2002, it’s the U.K.’s largest mixed-use, carbon-neutral development.

    The residential and commercial complex includes a biomass combined heat and power plant, an on-site sewage treatment and rainwater recycling system, and natural wind-driven ventilation. A majority of the construction materials—along with the labor force for the project—were sourced within a 50-mile radius of the site, enabling a low carbon footprint during the building phase.

    Photograph by Xinhua/eyevine via Redux
  7. Solar Skin

    Solar Skin

    The Design Hub at RMIT University in Melbourne was designed with open interiors for collaboration between diverse design and research disciplines. The Hub incorporates water, waste, and recycling management programs.

    The building's outer skin uses automated sun-shading that includes photovoltaic cells, evaporative cooling and fresh-air intakes that improve the internal air quality and reduce running costs. The cells have been designed so that they can be easily replaced as the solar technology improves. Part of the northern facade is dedicated to ongoing research into solar cells.

    Photograph by Rory Gardiner/OTTO
  8. Living Building

    Living Building

    The Bullitt Center, an office building in Seattle, was designed to be the greenest commercial building in the world, and was completed on Earth Day 2013. Built to have a 250-year life span, the six-story carbon-neutral structure incorporates an independent water and sewage processing system.

    The combination of a solar roof, a 56,000-gallon rainwater collection system with UV purification, and energy conservation measures has rendered the development energy-neutral. Twenty-six geothermal wells extending 400 feet into the ground help heat the building in winter. Even the lumber is certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council. True to form, the building has bike racks but no parking spaces.

    Photograph by Benjamin Benschneider/OTTO
  9. Most Efficient

    Most Efficient

    With a 30,000-square-foot roof garden, Lee Hall at Clemson University in South Carolina is one of the most energy-efficient academic buildings in the U.S. Housed 440 feet below the building are 42 geothermal wells that heat and cool the structure.

    The open-plan design allows for natural ventilation, and mechanical windows stabilize the interior temperature. The green roof is planted with sedum, a leafy succulent that cools the building and controls water runoff. The interior lighting is natural and comes from the placement and mechanics of 53 skylights (shown here).

    Photograph by Scott Frances/OTTO
  10. Net Zero Complex

    Net Zero Complex

    With 2,900 houses, Stad van de Zon (City of the Sun) in Heerhugowaard, Netherlands, is the largest energy-neutral residential town in the world. This was accomplished by installing 3.75 megawatt-peak of photovoltaic systems, 100 hectares of forest, and three wind turbines of 2.3 megawatts each.

    The carbon-neutral town is also outfitted with communal amenities, including miles of city bike paths, boating waterways, swimming areas, and parks.

    Photograph by Peter Hilz/Redux