How sustainable are green buildings?


(Source: Ateliers Jean Nouvel)

Architects, engineers, and developers are aware, now more than ever, that sustainable infrastructure is a priority if we look to reduce our global carbon footprint.

To foster an eco-friendlier environment, firms are going ‘green’ (quite literally) by incorporating the very elements of nature that set the built environment apart from its natural counterpart. This is nothing ground-breaking, however. The energy crisis of the 1970s was enough to warrant the bleak future of the environment if something wasn’t done to tackle the issue. More so, it’s the sudden increase in eco-friendly buildings over the past decade that’s worth noting. One may think that expensive, state-of-the-art features are required to ensure a building remains as energy-efficient as possible. However, incorporating vegetation into our everyday surroundings can enhance air quality and reduce stress levels significantly.

ACROS Fukuoka

The ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall – completed in 1994 – lies in the subtropical city of Fukuoka, Japan. Conceived by Argentinian architect, Emilio Ambasz, it’s one of the finest early examples of green architecture. Ambasz wanted to ensure the building seamlessly transitioned from park to building and vice versa. Its distinct 15 vegetated terraces, covered in local flora, caters to meditators and fitness enthusiasts alike. Fast forward 20 years later and you have a new generation of architects being influenced by Ambasz.

Oasia Hotel Downtown, Singapore
Oasia Hotel, Singapore (Source: Oasia Hotels)
PARKROYAL on Pickering, Singapore
Parkroyal on Pickering Hotel, Singapore (Source: WOHA Architects)

WOHA Architects

The Oasia and Parkroyal on Pickering hotels, both located in Singapore, are the crowning achievements of Singaporean practice, WOHA Architects. Widely renowned for their sustainable designs as a response to climate change, they have realised the advantage of building high-rises in high-density, tightly-spaced subtropical climates – it’s cooler up there. By integrating vegetation into their design features, these open, permeable buildings allow natural ventilation to pass through instead of relying on artificial air conditioning. Their alternative architecture intends to steer away from the glitzy skyscrapers that have come to dominate Asian attitudes towards rapid urbanisation.


Many studies have been published on the potential benefits of having indoor plants, namely their stress-reducing, air-purifying, and dust removing capabilities. It’s why developers and interior designers encourage incorporating plants into hospitals and office spaces – they can aid in the recovery process for patients as well as boost productivity levels amongst working professionals. Adopting this concept in a commercial setting also has its advantages as large-scale interior planting has a measurable effect on reducing carbon dioxide levels and the temperature of a building. Oasia Hotel, with its trellis-like façade and three sky terraces, provides natural cooling measures for its guests. 20 Fenchurch Street, though not on the same scale as the former, still provides ample freshness as soon as you enter its Sky Garden. More recent residential properties, such as Bosco Verticale, are also incorporating flora within their structures. Located in Porta Nuova, Milan, the pair of residential towers stand roughly 111 metres and 76 metres tall and are adorned with over 900 varieties of trees, shrubs, and perennials.

World’s smartest buildings: Bosco Verticale
Bosco Verticale, Milan (Source: PlaceTech)


It should be made clear that building a ‘green’ structure doesn’t necessarily make it a sustainable one. The time and resource constraints surrounding green architecture, therefore, need to be briefly addressed. These structures are, firstly, expensive and time-consuming to maintain requiring a dedicated team to do so. ‘Smart’ buildings that draw on solar/wind energy or rainwater are excellent at minimising energy waste but have extortionate manufacturing costs. An abundance of flammable organic matter present in these structures also causes them to be more prone to fires.

Concluding thoughts

The trend for building sustainable architecture has experienced a recent renaissance, particularly around ‘green’ architecture. I’m a big advocate of incorporating plants into a building’s form if it genuinely aids in the wellbeing of its occupants. The conversation on sustainable architecture, however, should start to focus on a long-term strategy prioritising developing sustainable spaces for future generations to enjoy. This requires architects, engineers, urban planners, local government officials, and other important agents of the built environment to consider what people want and then develop a transparent exchange. ‘Green’ architecture must serve a deeper purpose and not simply rely on aesthetic appeal.

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