Examples of cutting-edge green buildings throughout Europe
Stefano Boeri’s jaw dropping ‘Bosco Verticale,’ or ‘Vertical Forest,’ in Milan, Italy, consists of two skyscrapers with trees planted on special platforms. These skyscrapers are tall enough to sustain more trees than an entire hectare of forest could. On a bright, sunny day, the Bosco Verticale really is one of the most stunning things in Milan, as lush vegetation springs confidently forth from the skyscrapers, turning the skyline a delightfully vivid green. Of course, there is a practical purpose to this as well, as the extra trees guzzle up CO2 and dust particles and emit clean oxygen, as well as bringing natural warmth to the building, and protecting people and houses from sustained exposure to harmful sun rays. Gutsy projects like this may make all the difference in the future in ensuring our cities remain appealing places to live.
In 2015, France made it a legal requirement for all new buildings in commercial zones to cover part of their rooftops in plants or solar panels for a cool roof effect. Cool roofs and green roofs lower surface temperatures on roofs in bright sunlight compared to a conventional roof. This helps reduce the amount of energy it takes for these buildings to be heated in the winter, or cooled in the summer. Some green roofs also prevent rainwater runoff, and are designed for water reclamation efforts. For more detail on the benefits of green roofs and other modern, water and energy efficient building measures, please see: green building.
The United Kingdom has made a legally binding commitment to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions come 2050. Part of achieving this target will be exclusively constructing net zero emissions buildings like the London HQ of UKGBC. The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) ran an exciting project to refurbish its office in a creative, clever, and environmentally friendly fashion. It created an office with the lowest measured fit-out carbon footprint in the UK, in addition to using 98% recycled materials over the course of the redesign. The London headquarters of UKGBC now feature LED lighting, a living wall (implementing the concept of biophilic architectural design to positively affect health and comfort), and an innovative HVAC system following strict sustainability principals. The UKGBC have also worked to encourage other major cities in the UK to take on environmental challenges, helping places like Manchester and Birmingham embrace innovative, refreshing green design, as well as encouraging the development of carbon-neutral buildings throughout Europe.
Some of the most impressive green buildings in the world are to be found in Germany and Sweden. The city of Freiburg, Germany boasts several of them, including the Solarsiedlung (Solar Settlement) and the Sonnenschiff (Sun Ship), which is a small, vibrant community powered entirely by solar energy in the city district of Vauban. Some of the homes in this part of Europe, and in nearby countries, are net zero carbon, ultra energy efficient homes that require very little energy to maintain heating, called ‘passivhaus‘ (passive homes). The Sun Ship even features plus energy homes/ buildings, which generate more renewable energy on-site than what the building energy demands are, and is then able to sell the excess energy back to the municipal utility.
Passive homes in Vauban produce their own energy from solar panels on the rooftop. Homes in Vauban are also powered by, and are supplied with district heating by, other renewable energy projects in town, such as a combined heat and power plant that is powered by biomass and natural gas. Passive homes throughout Europe also use renewable energy technologies on residents’ properties, such as geothermal heat pumps. Passive homes and passive buildings are sealed air-tight with timber construction, so that no weather penetrates the building; and use high quality, energy efficient insulation. A passive house is a shining example of sustainable architecture at its finest; and passive homes are built to ultra-energy efficient standards so that all heat generated within the home is retained. Some buildings in Vauban, Germany are actually plus-energy buildings, producing more energy than the building requires, and then the residents are able to sell the excess energy back to the grid.
Please also see: Vaxjo, Sweden (passivhaus construction practices in Vaxjo)