The World’s Greatest Bioclimatic Architecture

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By Fiona King and Anna Simpson at Green Futures.

The best of new architecture strikes the eye, not the environment. The best of new build is designed to complement the landscape, both aesthetically and through the efficient use of natural resources. As Martin Hunt, Head of the Built Environment at Forum for the Future, puts it: “If a building is going to be called ‘worldclass’, it’s vital that sustainability is integral to the design.” These leading examples of new architecture will inspire visitors to remember their dependence on the great outdoors, however snug or smart it is inside. From Switzerland to Singapore to Scunthorpe, the one thing they all share is their interaction with their surroundings. Designed along ‘bioclimatic’ principles, each building draws on the local climate and the lay of the land (geology, topography and vegetation) to maximise natural shelter, warmth, light and ventilation, and – wherever possible – to harvest and conserve water and energy.

Monte Rosa Hut, Switzerland

This $6.3 million glittering aluminium shell bears little resemblance to a traditional mountain refuge. Nicknamed ‘Bergkristall’ (Mountain Crystal), the Swiss Alpine Club’s new shelter for hikers and climbers cuts into the rocky landscape, catching the rays reflected by the snow. A 16kW photovoltaic system integrated into the southern facade generates 90% of the building’s electricity, with excess stored in lead-acid accumulators. In the summer, water from the melting glaciers is harvested and stored in a large reservoir 40 metres up the slope. Waste water is filtered and recycled, and solar showers loosen up any aching limbs. A digital energy management system monitors demand, and even processes weather forecasts and anticipated visitor numbers for maximum efficiency. The Hut will also be used as a centre for research into resource efficiency by Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETH).

ArtScience Museum, Singapore

Inspired by the form of a lotus, Singapore’s newly opened ArtScience Museum in the heart of the Marina Bay development is a striking addition to the waterfront, with ten dramatic ‘fingers’ curving up towards the sky. Like all flowers, this too needs water and light. Architect Moshe Safdie designed the Museum to allow natural light to illuminate the curved interior walls of the ‘fingers’ through skylights at their tips. Its dish-like roof gathers rainwater, channelling it down a 35-foot drop at the core of the building, towards a reflective pool on the lower floor. From here, it’s redirected to a cooling cylindrical waterfall feature, and – more prosaically – recycled for use in the museum toilets.

Costa Navarino, Greece

This vast luxury resort in the Peloponnese sets out to preserve both the flora and fauna of the salt-swept bays, and the area’s architectural heritage – which harks back to King Nestor’s palace – while bringing new money and serious ambition to a region in need of regeneration. Some 16,000 displaced olive trees have been preserved and replanted, along with 800,000 indigenous shrubs, in a conservation scheme involving agricultural scientists, landscape architects and topographers. Living roofs extending over 5km2 shelter buildings designed to make the most of natural light and shade. All of the site’s electricity needs should be met by a 22MW photovoltaic system; it will be cooled by seawater and warmed by geothermal. Water use is carefully monitored, and recycling schemes are accompanied by educational programmes making visitors more aware of the local environment.

Sports Academy, UK

The design for Scunthorpe’s £15 million Sports Academy is inspired by the surrounding parkland and aims to enhance it. Six dome-shaped pods covered with heather and grass shelter the swimming pool, sports hall, fitness suite, dance studio and climbing column. According to architects Andrew Wright Associates, this structure offers the smallest possible surface area, keeping the costs and energy involved in supplying building materials to a minimum. Due to open in July 2011, the Academy will draw on its surroundings for natural light and ventilation, as well as 80% of its anticipated heat requirement, which will be generated by local wood chippings and ground source heat pumps. The plans also include a lagoon, green corridors to connect new habitats, and greywater collection from the showers to supply external water features.

Images courtesy of wild heather, kekszilva, willamchoNasos Efstathiadis Photography and Romeo66 on flickr

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the magazine of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.