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Top 10 green buildings

This article has been written as a team effort. We wanted to use the opportunity to have a discussion about sustainability and green buildings that spanned across our design practice studios.

The selection for the buildings arose from a discussion between:

  • Simon Bennet, Director of the Structural Engineering Studio
  • Nicole Portieri, Design Director of the Commercial Studio   
  • Peter Prescott, Associate Director of the Design Delivery Studio

We decided to select buildings based on what has inspired us throughout our careers as architects and engineers, buildings we have admired, that struck a chord with us and shaped our experience and interest rather the most famous or the greenest, as this ultimately is part of the conversation. How green is green?

10 | Ford End Watermill, Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire

Ford End Watermill
  • Built primarily with sustainable, recyclable, and compostable materials (timber)
  • Zero carbon emissions from its process.
  • Long service life (at least 1787 to 1963)
  • Now a museum

Why choose it? Because it demonstrates why we now have to think hard about green issues. In years past, our technology was much greener. Now we are trying to reduce the environmental impact of our inherently non-green modern technologies. Should we be learning from the past more?

9 | Sainsbury’s Greenwich, London, UK

Greenwich
  • Chetwood Architects’ award winning 1999 building now demolished
  • Genuine attempt to produce a low carbon version of this building typology
  • Lots of natural light. Earth sheltered. All on a contaminated former industrial site

Why choose it? A pioneering building that showed what is possible. It was a nicer place to be than other supermarkets. It was refused listing and controversially demolished in 2016. The building raises lots of questions. Does it make sense to deny a building listing just because it is too young? Would it have been OK to demolish St Paul’s cathedral 15 years after its completion? Was there a lack of commitment from big business? Or does the fact that it’s now gone prove that it wasn’t a good building anyway? Whatever your view, the building moved the debate about sustainability on in this country and is still referred to.

8 | Said Business School phase II, Oxford, UK

Said Business School
  • New academic building
  • Uses energy piles
  • Full integration of the structural and services design

Why choose it? Because, unusually, it uses the foundation piles as a source of heat/cooling via a closed loop ground source heat pump system. This is hidden and required very careful engineering and coordination to make it work.

7 | Canary Wharf underground station, London, UK

Canary Wharf
  • Built to facilitate sustainable public transport
  • Exposed structure reducing embodied carbon by reducing the need for finishes
  • Thermal mass of structure helps keep the spaces cool
  • Generous spaces for circulation to account for future passenger growth
  • Public park provided on top

Why choose it? This project used the opportunity provided by a major infrastructure project (the Jubilee Line extension) to provide public space in an area where that commodity was being squeezed out. It brilliantly expresses the engineering of the building with its beautiful architecture, without the need for energy consuming and maintenance requiring finishes.

6 | BedZED, London, UK

BedZED
  • South London eco village
  • ‘zero carbon’

Why choose it? It is perhaps rather predictable and its architecture is not to everyone’s taste, but it was a ground-breaking scheme in its time and, like the Greenwich Sainsbury’s, is a benchmark against which other projects are still compared.

5 | The Glass Chapel, Alabama, USA

The Glass Chapel
  • In its initial years, the Studio (founded in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee so early days for green ethos) became known for establishing an ethos of recycling, reusing and remaking. It is now an undergraduate program at the School of Architecture Auburn University Alabama, US
  • Part of Rural Studio’s philosophy is to continually question what should be built, rather than what can be built, both for the performance and operation of the projects.
  • A local project: the glass Chapel is a community building built by and with the community.
  • Multi-functional: the Glass Chapel serves as a transportation stop, community gathering space, chapel for the local choral group and distribution centre for children's summer school meals.
  • Materials re-use: car windows salvaged from a Chicago scrap yard provide striking roofing material on the north side atop rammed earth walls.

4 | Across Building, Fukuoka, Japan

Across Building

Why choose it? Opened in 1995, it is an early example of a having a green roof as the theme for the project. The green roof build was chosen in order to salvage one of the last parks in Fukuoka City.

3 | Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver Convention Center

Why choose it?

  • “I’ve been and it’s remarkable” - Nicole Portieri
  • Massive green roof among other green features
  • Operations and Maintenance Second Accreditation

“The Vancouver Convention Centre is proud to announce that its iconic West building has been awarded LEED Platinum certification (version 4) for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance by the Canada Green Building Council. Coupled with its 2010 Platinum certification for New Construction, the Vancouver Convention Centre is the first double LEED Platinum convention centre in the world.”

2 | The Bullitt Center, Seattle, Washington, USA

The Bullitt Center

Why choose it?

  • Built for the Living Building Challenge. In order to be certified as a Living Building, a structure is required to produce as much energy as it uses in a year, as well as capture and treat rainwater for all its needs for at least 12 continuous months. The structure must also meet rigorous standards for “Red List” compliant materials and for the quality of its indoor environment.
  • The building has a 250-year lifespan.

1 | Upton Housing Scheme, Northampton, UK

Upton Housing Scheme
  • National PLC house builder (David Wilson) challenging its usual housing model
  • One of the first schemes of its kind to achieve excellent Eco Homes ratings
  • Contemporary approach using BRE A-rated Green Guide materials together with rainwater harvesting and PV water heating.

Why choose it? Because it demonstrates a flagship scheme built by a volume house builder. The scheme was used as a primary case study of the former Code for Sustainable Houses (sustainability monitoring accreditation), which has subsequently been incorporated as a compulsory requirement within the current national building regulations.

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10 | Ford End Watermill, Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire

Ford End Watermill
  • Built primarily with sustainable, recyclable, and compostable materials (timber)
  • Zero carbon emissions from its process.
  • Long service life (at least 1787 to 1963)
  • Now a museum

Why choose it? Because it demonstrates why we now have to think hard about green issues. In years past, our technology was much greener. Now we are trying to reduce the environmental impact of our inherently non-green modern technologies. Should we be learning from the past more?

9 | Sainsbury’s Greenwich, London, UK

Greenwich
  • Chetwood Architects’ award winning 1999 building now demolished
  • Genuine attempt to produce a low carbon version of this building typology
  • Lots of natural light. Earth sheltered. All on a contaminated former industrial site

Why choose it? A pioneering building that showed what is possible. It was a nicer place to be than other supermarkets. It was refused listing and controversially demolished in 2016. The building raises lots of questions. Does it make sense to deny a building listing just because it is too young? Would it have been OK to demolish St Paul’s cathedral 15 years after its completion? Was there a lack of commitment from big business? Or does the fact that it’s now gone prove that it wasn’t a good building anyway? Whatever your view, the building moved the debate about sustainability on in this country and is still referred to.

8 | Said Business School phase II, Oxford, UK

Said Business School
  • New academic building
  • Uses energy piles
  • Full integration of the structural and services design

Why choose it? Because, unusually, it uses the foundation piles as a source of heat/cooling via a closed loop ground source heat pump system. This is hidden and required very careful engineering and coordination to make it work.

7 | Canary Wharf underground station, London, UK

Canary Wharf
  • Built to facilitate sustainable public transport
  • Exposed structure reducing embodied carbon by reducing the need for finishes
  • Thermal mass of structure helps keep the spaces cool
  • Generous spaces for circulation to account for future passenger growth
  • Public park provided on top

Why choose it? This project used the opportunity provided by a major infrastructure project (the Jubilee Line extension) to provide public space in an area where that commodity was being squeezed out. It brilliantly expresses the engineering of the building with its beautiful architecture, without the need for energy consuming and maintenance requiring finishes.

6 | BedZED, London, UK

BedZED
  • South London eco village
  • ‘zero carbon’

Why choose it? It is perhaps rather predictable and its architecture is not to everyone’s taste, but it was a ground-breaking scheme in its time and, like the Greenwich Sainsbury’s, is a benchmark against which other projects are still compared.

5 | The Glass Chapel, Alabama, USA

The Glass Chapel
  • In its initial years, the Studio (founded in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee so early days for green ethos) became known for establishing an ethos of recycling, reusing and remaking. It is now an undergraduate program at the School of Architecture Auburn University Alabama, US
  • Part of Rural Studio’s philosophy is to continually question what should be built, rather than what can be built, both for the performance and operation of the projects.
  • A local project: the glass Chapel is a community building built by and with the community.
  • Multi-functional: the Glass Chapel serves as a transportation stop, community gathering space, chapel for the local choral group and distribution centre for children's summer school meals.
  • Materials re-use: car windows salvaged from a Chicago scrap yard provide striking roofing material on the north side atop rammed earth walls.

4 | Across Building, Fukuoka, Japan

Across Building

Why choose it? Opened in 1995, it is an early example of a having a green roof as the theme for the project. The green roof build was chosen in order to salvage one of the last parks in Fukuoka City.

3 | Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver Convention Center

Why choose it?

  • “I’ve been and it’s remarkable” - Nicole Portieri
  • Massive green roof among other green features
  • Operations and Maintenance Second Accreditation

“The Vancouver Convention Centre is proud to announce that its iconic West building has been awarded LEED Platinum certification (version 4) for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance by the Canada Green Building Council. Coupled with its 2010 Platinum certification for New Construction, the Vancouver Convention Centre is the first double LEED Platinum convention centre in the world.”

2 | The Bullitt Center, Seattle, Washington, USA

The Bullitt Center

Why choose it?

  • Built for the Living Building Challenge. In order to be certified as a Living Building, a structure is required to produce as much energy as it uses in a year, as well as capture and treat rainwater for all its needs for at least 12 continuous months. The structure must also meet rigorous standards for “Red List” compliant materials and for the quality of its indoor environment.
  • The building has a 250-year lifespan.

1 | Upton Housing Scheme, Northampton, UK

Upton Housing Scheme
  • National PLC house builder (David Wilson) challenging its usual housing model
  • One of the first schemes of its kind to achieve excellent Eco Homes ratings
  • Contemporary approach using BRE A-rated Green Guide materials together with rainwater harvesting and PV water heating.

Why choose it? Because it demonstrates a flagship scheme built by a volume house builder. The scheme was used as a primary case study of the former Code for Sustainable Houses (sustainability monitoring accreditation), which has subsequently been incorporated as a compulsory requirement within the current national building regulations.

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