Sustainable architecture is at the heart of ensuring our buildings last into the coming decades of climate crisis.

The Arup Group, headquartered in Britain, provides engineering, planning, architecture and development services to a number of multinational clients. One of the group’s central focuses is sustainable building design, integrating each structure into the surrounding natural world. Arup’s mission directly connects with many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, helping to achieve a level of harmony between the industrialized and the natural world.

Arup’s SolarLeaf building in Germany exemplifies the UN’s Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. In Hamburg, Arup’s designers created the world’s first facade system that utilizes micro-algae as a source of heat. Micro-algae are used for power and heat generation, and can be stored with almost no energy loss. Operating year-round, SolarLeaf’s innovative facade harnesses the power of biomass as a source for renewable energy, thus preventing excessive carbon emissions.

Sustainable architecture is also at the heart of Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

SolarLeaf Building. Image courtesy of Arup.

Arup has pioneered a cost-effective living wall system named the Vertical Meadow. With this system, local wildflowers are grown from seed on a vertical wall. The wall can be used on anything from building facades to temporary applications, including construction site scaffolding. A full-use irrigation system delivers water and nutrients to the wall, which are collected in a gutter below for recirculation.

It is biodiverse, safe and low-maintenance, and has been used to beautify a building as well as reduce noise. The Vertical Meadow protects native flower and plant species, and attracts pollinators and birds. Ultimately, the Living Wall is a perfect example of how sustainable architecture merges the protection of nature with the irreversible tide of urbanization.

The Living Wall. Image courtesy of Landscape Institute.

In addition to incorporating nature in the urban environment, Goal 11 entails creating buildings that maximize sustainability by interacting with the ecosystems around them. The California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco, for instance, was the most environmentally sustainable museum in the world upon opening. Its water-efficient landscaping uses captured, recycled water from the green roofs, and mechanisms throughout the campus reduce water use. It boasts 2.5 total acres of green roofs, growing 1.7 million native California plants. Buildings such as these optimize energy through natural ventilation, heat recovery, and displacement ventilation, greatly reducing costs of heating and cooling.

California Academy of Sciences. Image courtesy of California Academy of Sciences.

Arup’s environmental architecture also focuses on recycling energy and water, directly addressing Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. In Seattle, Washington, a team of Arup designers worked on the building for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The 12 acres in downtown Seattle returned more than 40% of the site back to green space, incorporating almost 2 whole acres of living roofs and a variety of native plantings. These living roofs absorb rainwater, while excess runoff is filtered through a million-gallon rainwater storage tank underneath campus to be cleaned and filtered back into campus.

Each year, rainwater harvesting saves the campus 2.5 million gallons of water. A solar energy system accounts for over 33% of hot water use, including a 750k gallon Thermal Energy Storage tank. At the time of its construction in 2011, the Foundation became the largest non-profit LEED-NC Platinum building in the world. This rating denotes that the project was awarded the highest possible amount of points by addressing certain environmental concerns in regards to carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor quality. A Platinum rating is notoriously difficult to achieve, particularly on such a large-scale project.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Image courtesy of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Above all, the practice of sustainable architecture speaks to the UN’s Goal 13: Climate Action. In order to combat the damage we have done to our environment, Arup and other sustainable design firms have shown the importance of creating climate-friendly buildings. In incorporating high-tech, cutting-edge environmental solutions, Arup’s designers have shown that the SDGs can be a part of everyday life and structure.

Learn more about Arup’s sustainable practice here.

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