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How green architecture can change the life of our planet

Aggiornamento: 2 apr 2023

The building of shelter (in all its forms) consumes more than 50% (by weight) of all the raw materials annually withdrawn from the Earth’s surface, 16% of the Earth’s freshwater, and 36% of all energy supplies [1]. Buildings are also responsible for 39% of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clear that to save our planet we need to rethink architecture.

Global CO2 Emissions by Sector





Building Operations




Building Materials & Construction




Source: Global Alliance for Business and Construction, 2018 GLOBAL STATUS REPORT

Green architecture can be defined as the philosophy of architecture that seeks to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by efficiency and moderation in the (re)use of materials, energy, and development space [2]. It is an approach to building based on the concept of sustainability.

Sustainability” is the ability to exist constantly, to endure.

In a general scientific sense, sustainability is the ability to continue a course without termination[3]. Today, it is used to indicate the capacity to maintain social, economic and technological development in harmony with the environment.

The first measurable criteria for environmentally responsible building principles were established in 1994. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards focus on five critical areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Sustainable Site Development

Recycled or Renewable Materials

Energy and Water Efficiency

High Indoor Environmental Quality

Involves, whenever possible, the reuse of existing buildings and the preservation of the surrounding environment. The incorporation of roof gardens, and extensive planting throughout and around buildings is encouraged.

Are preferable, especially those that require the least energy to manufacture. They may ideally be made locally of non-polluting new ingredients.

Can be increased thanks to better sun exposure, using diversified and regionally appropriate energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, water and by cleaning and recycling of the previously used water.

Influence how the individual feels in a space and involves such features as the sense of control over personal space, ventilation, temperature control and the use of materials that do not emit toxic gases.

A famous example of Platinum certification (the best one) is the new California Academy of Sciences building. Designed by Renzo Piano, it is considered the world's most green museum. Constructed of over 15,000 m3 of recycled concrete and 5,000 tonnes of recycled steel, the building includes lots of environmentally friendly features, like the 60,000 photovoltaic cells, the 2.5 acres green roof, the wall insulation made from scraps of recycled denim and the use of natural lighting in 90 % of occupied spaces.[to find out more]

In 2002, a revolutionary theory for sustainability was introduced by William McDonough and German chemist Dr. Michael Braungart in their book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”. According to this philosophy, we should not only reduce our consumption or recycle objects but design them to re-enter the system as a resource. Let’s consider for instance a biological cycle: a tree is planted, it grows, and then it is harvested; then another tree is planted. In the same way, the design must be "a beneficial, regenerative force”. Buildings should be designed to change their use in the future or to be "recycled" more easily. One of the first and biggest examples of this concept is the PARK 20|20, “the world’s first Cradle to Cradle optimized working environment”. Central to the whole approach is human well-being: the expected result is a more inspiring, healthy, and productive working environment [to find out more].

Even if scientists have obtained discordant results, many researchers have shown that spaces with lots of light and plants can positively influence employee mood and productivity. That’s one of the reasons why some architects have started to put more plants in their projects, even on the roof.

We have gone further… Stefano Boeri considers the Vertical Forest in Milan to be a “home for trees that also houses humans and birds”.

The Vertical Forest is the prototype building for a new format of architectural biodiversity which focuses not only on human beings but also on the relationship between humans and other living species.

On the same path, Hashim Sarkis has launched a striking visionary theme for next La Biennale (17th Venice’s International Architecture Exhibition):

How will we live together?

This fundamental question does not refer only to humans, but all species. And you, do you believe that it is necessary to recreate a less artificial environment where humans can share spaces with other species again?

Luca Mainini


[1] According to the 2019’s GLOBAL STATUS REPORT – UNO ENVIRONMENT

[2]"Sustainable Architecture and Simulation Modelling", Dublin Institute of Technology”

[3] Sustainability Shijie Liu, in Bioprocess Engineering (Second Edition), 2017

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