A World of Wisdom

Faced with the daunting realities of climate change, thought leaders across design fields are reimagining the ways we live, work, travel, and build. So what are the sustainable strategies of tomorrow? Established and emerging voices agree: Small changes yield big results.

The School of “Less Is More”

Photo: José Hevia.

The Reggio School, a light-filled classroom, open to the outdoors, reveals the potential of lean construction.

Buildings are among the worst carbon offenders, accounting for some 40 percent of the world’s annual emissions due to their energy consumption and the embodied energy (that is, the footprint of producing and shipping materials). But what if we just simply pared back construction? At the Reggio School in Madrid, Spanish architect Andrés Jaque of Office for Political Innovation has demonstrated |the success of that “waste not, want not” approach. By eschewing cladding, drop ceilings, raised floors, wall linings, and other standard interior elements, the firm reduced materials by an estimated 48 percent—embracing the exposed mechanical systems and structural walls as visual elements while telegraphing the toll of building operations to young students. The structure’s stacked vertical form, meanwhile, deviates from the standard horizontality of educational architecture, limiting the impact of the foundations on the immediate terrain. Here, in other words, is a school that stays light on the land in every sense.

Factory of the Future

Photo: Einar Aslaksen.

Designed by BIG–Bjarke Ingels Group, Norway’s the plus features a circular central courtyard.

Bjarke Ingels has long championed what he calls hedonistic sustainability: the concept that architecture can both do good, from an environmental standpoint, and feel great for humans. “You can make the world cleaner and more fun at the same stroke,” notes the architect, founder of BIG–Bjarke Ingels Group. In Norway, the AD100 firm has now applied that philosophy to manufacturing, an all too often eco-indifferent realm of the built environment. The Plus, a new factory for the Norwegian furniture brand Vestre, was designed to release 50 percent less greenhouse gas than a comparable facility while achieving an ambitious BREEAM Outstanding rating, a first for an industrial project. It does so thanks to responsible construction materials (local mass timber, low-carbon concrete, recycled steel) and utmost energy efficiency, with 900 rooftop photovoltaic panels, electric vehicles, and ample hydropower, among other innovations.

Photo: Einar Aslaksen.

The Cruciform Complex from above.

But The Plus is also a beauty to behold, its striking cruciform plan extending from a central circular courtyard. Each of the four wings—dedicated to storage, color production, woodwork, and assembly—maintains a direct link to nature, a connection further reinforced by green roofs. Vestre’s campus, meanwhile, includes a 300-acre public park, inviting visitors, hikers, and employees to delight in the intersection of nature, architecture, and industry. “To us, The Plus is a crystal-clear example of hedonistic sustainability,” says Ingels, noting that the building shows “how our sustainable future will be not only better for the environment but also more beautiful to work in and more fun to visit.”

Do-Right Bucket List

Photo: Courtesy of Wildnerness

DumaTau, a Wilderness safari camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness

Arriving at DumaTau, a storied safari lodge in Botswana, you might very well hear animals before you see them. Perhaps it’s the swish of a parade of elephants as they cross the Linyanti River, following the same ancient paths as their ancestors. Or maybe it’s  the crunch of a hippopotamus as it devours a patch of grass at the base of the camp’s elevated decks. Come dusk, it will certainly be the choir of reed frogs, their chimes an auditory accompaniment to the starry skies. Those sounds all capture what makes a Wilderness safari the ultimate dream trip: an immediate connection to earth’s most extraordinary ecosystems.

Today Wilderness—a pioneering travel group since 1983—is expanding its mission to safeguard these vulnerable habitats. Already, the brand protects some six million acres of land, with more than 60 safari camps in eight African nations. This year, it announced an initiative to double that conservation commitment by 2030, with eyes set on Tanzania and Rwanda and beyond the continent. (First up in its global expansion? South America.) Conservation and leisure, Wilderness believes, can go happily hand in hand.

Integral to those ambitions is a multifold sustainability strategy that blends smart design principles with meaningful economic impact. Camps are now built to minimally disturb 
the land and to be energy efficient, relying on solar power and salvaged materials to reduce carbon emissions and limit embodied energy. (Duma Tau, for instance, was recently rebuilt by design studio Luxury Frontiers using repurposed boardwalk planks.) Community partnership, too, forms a philosophical bedrock. In Botswana, for example, some 90 percent of goods and services come from local suppliers while an estimated 96 percent of staff hail from nearby villages, creating much-needed investment into the region. “The time has come for us to refine our strategy,” says Vince Shacks, the brand’s impact manager. “We exist to increase the world’s wilderness together.”

Chip Off the Old Guac

Photo: Courtesy of Friedman Benda 

Fernando Laposse/Friedman Benda tiles.

Age-old craftsmanship meets would-be compost in a new body of work by Fernando Laposse. Responding to the deleterious ecological effect of avocado overfarming on the Mexican landscape, the Mexico City–based artisan and artist has been mining its materials potential—using pits to create dyes for tapestries and repurposing discarded skins in a bold new marquetry technique.

Wasted Opportunities 

Photo: Syam Sreesylam

Wallmakers designed Chuzhi House in Tamil Nadu, India to tread lightly on the site.

To the unimaginative eye, muck and refuse hardly seem like the building blocks of a 21st-century dream home. But for Vinu Daniel, founder of the pioneering architecture firm Wallmakers, everyday debris is a precious commodity. Since starting his Kerala, India–based firm in 2007, the rising star has undertaken bold material experiments in a series of residential and public projects, demonstrating how earth and trash can be repurposed as structural treasure.

Masonry rubble, excavated on-site, might reappear as alternating bands in eye-catching partitions. Discarded bottles, mixed with mud, become a low-cost, eco-friendly substitute for cement. And locally made bricks, laid in a rat trap bond, become fluid, thermally sensitive curves. “We believe that the beauty we strive to achieve is in the structure itself,” the architect told AD India in 2021. Underpinning these explorations is the conviction— espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and reinforced in the work of trailblazing architect Laurie Baker—that the materials used to construct a home should all come from within a five-mile radius. It’s a notion that feels all the more relevant today, as leading minds grapple with the insidious environmental toll of manufacturing and shipping.

Photo: Syam Sreesylam

Beams of earth and debris wrap tamarind trees.

Daniel’s latest project, Chuzhi house in the state of Tamil Nadu, further blurs the line between the natural and the built environments. Erected on a rocky site, the two-bedroom residence (named after the Malaysian word for “whirlpool”) hugs the terrain, deferring to the natural splendor by wrapping around tamarind trees and remaining below grade, out of sight. To form its sinuous structure of precast beams, Daniel and his team combined plastic from some 4,000 discarded bottles with the plot’s own dirt.

Last year, this bold approach earned the firm the prestigious Royal Academy Dorfman Award. As one jury member, architect Farshid Moussavi, reflected on the win: “Wallmakers’ work engages with issues raised by the climate emergency with a creative energy and urgency that will inspire architects to reconsider the impact of their work in relation to ecology and the consumer economy.”

Everyday Heirlooms

Photo: courtesy of Floyd

The new Floyd dresser.

Buy less furniture is hardly the message you expect to hear from a furniture company. For 10 years, however, the Detroit-based brand Floyd has discouraged design lovers from replacing a bed or sofa they’ve outgrown, instead championing modular systems that evolve in step with life’s changes. (Their new hit dresser, shown, can be expanded and reconfigured as needed.) “Furniture should change and adapt, but it should also be beautiful,” says cofounder Kyle Hoff. “We make pieces you’ll want to keep forever.” floydhome.com

This story appears in AD’s May 2023 issue. To see this sustainable living package in print, subscribe to AD.

?  Read More  Sustainability & LEED  ?…production, woodwork, and assembly—maintains a direct link to nature, a connection further reinforced by green roofs. Vestre’s campus, meanwhile, includes a 300-acre public park, inviting visitors, hikers, and employees to delight in the intersection of nature, architecture, and industry. “To us, The Plus is a crystal-clear example of… ampproject.org Total Engagement: 7