Environmentally-sustainable buildings: The Italian and global scenario

Limiting the environmental impact to the minimum through environmentally-friendly constructions.

Sustainable architecture and eco-friendly buildings are now part of the daily agenda of international communities and companies.  The need to minimize the environmental impact calls for these types of buildings. This is also why environmentally friendly projects annually increase in number, merging their eco-friendliness with more classical functional and aesthetic features present in other buildings. But when is it correct to speak of sustainable buildings? And which are the main examples of eco-buildings in Italy and around the world?

Sustainable architecture and eco-friendly buildings: A brief definition

Sustainable architecture takes on many names: i.e. Bioecological-architecture, bio-architecture and green buildings. This puts eco-friendly buildings right at the centre. These structures aim at minimizing the environmental impact, while delivering better energy efficiency, health-improvements and comfort.

But what does it actually mean to build eco-friendly buildings? Firstly, it means that the materials used to build the project have a low environmental impact. So, in the majority of cases, this means using recycled materials or reusable ones, which can also be re-cycled and reused, with small amounts of energy (a big difference from reinforced concrete, which requires great energy to be demolished). Still, it does not just come down to materials: the orientation, solar-rotation, and the use of advanced systems that produce and use renewable energy also play a big part.

Italy's eco-friendly buildings: A few examples

Among Italy's eco-friendly buildings, which more than others received international recognition, there's certainly the world-renowned Biocasa_82. Built in Crocetta del Montello, in the Province of Treviso, by Welldom, a general contractor from Veneto, this environmentally friendly building, is made with 99% recyclable materials. The building is, energetically speaking, totally auto-sufficient, using 100% of the collected rainwater. At a European level, it was the first house that received the prestigious Leed Platinum certification: it does not therefore come to surprise that in 2015 it won, with a great round of applause, the Gbc Italia Leadership Award, at the end of the Greenbuild Europe & the Mediterranean event.

Biocasa_82 was also the first Italian building to privately carry out a carbon footprint analysis, to calculate the CO2 emissions that it released into the environment. Results speak for themselves: a 60%-lower footprint than the one created by a traditional building.

Among Italy's other eco-friendly buildings, also worthy of mention, there's the Fiorita Passive House, in Cesena. This is the first Italian multi-residency (with 8 housing units), whose bearing-structure is made with xlam wood, and is certified by the Passive Hause Institut of Damstraat. Stefano Piraccini and Margherita Potente, the two project designers, aimed to minimize, or to actually eliminate, the need of heating and of cooling, trailing the example of NZEB buildings, pursuant to European Directive 2010/31/EU.

Treading along the same path, there's Milan's K19b building, which came to life thanks to the in-depth study and design of Lpzr. The building stands out for its reduction of non-renewable energy sources, and for the courageous design of this 9-storey building that rests on an abandoned factory.

Milan also offers the New Bocconi Campus, resulting from a requalification of Milan's old Municipal Dairy. The project was designed by SANAA, a Japanese architecture firm, which, almost entirely, designed energy auto-sufficient buildings.

Global Eco-Friendly Buildings

With regard to international eco-friendly buildings, the list is almost infinite. Recently, Apple's new Apple Park, its HQ at Cupertino, in the US, was put under the spotlight. The huge ring-shaped central structure, resembling a doughnut, is surmounted by solar power station. The park has also 9000 trees. 12,000 employees currently work in the structure. Last April, Apple proudly announced that 100% of Apple Park's energy is provided from renewable energy sources.

The list of the best eco-friendly buildings also includes the Manitoba Hydro Place, the Canadian headquarters of the electric company Manitoba Hydro. This skyscraper was built to exploit solar power, both for heat and lighting purposes. At the same time, the building has triple-windows to reduce heat dissipation. There is also a geothermal heating system and a ventilation one. By exploiting the building's particular shape, it allows to always have natural air in the ventilation conduits, irrespective of external temperature.

If we take a look at Europe, among the eco-friendly buildings worthy of mention, a building that certainly stands out is The Edge, in Amsterdam. It scored the highest ranking ever to be registered by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). The Dutch Deloitte headquarters has, already, many times, been named the world's most sustainably smart building, due to the great amount of advanced technology present. The many invisible solar panels covering the building, and the geothermal heat pump, allow the building to save 70% of energy, compared to a traditional parallel building.

The Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China, concludes this list. Besides being the world's second tallest skyscraper, with its 128 storeys and 632 metres of height, it is also an eco-friendly building that uses many recycled materials, while also reducing the amount of construction materials, thanks to the idea of a curved shape able to reduce the wind's force. Wind turbines are also used in the building to cover its energy needs.