At a time when the urgency to respond to the climate crisis is greater than ever before, the ecological impact of architecture can no longer be undermined. Acknowledging this urgency for sustainable action, architects across the world have been researching and exploring unorthodox ecological solutions.
The conceptual projects that have emerged through this study provide a glimpse of what an eco-conscious future might look like. In this eleventh hour, it is our turn to heed to these architects, learn from them, and inculcate their ideologies in our work and life.
Here are 15 conceptual sustainable projects that have not been built:
1. The Dymaxion House, Buckminster Fuller
Envisioned as a sustainable “living machine of the future”, the Dymaxion House was conceptualized by Fuller in 1920. Fuller intended to mass-produce these prefabricated single-family units and deliver them to all parts of the world. The design of this modular house aimed at achieving “more with less”2: hexagonal floor plans were to be constructed with aluminum to decrease weight and increase strength. The floor slabs were to be suspended off a central structural pole.
Fullers’ design also included the patented ‘Dymaxion Bathroom’, which only consumed a cup of hot water for a shower and no water at all for the toilet.
2. The Arctic City, Frei Otto
This project was conceived by Otto in collaboration with Ewald Bubner and Kenzo Tange, at a time when there was an acceleration in technological development. The proposed city was to house 40,000 people under a 2 km dome at the Arctic Circle. The design of the city included a recreation district, an administration center, and an industrial area.
The most remarkable part of the scheme was the intended use of alternative energy to power the entire city: a nuclear power plant would displace oil as the primary energy source.
3. Hous.E+, Polifactory
In response to the ‘100 Mile House’ design competition in Vancouver, Polifcatory designed this energy-efficient, rammed earth house that generates electricity through turbines embedded in its walls. The water that is pumped through pipes in these walls is then stored on the roof in the form of a lake. Furthermore, heating and cooling demands are reduced due to the ground source heat pump incorporated into the design.
The architects aimed at designing a house that could potentially generate surplus energy and distribute this energy through a smart grid system in the future.
4. Weaving a Home, Abeer Seikaly
A conceptual emergency shelter, ‘Weaving a Home’ was designed by Abeer Seikaly as a response to the ongoing global refugee crisis. The mobile shelter is composed of a tubular framework onto which several modular units of stretchable fabric are attached. This fabric creates a breathable system that expands and contracts to depend on the occupants’ requirements. Seikaly aims to provide all necessities through this system. According to the preliminary design, water is to be collected and stored at the apex of the structure and further studies are being carried out regarding possible electricity generation and storage.
5. The Farmhouse, Fei and Chris Precht
In light of the growing environmental concerns surrounding food production, this conceptual project integrates agriculture and food production within a sustainable urban lifestyle. The Farmhouse consists of modular systems made of cross-laminated timber and stacked together to provide flexible configurations. Communal and private gardens for food production, incorporated within the modular system, serve to bring the occupant in close contact with nature and provide natural light and ventilation to the apartments.
6. Strawbale School in Malawi, Nudes
Designed in response to an architecture competition organized by Archstorming, this conceptual school conforms to the brief of using the local materials in conjunction with efficient construction systems. The scheme employs a modular wooden frame, upon which the strawbale is stacked. The use of strawbale and the distinct form of the structure emphasize the studio’s intention of moving away from standard pedagogical narratives in architecture.
7. Perched House, Somatic Collaborative
The Somatic Collaborative designed this conceptual house as an attempt to dissolve spatial boundaries between the interior and the exterior. In doing so, the architects separated a transparent envelope from an opaque raised core. The privacy of the occupants is governed by modulating the intensity of the glass.
The temperature of the house is controlled by the double layer of glazing on the southeastern and southwestern facades that acts as a ventilated cavity.
8. The Rub’al Khali Oculus, AIDIA Studio
Inspired by the anatomy of desert organisms, the design of the Oculus is an exemplary approach to sustainability through the lens of biomimicry. In designing the oculus, the studio closely studied the self-shade ability of desert organisms and their impact on internal temperature reduction. This analysis highlighted the significance of adaptable and modular configurations in response to the extreme environmental conditions of the desert.
Remarkably, the fabric used in the design has dye-sensitized solar cells that generate photovoltaic electric power to satisfy the energy demands of the pod.
9. Fachwerk Capriccio, Studio Anna Herringer
Built out of materials found in the direct vicinity of the proposed site, this house exemplifies Herringer’s sensitive approach to the context and the environment. A minimal environmental impact is a driving force behind the design: this is evident in the use of materials with low embodied carbon, proposed construction techniques, and the adoption of solar collectors and a wind turbine.
In referring to the concept of the design, Herringer spoke of the harmony between the occupants’ lives and the seasonal cycle.
10. Earth Chapel, JPAG
This design was a competition entry for the Rwanda Chapel that truly embodied the spirit of Rwanda. The massing of the proposal hovers slightly over the ground and its façade consists of locally sourced wooden sticks, placed at regular intervals. These two unique attributes of the design successfully disintegrate the barrier between the landscape and the chapel. The trees growing inside the chapel also contribute to this effect.
11. Gazprom Building, MVRDV
The MVRDV proposed the largest timber building for Gazprom Neft’s new headquarters. Owing to Gazprom’s work in the fossil fuel industry, much consideration was given by MVRDV over how to reduce the carbon footprint of their office. The scheme was envisioned to be raised over a public park on 119 wooden columns. A solar pergola was designed to provide the building with supplementary energy. Unfortunately, the scheme fared second in the competition.
12. ECLA, MCA and WASP
TECLA is a prototype developed by Mario Cucinella Architects in collaboration with students of the Architectural Association in London and WASP. The concept of TECLA emerged from the global climate debate over the need for ecological building practices. The prototype offers low cost, ecological, 3D printed housing that is made of earth. The designers intend to carry out 3D printing on-site shortly.
13. The Lattice Bridge, Antony Gibbon Designs
Known to push the boundaries of architecture with his conceptual designs, Antony Gibbons is deeply inspired by organic forms and biomimicry. His proposal of the Lattice Bridge is no exception. The design of this footbridge minimizes the environmental impact in terms of construction technology and the material used. Wooden beams are pivoted to provide structural stability.
14. Dune House, Studio Vural
With this project, Studio Vural envisioned an off the grid holiday home that could be a prototype for future residential projects. Designed for a seaside in Massachusetts, lead architect Vural categorizes it as “subtractive architecture”. The studio plans for the house to be heated and cooled by a geothermal system assisted by an “eco-concrete basin”3. Furthermore, owing to its location, water would be supplied by a combination of harvested rainwater and filtered groundwater.
15. Bert Modular Treehouse, Studio Precht
Inspired partly by a tree trunk and partly by ‘The Minions’, Bert is a modular system recently designed by Chris Precht and his wife. The system can be viewed as tubular fixtures that can be interchanged to produce a completely different layout. For these off-the-grid retreats, Precht has provided numerous alternative energy solutions. Overall, the modules would be made of timber with “leaf-like shingles”.