Awareness of sustainable building – trends in architecture

Sustainable construction is much more than just a trend. Sustainable construction demands our commitment to society as a whole – and this is imperative and urgent. The good news is: what presents itself as an almost unsolvable problem at the moment provides the opportunity for a multi-layered change. Every step towards sustainability counts. With this in mind, the winners of this year’s ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture provide valuable impulses.

They realise projects that revitalise existing buildings, transform urban spaces into versatile open spaces, use sustainable building materials in a surprising way – both in terms of construction and design – and, last but not least, incorporate innovative technologies. What they all have in common is the focus on the bioclimatic and identity-creating conditions of the property and its location. If we are guided by natural cycles, it is only obvious to think holistically about processes and to consider buildings over their entire life cycle. In this case, materials used are no longer deposited after a building has been demolished, but instead serve as added value for future projects. There is even no need for transport routes if they are reused as “urban mining” directly at the site

Trend #1: It’s the material that matters!
The increasing awareness of the manifold qualities of ecological building materials is fuelling the exploration of their potential. What seemed impossible for a long time has long since become apparent: constructive timber construction now enables high-rise buildings of over 85 metres. In addition to its architectural qualities and timeless design, the health and emotional qualities of wood speak for itself – wood connects people with nature. Whether in new buildings, extensions or as a facade, wood sets exciting accents in its versatility and vivid expression, bringing “softness” to cities that tend to be characterised by “hard” materials. The winning projects of the ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture is proof of the wide range of ecological building materials that can be used alongside wood.

Trend #2: It’s the environmental context that counts!
After growth and progress, we are now on the verge of renewal: more and more people are in need of living and working space, especially in urban centres and particularly in economically strong conurbations. The declared objective is to optimise and expand existing structures instead of focusing on increasing the geographic area. Strategies for efficient urban use need to be developed and cities need to be renewed from the inside out. This means appreciating the holdings from their temporal context – both fundamentally and in the first step. Their performance is not material when measured solely by current standards. On the contrary, the potential for timelessness and openness is decisive for intelligent and resource-saving further development. A whole series of current projects are dedicated to these prevailing trends and impressively demonstrate the versatility of sustainable architecture.

Contemporary conversion
For the Stable Conversion project, Link Architectes transformed a stable into a modern residential building with rooms that flow into one another across 90 square metres. The former housing for transport horses borders an adjoining 18th-century post office building. Located above Lake Geneva in the municipality of Montreux, the converted and enlarged building with an inner courtyard is part of a narrow network of old buildings. The architects used the two visible facades for a modern interpretation of the existing structure. The new south facade, made of rough brickwork, features various window formats with striking wooden and concrete frames. On the eastern facade with the former carriage entrance, a constructive concrete arch marks the main entrance. Stone walls dominate the kitchen and dining area on the ground floor, while the two upper floors with the living rooms and bedrooms are almost entirely made of wood. The jury’s statement: “A beautifully created design, both from the outside and the inside, which integrates itself respectfully and harmoniously into the existing structure and, at the same time, features its very own unmistakable identity.”


New building in an old building
Aalen Culture Station by a+r Architekten impressively demonstrates how historical fragments of an industrial plant can be transformed into a future-oriented space for culture that bundles synergies, minimises resources and cuts costs in the long term. The architects tactfully integrated the building structure that had survived after a fire into the modern architecture. In doing so, they replaced the largely destroyed facade with coloured exposed concrete and rebuilt the roofs of the short crossbels according to historical models. They replaced the longitudinal gable with a long cuboid covered with folded perforated sheet metal. In contrast to the historic sandstone facade with its ornamental, handcrafted and solid appearance, the attached cuboid is simple and understated. The slightly transparent parapet-like cladding is reminiscent of a theatre curtain in its vertical structure. Load-bearing and stiffening boxes divide the gutted room into functional areas. While the large halls and public areas are housed in the old building, the new saddle-mounted building houses the music school and theatre workshops. “With the design for the Kulturbahnhof Aalen, a+r Architekten preserved a piece of Aalen’s railway history and, at the same time, created a contemporary cultural building that combines the past with the present,” said the jury, explaining its decision.

New landscape in the urban
It’s not just the pandemic that has raised the call for recreational spaces in cities. Just a few weeks ago, the European Commission called for far-reaching measures for an ecological revival of the continent. Built by Turenscape, the Floating Forest Fish Tail Park in Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, inspires the landscape architecture projects of the future: bridges, footbridges and platforms make the 126-hectare, previously severely damaged lake landscape accessible like a park. Visitors will find space for relaxation and experience nature first-hand. Forested islands in the lake landscape regulate flooding and create new habitats for wildlife.

Climate protection in architectural design
The jury of ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture was impressed by a new warehouse building whose climate concept endeavours to achieve optimum climate stability in the archive rooms through passive measures. Waechter + Waechter Architekten BDA arranged all the storage rooms in the Historische Archiv und Rheinisches Bildarchiv in Cologne into a compact cubic structure. The inner and outer walls made of strong reinforced concrete store heat and reduce temperature fluctuations that arise through use. Exterior walls and roofing are intended for “envelope temperature control”: the storage rooms are cooled or heated gently and evenly as required by water-bearing pipes in the solid components. To the outside, the facades with the “brise soleil” of vertical and horizontal slats appear both open and closed at the same time, depending on the angle of view. This makes optimum use of daylight and the deep reveals protect the rooms from direct sunlight. With its iridescent colours of the bronze and the interplay of light and shadow, the facade contributes significantly to meeting the high energy and conservation requirements for the indoor climate in a sustainable way. The jury praised both the sophisticated climate concept and the sustainable design of the new building: “Thanks to the consistent clarity of the strictly linear architecture, the ensemble appears timeless in every respect and exudes a special calmness that continues inside.”

Wood as a connecting element
By converting a former cowshed in the listed Stanbridge Mill into a library, the British firm Crawshaw Architects is demonstrating the impressive spatial effect that can be created by combining traditional and modern woodworking. A beautiful architectural gem, “above all, with an impressive remarkable interior design,” writes the jury enthusiastically. For the sustainable architectural project, the architectural firm chose a wooden structure that partially integrates a circular arch into the long, narrow building. In accordance with the original function of the building, solid oak parts with branches, stains and some pulpwood were installed with techniques of traditional carpentry. The construction is limited to simple profiles joined together in a traditional carpenter’s style. The fittings are also reminiscent of the tradition of hand-forged ironware blackened in the fire. The library is heated with biomass and supplied with fresh air via a passive ventilation system.

Light metal becomes a design factor
Once again, it is nature that inspires. Echoing the famous Stone Forest, the architects One Plus Partnership designed a sculptural installation made of perforated sheet metal for the entrance area of the GEMDALE Corporation office building in Kunming. The plates not only present the image of petrified trees, they also imitate the contours of the mountain peaks in abstract form as panels on the facade. The project illustrates how flexibly perforated plates can be adapted to the design requirements, conveying both cool elegance and harmonious warmth. Diaphanous, breathable, durable and capable of saving resources, they are becoming a popular building material with future potential. “A great work that combines nature and architecture in an extraordinary way,” praised the jury.

The ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture will be presented at a formal event on 5 October 2022 in Munich.

You can find a comprehensive overview of all the winning projects in the online gallery.

German Design Council
The German Design Council has been operating since 1953 as one of the world’s leading centres of expertise in communication and knowledge transfer within design, branding and innovation. It is part of the worldwide design community and has always contributed to the establishment of global exchange and networking thanks to its international offering, promotion of new talent and memberships. More than 350 businesses currently count among its members.

Alexandra Sender, Vice President Communications and Marketing
Phone +49 (0)69 247 448 633

Go back