Trends in Architecture 2021

The Iconic Awards: Innovative Architecture set trends

Wooden architecture for a carbon-neutral future

The European Union intends to be climate-neutral by 2050. This will require decarbonisation at every level of the economy, with the construction sector having a particularly key role to play. The sector accounts for around 40 per cent of CO2 emissions globally, and steel and concrete, in particular, take enormous amounts of energy to produce. There needs to be a paradigm shift to break free from these building materials and the associated environmental impact. Natural, renewable building materials play a crucial part in this.

Most notably, the eco-all-rounder wood is undergoing a real renaissance. Wooden architecture reduces the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in several ways. Firstly, sustainably managed woods and forests play a key role in tackling the greenhouse effect by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The wood used for architecture in turn provides further environmental protection as the raw material acts as a natural binder for the greenhouse gas that causes global warming and thus as a carbon store. As a renewable and also easily recyclable resource, it offers a compelling alternative to the mineral-based building materials that are currently used. Wood has been used as a building material for thousands of years, but the current trend for this material has little to do with traditional construction techniques. Computer-aided design programs and the use of high-tech construction and processing machines now enable precisely calculated structures. These engineering possibilities minimise the use of materials and also open up entirely new aesthetic avenues. Architects are making bold progress here and are actively helping to shape a carbon-neutral future.

This trend is reflected in the winning projects of the ICONIC AWARDS: Innovative Architecture 2021. The firm KOZ Architectes has created Europe’s largest wooden residential building with Sensations in Strasbourg. The technical brilliance of this eleven-storey building with 146 apartments meant that it could even be built in an area that experiences seismic activity. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) was used as the material. This is also currently being used to construct the Sawa residential tower in Rotterdam, designed by Mei architects and planners. The 50-metre high building at the port features a stepped design all the way to the top, providing plenty of room for green spaces on the terraces of each storey and thus also supporting biodiversity. Concepts that work on a large scale also make sense on a small scale: The wooden workstation from Hello Wood Studios is a modular mini room that is quick to construct and enables flexible use. There is also rapid growth in new wood technologies outside of the big cities. Whether it’s the Stadttor Troisdorf project by Atelier Brückner, the passive house in the Franconian Lake District by Nouri-Schellinger, the house and studio in Mellau by Jürgen Haller Architekten or the multi-generation housing in Gümligen by Marazzi + Paul Architekten – wood is the vehicle of choice for the transition to a green, carbon-neutral future in all of these structures.


Example projects:

Sensation in Strasbourg (France) by KOZ Architectes

Sawa in Rotterdam (Netherlands) by Mei architects and planners

Stadttor Troisdorf (Germany) by Atelier Brückner

Residential building in Gümligen (Switzerland) by Marazzi + Paul Architekten

Workstation by Hello Wood Studios

Two-family passive house in the Franconian Lake District (Germany) by Nouri-Schellinger

Tempel 74 in Mellau (Austria) by Jürgen Haller Architekten

Turmhaus Tirol (Austria) by Grünecker Reichelt Architekten and holzrausch

Roots image book (Germany) by Agentur Stern

Conversion, adaptive reuse and urban mining for the environmental transition

Questions about what sustainability means also inevitably discuss social values. One such value is the newness of a product or object. This has so far been seen as an achievement, per se. This notion is particularly problematic in the construction industry, where it leads to widespread demolition of existing structures that must make way for new, supposedly better buildings. A whole series of major modern structures from the post-war period, which once symbolised a generation’s spirit of optimism, are now up for consideration. From an environmental perspective in particular, the principle of demolishing and rebuilding is now no longer productive in many cases, as this goes hand in hand with an enormous waste of energy and building materials such as concrete and steel, which are difficult to recycle.

However, a change in thinking is now under way. Buildings are being redeveloped, renovated and extended with architectural interventions to meet modern-day needs. There is new concern emerging for what already exists. Urban mining, which involves using existing building stock as the raw material for new buildings, has become highly popular. And, importantly, the European Commission published its Renovation Wave strategy as part of the Green Deal in autumn 2020. This aims to encourage major upgrades in the energy performance of public and private buildings.

Reusing existing structures is no longer a niche area – it has become a phenomenon that can be observed around the world. This can also be seen in the winning projects at the ICONIC AWARDS: Innovative Architecture 2021. The Chinese firm Moguang Studio has transformed a former garment factory in Beizhuang into a centre for young people. Indoor play areas, learning spaces, family accommodation and a restaurant have been integrated into the historic structure with contemporary fittings. In the Greek town of Kardamyli, Detale Architecture and Engineering have restored a farmhouse from the mid-19th century, with additions in COR-TEN steel deliberately standing out from the existing building. Adamas Architect Ateliers took a particularly delicate approach for the Ogumo Casa Kyoto Machiya Guesthouse project in Kyoto. They were able to repair all of the components of the historic wooden house and so preserve a place full of cultural and spiritual traditions. In Urla, Izmir in Turkey, ONZ Architects converted an abandoned soap factory into a research lab for an energy company. And in Singen in Baden-Württemberg, GMS Architekten has revitalised the Sparkasse bank headquarters by redesigning the façades – not just for the people who work there but also for the urban context. The building’s new look now makes harmonious references to the diverse architecture in the area.


Example projects:

Youth activity centre in Beizhuang (China) by Moguang Studio

Ogumo Casa Kyoto Machiya Guesthouse in Kyoto (Japan) by Adamas Architect Ateliers

Rusted Mill House in Kardamyli (Greece) by Detale Architecture and Engineering

Algorithm Factory in Urla, Izmir (Turkey) by ONZ Architects

Sparkasse bank headquarters by GMS Architekten