Game-Changing Ideas for a Sustainable World

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
Author Jared Green polls 80 of the world's preeminent thinkers on ways to build for a sustainable future in a new book from Princeton Architectural Press.

For some, Earth Day offers a moment of pause to contemplate sustainability—how we use water, how we generate power, and how we get from point A to point B. But for those shaping the built environment, their thoughts extend past the news cycle to encompass ideas and actions that will impact the next generation. In Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World (Princeton Architectural Press, 2015) concepts like transit-oriented developments, solar cities, public spaces, and community investment are highlighted as ways to help preserve the planet.

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Designed for the Future is available from Princeton Archtiectural Press for $25 and covers ideas on sustainability from architects, curators, landscape designers, and more.

"We can't give into fatalism, or even pessimisn, just yet," writes author Jared Green. "While we face incredible challenges—with climate change, biodiversity loss, and rising economic inequality at the top of the list—there are glimpses of a more positive, sustainable future here today." We couldn't agree more.

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Timothy Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, says hospitals should be community centers. "[Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital in Singapore] makes me hopeful because it shows how healthcare facilities can be designed to include nature," he says. "While there is no recorded evidence, my gut feeling is that this building does heal. This is a hospital people want to be in."

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Using public art as a platfrom for preservation is what Marc Armengaud, a founding member and director of the AWP office for territorial reconfiguration, adds to the pool of ideas. For example, Daniel Buren created Les Anneaux to call attention to sprawl and give an identity to an estuary connecting two cities along the La Loire estuary in France.

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Blaine Bronwell, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture and author of Material Strategies: Innovative Applications in Architecture, calls out biomimicry and biodesign. "The engineering firm Arup created a promising system for a German building expo: it has a living algae curtain wall, which harvests the building's algae as an energy source through a bioreactor," Bronwell writes.

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David Garcia, head of the Institute for Architecture and Technology at the Royal Danish Arts Academy in Denmark, says we should fully integrate technology into building design. He calls out the Media TIC building in Barcelona by Cloud 9. "The building uses new technology not as a gimmick, but as a new way to mitigate environmental challenges," he says. "The building fine-tunes its facades to shield itself from light and thermal heat from the sun."

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"Use parks to create places people want to hang out in and manage stormwater at the same time," says Inga Saffron, the Pulitzer-prize wining architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The city is under federal mandate to reduce its overflows into rivers when it rains heavily. Moreover, Philadelphia has a real shortage of green space. So it combined these two ideas: Instead of building twenty-five-inch pipes, they will use greenspaces to absorb rainwater. It's the most sustainable thing Philadelphia is doing."

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Jeffrey Shumaker, chief urban designer for the New York City Department of City Planning, calls out the High Line, the wildly popular public park built on an elevated abandoned railway, as an example of cities seeing potential in underutilized spaces. "As delegations from other cities and countries visit the High Line, they always ask, 'How can we create our own High Line?' The answer I always give is the same: Think of something that's unique to your place, some place that's embedded in the fabric of your city that can have a similarly transformative effect," he says.

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Marcus Veerman, founder and CEO of Playgound Ideas, an organization that has given 250,000 children access to playspaces, highlights Freiburg, Germany. "Freiburg is a community in southwest Germany that is striving toward complete sustainability," he writes. "It has a whole suburb built on sustainable principles. It was created out of a movement supported by all levels of government and community."

For more ideas, purchase a a copy of Designed for the Future.