8 Designs That Integrate Beautiful Architecture and Renewable Energy


The Internet is brimming these days with starry-eyed conceptual renderings of sustainable eco-buildings and forested urban bio-habitats. Although many of these visions will forever remain on paper, a few designs manage to nudge past the buzzwords, garner commissions, and actually become realized, sometimes on an impressive scale. One of the few certainties of the 21st century is that design will play at least as decisive a role as technological innovation in envisioning new energy options. Biomimicry, minimalism, efficiency, and organic design appear to be the mainstays of sustainable engineering’s future. We’ve put together a list of intriguing projects that have actually been completed and that follow in this spirit. Each design elegantly integrates progressive ideas about energy into real landscapes and buildings.

Image credit: Design Boom

Hydroelectric power plants have historically been among environmentalists’ most loathed enemies. Although hydroelectric power is renewable, dam construction can have a devastating impact on the landscape and on river ecosystems. Italian firm Monovolume Architecture offers a somewhat less invasive alternative with the Punibach Hydroelectric Power Plant, engineered by SEL AG. While there’s nothing really new here in terms of technology, the design conceals the power station’s unsightly industrial machinery while beautifully integrating it into the Alpine landscape.

Image credit: CNN

Singapore unveiled its highly-publicized solar-powered “supertrees” as part of the Gardens by the Bay project this past June. The concept behind the supertrees derives inspiration from natural plant processes by mimicking photosynthesis. Eighteen of the mechanical supertrees line Marina Bay and offer many of the services of real trees, generating solar power, collecting rainwater, circulating air for the park’s conservatories, regulating heat, providing shade, and offering a vertically structured botanical space.

Image credit: Inhabitat

The idea of integrating energy generation into a building’s design offers a localized alternative to traditionally centralized energy infrastructures. The most prominent example of this sort of architecture is probably the Bahrain World Trade Center’s three enormous wind turbines. Inhabitat reports that the turbines generate about 10-15% of the energy used for both towers, representing a novel direction for marrying architecture and energy engineering.

Image credit: Ecoble

The Solar Ark, built by Sanyo Electric (acquired by Panasonic), is a marvel of both architectural and photovoltaic engineering. With over 5,000 solar panels, the amazing Japanese ark-shaped solar array is one of the largest in the world and sits atop the Solar Lab, a museum dedicated to educating visitors about solar energy.

Image credit: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

Even deep within the heart of mass consumerism, companies have begun to embrace renewable alternatives like solar energy. The global furniture giant Ikea, which prides itself on Scandinavian efficiency, unveiled the largest solar array in Minnesota last month. Situated across from the ultimate icon of consumer decadence, the Mall of America, Ikea’s rooftop array is comprised of an impressive 4,316 photovoltaic panels. While it may not be as beautiful as the other buildings on this list, solar panels seem like a natural extension of Ikea’s iconic blue and yellow utilitarianism.

Image credit: Inhabitat

Much like the Bahrain World Trade Center, Venger Wind and SWG Energy have found a way to couple wind turbine technology and architecture at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, which boasts the largest rooftop wind farm in the world. Unlike traditional wind turbine designs, however, the rooftop uses 18 vertical, omni-directional, spiral turbines which are massive in scale.

Image credit: CNN

Not all integrations of renewable energy need rely on expensive design or futuristic architectural flourishes. This 85-year-old meat packing plant that’s been transformed into a “vertical farm and food business incubator” offers a cool example of repurposing existing industrial space to find new ways to incorporate food production and renewable energy into underserved urban communities. Located on Chicago’s South Side, The Plant uses hydroponic farming methods and an anaerobic digester to convert 100% of its waste into fertilizer, heat, and electricity.

Image credit: Inhabitat

Taiwan’s serpentine solar-powered stadium, designed by Japanese architecture firm Toyo Ito, was constructed for the 2009 World Games and is a nice example of an architectural application for solar energy that’s both practical and aesthetically interesting. The photovoltaic panels imitate a dragon’s scales, wrapping around the curved rooftop and providing 100% of the arena’s energy needs.