Sustainable Architecture & Positive Impact

We need to approach our future with a long-term vision that supports the natural environment and our social well-being. Architecture has a huge role to play in our prosperity, just as fashion does.

 Challenging conventional models

Changing the way in which we make things starts with responsible design. A garment is often designed with little thought to its impact; on finite resources, water pollution through dying and processing, carbon emissions and societal impact – and what happens at the end of its useful life. Similarly, a typical housing development tends to ignore the nature and cultural diversity of its surroundings. When a building site is prepared, little thought is given to the biodiversity that is disrupted, or the sun’s aspect and its effect on heating a building in Winter, or the trees that could protect it from wind and the Summer heat. A narrow design perspective yields economic gain in the short term due to scale and speed, but the alternative of designing with social and environmental principles has profound benefits. Positive impact pushes the boundaries on a less-harmful approach. I’d like to share some case studies that show what may be achieved with sustainable ambition.


One Central Park, Sydney - designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel

One Central Park, Sydney - designed by Ateliers Jean NouvelConstructed as part of an urban renewal program in 2013, One Central Park was named the best tall building in the world, commended for its ‘naturalisation of the built environment’. Residents enjoy quality ‘high-rise’ living, and benefit from local amenities, cafes, retail, green space and art – that were all integral to this energy-saving design project.

The vertical gardens are watered via a hydroponic drip-irrigation system; their roots attached to a mesh-covered felt drenched in mineral water which allows them to grow without the need for soil. The gardens trap carbon, emit oxygen and provide energy-saving shade. An on-site water recycling factory filters grey water, routed to the laundry and bathrooms of the apartments and the gardens - said to save up to 1 million litres of fresh drinking water per day. The tri-generation power plant is estimated to save 136,000 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas emissions over 25 years. A cantilevered heliostat is covered in a series of reflector panels that redirect sunlight onto adjacent areas in shade. In the evening it becomes an LED spectacle called the Sea Mirror. This is meticulous design responding to the challenges facing our planet.

How can responsible fashion brands push their sustainable principles into retail architecture?

Stella McCartney, 23 Old Bond Street London

Stella McCartneyStella McCartney’s lagship store in London’s Mayfair is an example of holistic design inside a luxury fashion house. The interiors reflect the same sustainable principles that the label was founded on, with a deeply personal and honest execution including stones and moss lifted from the McCartney home in Scotland. Reclaim, re-use, recycle formed the basis for the interior design - from fur-free fur deadstock lining the elevators, office waste paper transformed into papier-mache wall panels, reclaimed timbers – to vintage furniture finds, biodegradable mannequins and a filtered air system free of environmental pollutants. This approach seems obvious, yet it is rare in fashion retail. Instead we are used to the modular, often bland interiors far from this mindful and responsible approach.


Biotecture walls at the Macarthur Glen Designer Outlet, Ashford Kent UK

Biotecture walls at the Macarthur Glen Designer Outlet, Ashford Kent UK As well as the aesthetic and health benefits of green walls, an external infrastructure in positioning plants where they are needed, crucially absorbs CO2 and boosts biodiversity. Macarthur Glen designer outlet in Ashford went green with its expansion plans, commissioning Biotecture and McLaren to create Europe’s largest living wall. The social and environmental benefits are clear, though I cannot help feeling it is a bit of an oxymoron; a place where brands off-load excess inventory from overproduction – in a green wrapper! A green infrastructure however, goes some way in promoting a responsible brand.


Material Health is a major issue to overcome in a Circular Design

The wrong choice of materials can have adverse effects because of the hazardous substances they may contain. In the fashion supply chain certain dyes and chemicals used in the processing of textiles can be harmful to human health and pollute waterways. The same goes for building materials for example insulation, carpets and adhesives can diminish air quality and will persist in landfill. As part of our journey with Cradle to Cradle Rplanet have learned that to optimise material health is vital in preserving material value at end-of-life. We currently underestimate the lifespan of materials, and waste is not factored-into our business models - even though it is our biggest resource. We need to understand it as a nutrient for what is to come next; circular design keeps materials in use through optimisation and up-cycling. Our article Circularity Unpacked explores this more detail.


Venlo City Hall, The Netherlands

Venlo City Hall, The NetherlandsSeventy percent of the Netherlands sits below sea-level, so the appetite for environmental solutions is rooted in design culture there and attracted Cradle to Cradle co-founder Michael Braungart to the region. In 2007 Venlo City Hall as born as a project based on C2C principles; the central aim being a ‘comfortable and healthy working environment with sustainable innovation’. The challenges included indoor and outdoor air quality, regenerating more energy than is used, optimising materials for recycling without loss of quality, and improving water quality.

Venlo City HallAgain - air is purified and water is separated and filtered to minimise use of fresh drinking water. A biological façade reinforces the need to design-in carbon management. Renewable energy solutions include solar powered electricity. Inside the feel is open and modern, flooded with daylight and green space. Often designers anticipate a compromise when working with a reduced choice of ‘safe’ materials however innovative, but Venlo delivers a balance of style and function using a number Cradle to Cradle certified products. A waste and recycling agreement was made in the form of a ten year ‘take-back’ system for materials to be returned to suppliers, and a financial residual defined; end-to-end responsibility

"C2C is a holistic design approach that aims to protect and enrich ecosystems by using efficient and waste-free production cycles"

 -  Cradle to Cradle Institute

In Summary

As towns and city centres are forced to reinvent themselves post-pandemic, there is enormous potential in applying these design principles and creating a new blue-print for urban planning, that rebuilds community well-being.