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9 civil engineering landmarks with incredible sustainability features

30 August 2023

Add these environmentally friendly structures to your travel bucket list and learn more about building ‘green’.

9 civil engineering landmarks with incredible sustainability features
These buildings are 'green' in more way than one. Image credit: Shutterstock

Many of today's historical landmarks were built using carbon-intensive methods, with little attention paid to recycling resources.

As we witness the effects of climate change, the focus has turned to how we can build more sustainably and in harmony with the planet.

Here are some landmarks that were built with the environment at heart.

1. 20 Fenchurch Street, London, UK

20 fenchurch street
The top three floors make up the Sky Garden. Image credit: Shutterstock

20 Fenchurch Street, a staple of the London skyline, is better known by its nickname, the ‘Walkie Talkie’.

The 1,601m-tall office building is home to the famous Sky Garden – a green oasis and observation deck offering a 360° view of the city.

But the garden, populated by a variety of Mediterranean and South African species, isn’t the only ‘green’ feature in the building.

Others include:

  • the largest green wall in the UK
  • roof-mounted solar panels
  • sustainably sourced concrete and structural steelwork
  • 96.4% of construction waste was diverted from landfill, recycled, reused or recovered
  • a hydrogen fuel cell used for low carbon heating, cooling and electricity

2. Eastgate, Harare, Zimbabwe

Eastgate is considered exemplary of sustainable construction due to its imitation of the natural world, or biomimicry.

Termites build skyscraper-like mounds that are ventilated via a complex arrangement of tunnels.

Like a chimney, when the air outside is cooler, warm air naturally vents from the top of the mound.

This in turn draws in cooler, fresh air in via the system of tunnels, regulating the temperature.

Eastgate imitates these structures to provide fresh air and comfortable temperatures throughout the year.

It has also significantly reduced the building's energy use and carbon emissions.

3. CopenHill, Copenhagen, Denmark

Many fun sports are on offer at CopenHill. Image credit: Shutterstock

If your hobbies include skiing, sledding, hiking, climbing, or other mountain-related activities, then you might be keen to visit CopenHill.

CopenHill turns sustainability into fun, for underneath the multimodal sports centre lies a waste-to-energy power plant capable of converting 440,000 tonnes of waste into clean energy every year.

That’s about the same weight as 4,000 blue whales.

With cutting-edge technology, the plant provides electricity and district heating for 150,000 homes annually.

The building’s hiking and running trail also features a garden, which absorbs heat, reduces stormwater runoff and provides a home for birds, insects and flowers.

4. One Central Park, Sydney, Australia

one central park
The needs of each plant species are considered in the garden. Image credit: Shutterstock

One Central Park is a living building in Sydney’s central business district.

The residential property was the first in Australia to combine living walls, where vegetation is planted directly on the walls, and green façades, with cascading plants that flow down from supports.

These vertical gardens cover 1,100m2 (about twice the area of a basketball court) and include 383 species.

The gardens were cleverly designed to ensure plants that thrive in sunlight were placed near the top of the building, while more delicate species inhabit the bottom.

An automated irrigation system takes reclaimed and treated sewage from the building to water the plants, with nutrients carefully monitored.

5. Weald and Downland Living Museum, Chichester, UK

For a trip down memory lane, head to the Weald and Download Living Museum and see what rural life was like – with over 1,000 years of history to discover.

It joins our sustainable landmarks for featuring the UK’s first timber gridshell – a grid or lattice structure that derives its strength from its double curvature.

The 12,000m2 gridshell provides a roof for the museum’s conservation centre and artefact store.

It was built with ‘green oak’, meaning the trees had been recently cut down and not dried, and incorporates its own rainwater collection system.

6. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China

shanghai tower
The building features a rainwater collection system. Image credit: Shutterstock

Towering over the city at 632m high, this award-winning skyscraper boasts clever sustainable features.

These include a second glass ‘skin’ around the building, which helps to save energy by regulating the temperature between the inner and outer layers.

This warms cool air in the winter and dissipates heat in the summer.

The outer layer also reduces wind load by 24%, which means the engineers needed less material to build the tower. In total, they used 25% less structural steel than the average building of a similar size.

Adding to its green credentials are a rainwater collection system and over 200 vertical wind turbines.

7. The Catalyst, Newcastle, UK

the catalyst
The building was completed ahead of schedule without jeopardising quality, health and safety, or sustainability. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Catalyst, home to various UK research and innovation centres, is an exemplary project in many respects.

Completed six weeks ahead of schedule and £7m under budget, it features here for its incorporation of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), including cascading rain gardens, a green roof and pipe storage.

Together these prepare the building for 1-in-100-year storm events, with a 40% allowance for climate change.

The gardens have also increased the biodiversity in the area by creating habitats for wildflowers and insects. Bees moved in pretty early on!

Another building that’s as striking as it’s innovative is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

It embodies what its graduate students research, obtaining a LEED Platinum certification for integrating sustainability into the building.

8. Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

museum of tomorrow
The museum brought new life to this area of Rio. Image credit: Shutterstock

What does it mean to live on this planet? Those visiting the Museum of Tomorrow will ponder this question as they explore exhibits on climate change and sustainability.

The two-storey building, part of a regeneration project for the 2016 Summer Olympics, features a unique cantilevered roof with large mobile ‘wings’.

As well as being visually striking, the white spines on the structure collect solar energy, providing 9% of the museum’s energy. They even adjust to make the most of the sun’s rays throughout the day.

The sun also lights the building through big windows, while it’s cooled using water from local Guanabara Bay.

9. High Line, New York, USA

Sometimes the sustainable choice is to find new uses for existing infrastructure.

The High Line park in New York City used to be a busy railway carrying goods to the city’s industrial district in the 20th century.

As companies switched to moving freight through roads, traffic on the line fell and it was abandoned by the 1990s.

Local ‘Friends of the High Line’ campaigned to save the railway from demolition by turning it into a park.

Now a popular tourist attraction in the city, the plants provide a green space for the community and a home to biodiversity – looked after by its own irrigation system.

Get in touch

Which of these structures have you visited before? Which one would you like to see next?

And which landmarks would make your bucket list?

Let us know!
  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE