5 of the coolest sustainability projects in civil engineering

As we celebrate This is Engineering Day, let's go on a tour of some of the most fascinating sustainability projects in the world. 

The Svart Hotel in northern Norway will be the first energy positive hotel in the world. Image credit: Javalava Tours | Team Javalava/Twitter
The Svart Hotel in northern Norway will be the first energy positive hotel in the world. Image credit: Javalava Tours | Team Javalava/Twitter
This is Engineering Day – a celebration of the incredible achievements of engineers - in 2021 coincides with the start of COP26 – an opportunity for UN countries to agree on how to tackle the climate crisis and reach #netzero by 2050.

With this in mind, we wanted to take a look at five of the most exciting engineering projects that are helping make our planet a better place – not to mention that they’re also seriously cool!

1. The Svart Hotel: the world’s first energy-positive hotel

Set to open in 2022, Svart describe its vision as aiming to ‘inspire, educate and provoke change for better living and a more sustainable future.’

Designed by the architect firm Snøhetta and with the help of engineering consultants Asplan Vaak, it’s set to be the first energy-positive hotel in the world.

So, what does that mean in practice? It means that the hotel will reduce its yearly energy consumption by 85% compared to other hotels, while harvesting enough solar power to cover all the on-site energy needs, including the energy required for constructing the building.

In other words, it will create more energy than it uses.

This awe-inspiring project’s circular design provides an outstanding panoramic view of the surrounding Holandsfjorden fjord.

Svart’s flagship move to innovate the modern hotel, support the local community and embrace climate resilience is sure to inspire the engineers of the future. 

2. The world’s first 3D-printed steel footbridge  

Amsterdam is the home of Dutch tulips, outstanding seventeenth-century architecture, and The Royal Palace of Amsterdam.  And now the capital of the Netherlands has something else to boast about after it opened the world’s first 3D-printed footbridge.

3D-printed steel footbridge, Amsterdam. Image credit: The Engineer/Twitter 

Built by the Dutch company MX3D, the bridge will be a ‘living laboratory’ carefully observed by researchers at Imperial College London. The Alan Turing Institute, alongside Arup, installed intelligent sensors that will monitor how the 3D-printed material interacts with people and the environment.  

So, how does it all work? The sensors enable the team to collect data on how the bridge is being used, such as how many people walk over it daily. This data then gets fed into the bridge’s ‘digital twin’, which researchers can use to test its longevity and durability against. This could open doors for more data-driven engineering projects in the future. 

It might all sound pretty mind-boggling and futuristic, but if the bridge proves reliable, it could be the beginning of 3D printing being used more widely in infrastructure. As traditional infrastructure materials could be responsible for up to 70% of carbon emissions, this could be a game-changer in the industry’s ambition to reach net-zero by 2050.  

3D-printing technology could enable large-scale infrastructure projects, including bridges and buildings, to be constructed without some of the associated carbon emissions.  Cutting back on the manufacturing processes - including materials, assembly and transportation - that often lead to a high carbon footprint could be a big win for realising more sustainable engineering. 

3. The Green Buildings Initiative

The Green Buildings Initiative (or GBI, to friends) is a not-for-profit organisation behind the Green Globes green building assessment and certification in Canada and the US. Its goal? To promote resource and energy efficiency and environmentally sustainable buildings.

As the climate emergency accelerates, there’s never been a better time for buildings to go green. The good news is that The Green Buildings Initiative has been adopted worldwide – and our planet is reaping the benefits.

Here are just a couple of our top picks.

One Central Park, Sydney, Australia

One Central Park, Sydney, Australia. Image credit: Shutterstock

There’s much more to Australia than The Sydney Opera House: it's also leading the way when it comes to green urban environments. It's been rewarded a 5-star green star design rating, and it’s easy to see why. This plant-covered building boasts the world’s tallest vertical garden, as well as a pioneering water recycling system, which recycles water from natural sources such as rainwater.

The Shanghai Tower, China

The Shanghai Tower, China. Image credit: Shutterstock 

You’d be mistaken if you thought green buildings have to all look like One Central Park – just look at The Shanghai Tower. As the world’s second-tallest building (after the Burj Khalifa), it has transparent walls that insulate, allow for air ventilation, and let in natural light. It uses 80% less energy for heating and cooling than other towers.

4. Museum of Tomorrow, Brazil

Suppose you’re looking for a civil engineering project with the wow factor. In that case, it doesn’t get much better than Brazil’s The Museum of Tomorrow. Its commitment to sustainability can be seen in almost every aspect of the building’s design.

It uses solar panels that move with the sun, which enhances energy absorption, in addition to an air conditioning system that uses water filtered from the nearby Guanabara Bay. It’s then cleaned and returned to exactly where it came from via a small waterfall.

Museum of Tomorrow, Brazil. Image credit: Shutterstock

Part of Rio’s regeneration project for the 2016 Summer Olympics, it attracted a staggering 25,000 people on the first day of its opening.

Architect Santiago Calatrava, alongside a team of structural engineers from Arup and Casagrande Engineering, was the mastermind behind the building. Even though it cost 230 million reais (that's almost £30m) to design, this investment has more than paid off. It's now one of the most visited museums in Brazil, providing a much-needed boost to the local economy.

Museum of Tomorrow is also packed with incredible exhibitions that encourage visitors to reflect on the climate crisis, with video clips of burning forests and melting glaciers.

As its name suggests, Museum of Tomorrow is a sustainability project that helps us imagine a better future.

5. One Angel Square, Manchester  

One Angel Square in Manchester, UK, is home to The Co-Operative Bank – it’s also a sustainability powerhouse!

Designed with a double-skin façade that reduces heat in summer and insulates during the winter months, its innovative design helps it achieve a whopping 80% reduction in carbon emissions.

One Angel Square, Manchester, UK. Image credit: Shutterstock

Built by engineering firms Buro Happold and Waagner Biro, it achieved a world record BREEAM score of 95.32% in 2012. Its quirky design has been described as looking like a sliced egg.

Beyond its unique aesthetic, it also has a rainwater recycling system, which means that up to 95% of greywater and 65% of rainwater gets recycled. As a piece of infrastructure, it’s set an example of how a building can prosper commercially while fighting climate change.

If that’s left you feeling inspired, why not share your favourite sustainability project with us on our LinkedIn or Twitter social media channels? Don’t forget to include the hashtags #ThisIsEngineering and #BeTheDifference.  

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