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Architecture and Climate Change
As world leaders gather for COP26, what many are calling our last chance to keep extreme global warming at bay, the design professions have a critical role to play. This collection of stories delves into the people and projects doing their part to address climate change.
How Five Major Cities Are Boldly Tackling Climate Change
(Almost) Never Demolish: Reviving Social Housing Through Preservation
Martha Schwartz
In the Climate Crisis, Martha Schwartz Finds her Second Calling
We Need to Decarbonize Architecture
Re-used bricks and outdoor furniture by Hay animate Core City Park – along with 87 new trees.
Julie Bargmann Wins Inaugural Oberlander Prize
3d printed house
This Prototype Home Takes 3D Printed Architecture to the Next Level
Future of Concrete: NEST HiLo is Completed in Switzerland
Architecture and Climate Change

From rising sea levels to so-called heat islands, the challenges facing the world’s major cities as a result of climate change are daunting to say the least. But some municipal responses – especially those spearheaded by architects and designers – have been as creative as the problems are formidable. Think city parks turned reservoirs, urban forests on demand, even a redirected river. What follows are a few of the initiatives that five threatened yet ambitious metropolises have effected or are exploring to engender civic resilience, with designers leading the charge.


Among Beantown’s coordinated efforts to preserve its historic waterfront: buried bulkheads, “living edges” and other discreet yet effective infrastructure

When it comes to protecting cities from rising tides, few pieces of infrastructure are as effective as seawalls — stone, steel or concrete barriers that repel ocean water just as the ramparts of medieval castles once thwarted enemy invaders. There is nothing subtle, however, about a seawall: It’s hard infrastructure that very much looks like hard infrastructure. “Who wants to be on an urban waterfront and see a giant wall blocking the harbour?” says Pippa Brashear, a planning principal at Scape Landscape Architecture. “Think about what that does to people’s experiences and to the cultural identity of a city.”

In developing its Resilient Boston Harbor Vision, Scape has provided every part of the metropolitan area with a resiliency toolkit from which to draw. This rendering and the next by Stoss graphically show how a “living edge” on Charlestown’s waterfront could effectively absorb swelling tides during storms.
“Boston is a city of beaches, marshes and promenades. We want it to stay that way.”
Pippa Brashear, Planning Principal, Scape

To help formulate a plan for Boston, which they dubbed the Resilient Boston Harbor Vision, Brashear and her team at Scape studied the waterfront and came up with renderings — she calls them “vignettes” — depicting flood defences that are well-integrated into their surroundings. In some vignettes, the seawall hangs back, buried beneath a green berm that’s tucked behind an expansive beachfront. In others, it is replaced — or enhanced — by a “living edge,” often including a salt marsh that extends into the harbour, absorbing and calming the waves.

Boston is known for its Harborwalk, a waterfront promenade (still under construction) that follows the shoreline, linking wharves, piers and famed historic sites. As Scape envisions it, the Harborwalk skitters, floats and dances, sometimes cantilevering out past a seawall, sometimes stepping overtop a terraced seaside bulkhead. At other times, it flanks elevated roadways or piers, which are mounted on stilts to sit safely above the waves.

The Charlestown master plan was developed by Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Kleinfelder and ONE Architecture & Urbanism.

These vignettes aren’t blueprints but templates. As part of the city’s wider Climate Ready Boston initiative, each of Beantown’s neighbourhoods — from historically Irish South Boston to the Italian North End — will have to reimagine its own waterfront. Scape has given them a range of options to choose from. “We’ve created a suite of techniques,” says Brashear. “Boston is a city of beaches, marshes and promenades. We want it to stay that way.”


In the Danish capital, a historic park is redesigned to include built-in flood absorption — without infringing on any of its charm

“Everybody in Copenhagen remembers where they were on July 2, 2011,” says Flemming Rafn, cofounder of the design practice Tredje Natur. On that day, the Danish capital saw a flood so severe that it turned streets into canals and temporarily transformed the city into a Scandinavian Venice. To avoid a repeat of that catastrophe, the municipality sought to build new infrastructure that would absorb or store floodwater at the low points of various rain catchment areas. One such region, however, was already occupied by Enghaveparken, a neoclassical park with fountains, promenades and sports amenities, plus two pavilions and a bandstand by modernist legend Arne Jacobsen.

In the event of catastrophic flooding, Enghaveparken’s upgraded perimeter walls can now contain up to 22,600 cubic metres of water.

“In theory, we could scrape off the entire surface of the park and lower everything,” says Rafn, whose firm won the commission to turn the site into a flood zone. But that, of course, was out of the question. Instead, Rafn redesigned the park’s hockey quad, fountain and rose garden so that each now sits several metres below grade.

During so-called 10-year storms, water will flow — via a network of gutters — into these sunken areas individually, flooding the hockey quad first, then the fountain and then, finally, the rose garden. During 100-year storms, however, the entire park will become a basin, as its perimeter is now bounded by movable walls containing subterranean concrete shafts outfitted with buoyant steel boxes. When floodwater surpasses the rose-garden level, it will enter the boxes at select entry points and cause the walls to float upward, sealing the perimeter and creating enough of an enclosure to hold more than 22,000 cubic metres of water. (Jacobsen’s pavilions and bandstand would remain above the deluge.)

“The design evokes the transformative power of water”
Flemming Rafn, Cofounder, Tredje Natur
Design firm Tredje Natur trod as lightly as possible on the site’s neoclassical footprint, elegantly lowering only a few key areas so the park would be inundated gradually.

Until recently, such occurrences would have been rare, but those 10-year storms may soon be annual events and 100-year storms could happen several times a decade. The new Enghaveparken is built to manage such phenomena but not to hide them. When the space suddenly transforms into the world’s largest bird bath, the effect should be profound. “The design evokes the transformative power of water,” says Rafn. “It also invites people to reflect on where that water came from. If we don’t see the physical consequences of climate change, we will have a difficult time grasping it.”


A plan to renaturalize a vital urban waterway will restore a river delta to its former pristine state — and create a new island in the process

The mouth of Toronto’s Don River, where the 38-kilometre waterway empties into Lake Ontario, was once a shaggy marshland. In the 1880s, however, developers began filling it in, transforming a porous ecosystem into a hard surface suitable for loading docks and power plants. The natural delta no longer exists. As it approaches its southern terminus, the Don now takes a hard westward turn into the Keating Channel, an artificial canal that flows into the lake. During rainy seasons, the water hits this right-angle juncture at high speeds, causing the river to back up — and effectively making the Port Lands where the Don meets the lake a flood plain, much of it unsuitable for housing.

When Toronto’s Don River is rerouted into a natural channel after a century of industrial infill, 35-hectare Villiers Island will also spring into being. Zoned for residential use and hemmed by a “green skirt,” the new land mass will be bordered to the north by artificial Keating Channel and to the south by the meandering new waterway. The restored river’s deep, grassy banks will also make the area less susceptible to floods.

In 2014, the city hired urban planner Melanie Hare, a partner at the consultancy Urban Strategies, to head up a design team for the unlikely landform that will result from a proposed renaturalization of the Don’s base: a new island. (“Right angles?” says Hare. “Rivers never do that.”) Under the renaturalization scheme, the Keating Channel will still exist, but the Don itself will travel south into a restored delta before meandering west to the lake. The banks of the new mouth will be soft, deep and grassy — designed to hold and absorb floodwaters. And the new waterway, when it’s completed in 2024, will carve out a chunk of land — 35-hectare Villiers Island — from the Toronto lakefront.

“Almost all the land on the periphery will be open park space”
Melanie Hare, Partner, Urban Strategies

This is something novel: a whole new space, in crowded downtown Toronto, zoned for residential use and designed almost entirely from scratch. The island will have mixed-used amenities (making driving unnecessary) and a district energy source (specifically a power generator that serves multiple dwellings at once and is therefore more efficient than the one-furnace-per-household model). Its streetscape will be laid out like a theatre, with the highest seats in the back: Low-rise houses will absorb southern winter sun, while the taller buildings stand unobtrusively behind them.

Villiers Island will also have what Hare calls “a green skirt.” “Almost all the land on the periphery will be open park space,” she says. “This will give Torontonians a chance to reacquaint themselves with their harbourfront.” The original Port Lands were a reclamation — an attempt to snatch a parcel of land back from the lake. The new island will also be a reclamation, albeit of a different kind: It’ll transform a mere location into something more like a destination.


In one of Asia’s most populous cities, improving air quality means conjuring an instant urban forest, complete with two million trees

The western bank of the Huangpu River in Shanghai is home to some of the most beloved neighbourhoods in China, from the Bund to the French Concession. But, until recently, the eastern bank was less iconic. When Richard Mullane, a principal at the international architecture and design studio Hassell, toured the area in 2016, he saw decaying industrial buildings and vacant lots. How, he wondered, might one turn such a sprawling brownfield site into a landmark worthy of its neighbour?

In addition to seasonal displays of arboreal splendour, Hassell’s vision for the Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest includes riverside follies that double as outdoor classrooms, observation platforms and more.
Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest will feature a promenade that snakes through the trees, bridging canals and occasionally giving way to urban follies–cum–outdoor classrooms

The plan that Mullane and his team have devised involves trees — lots of them. More specifically, it calls for removing the area’s concrete, capping any contaminated areas with landform and then planting some two million specimens, effectively creating a forest in the heart of the metropolis. When it comes to climate mitigation, trees are among the most sophisticated technologies going, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, releasing water vapour (thereby cooling the surrounding landscape) and purifying air (a major advantage in a city that has seen deadly clouds of smog).

As envisioned by Hassell, the soil in the Huangpu East Bank Urban Forest, as the initiative has come to be known, will function as a natural berm if the river overflows its banks; during heavy storms, the trees and the parkland they’ll sit in would absorb stormwater on the land side as well. But the forest isn’t just green space. When it’s finished, it’ll feature a promenade that snakes through the trees, bridging canals and occasionally giving way to urban follies–cum–outdoor classrooms.

A promenade will snake through the trees, bridging canals with the outdoor follies-cum-classrooms.

The trees, moreover, will be arranged to dramatic effect. Some parts of the forest will be lined with Japanese elms and Chinese maples, the leaves of which change colour in the fall; others will contain Yulan magnolias, which blossom in spring. At select intervals, parks, performance venues and cafés will materialize. “We were drawn to the forest concept because we could carve urban space out of it,” says Mullane. “The bank was wide and open, but we found a way to make it intimate, tactile and human.”


To address rising sea levels along a storied coast, designers are proposing a string of “collection and connection points,” each of them contributing to region-wide resilience

Since its postwar heyday, the concept of “urban renewal” has acquired a bad reputation, recalling a hubristic era in which city planners attempted to fix urban problems by imposing grandiose schemes. None of that flies anymore. Most urbanists now agree that good city-building must be participatory and flexible, engaging communities directly. But how does one create sensitive, community-level designs when the biggest problem of our time — climate change — requires a coordinated response?

Among the individual water-management initiatives intended to bolster the resiliency of the entire San Francisco Bay Area is flood-resistant Colma Creek Shoreline Park in the southern part of the region.

This was the question that Kristina Knauf, an architect at Rotterdam-based MVRDV, contemplated when participating in the Resilient by Design Challenge — a competition, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to come up with smart resiliency schemes for the San Francisco Bay Area. Working with a team led by the international firm Hassell, Knauf helped develop a new concept: collection and connection points. These areas consist of an upper community hub (that is, a “collector” area, on high ground) and a lower hub (a “connector” area, adjacent to the waterfront, that’s linked to the upper hub by a creek, canal or street).

“We are creating guidelines and toolkits. You need to invite residents to take action on their own.”
Kristina Knauf, Architect, MVRDV

Both hubs encompass public spaces containing whatever amenities the community needs — parks, fire halls, cafés, libraries. They are also built to collect and channel floodwater from the high-ground hub to a reservoir at the low point, adjacent to the Bay. (After it has been cleaned, the water can then be released, gradually, into the sea.)

Working with a team led by the international firm Hassell, Knauf helped develop a new concept: collection and connection points.

Based on this concept, the Hassell-led team subsequently came up with a specific collect-and-connect design for South San Francisco, an industrial region containing a waterway called Colma Creek. The plan proposes widening and greening the creek, which connects Orange Memorial Park (a green space on high ground) to the shoreline (where a new park containing flood-management measures and spaces would be built). It also calls for creekside promenades, a pool and playgrounds.

But this is just one variation on a highly adaptable theme. Any community can adopt the connection–collection prototype according to its needs. Each iteration, done in its own way and on its own timeline, would contribute to wider resilience. “We are creating guidelines and toolkits,” Knauf explains, noting that insensitive, large-scale planning rarely gets public buy-in. “You need to invite residents to take action on their own.”

The camera pans over a neighbourhood framed by Toronto’s skyline. In the foreground, the last of the area’s remaining mid-century social housing fans out in a repeating grid. Just beyond, new mixed-income buildings blend into the glass-and-steel horizon. The community is Regent Park, and the film is the video for Mustafa’s “Stay Alive,” the opening track of the artist’s acclaimed 2021 album, When Smoke Rises.

“All of these tribes, and all of these street signs / None of them will be yours or mine,” he sings. It is a lament for friends lost and for a community in the midst of irrevocable transformation. “Before that flattening, I want to try and beautify it as best as I can,” Mustafa told the Guardian. “I’m trying to preserve the memories of young Black Muslims [that] deserve to be preserved.”

The elegiac tone is a departure from the promise of a revitalization touted as an international paradigm and celebrated as a “model of inclusion” in a 2016 New York Times headline. Combining condo blocks with ample public amenities, the ongoing development — initiated in 2002 — is knitting a once-isolated neighbourhood back into the city. What’s more, a novel “right to return” policy saw former residents offered homes in the new community.

But as the rebuild progressed, so did the toll of extended relocation. Drawing on interviews with 60 Regent Park residents, a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Alberta and Ryerson University found frayed social bonds and a weakened sense of belonging. According to long-time resident Dyago, a sense of belonging existed even in poor living conditions. “This is my home. When I see it go down, getting teared apart, it hurts a bit,” he told CTV. Writing in the Toronto Star in 2014, Martine August, a housing researcher and assistant professor in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, put it concisely: “For people whose work, childcare, schools, healthcare, friendships and support networks are in Regent Park, revitalization is a disruptive force, not a benevolent one.”

The project was undertaken with the best of intentions. Today, the neighbourhood is served by some of the city’s most acclaimed public amenities, including a showpiece MJMA-designed aquatic centre and a multi-purpose arts and performance hub. And in an era of limited public investment, the partnership with private developers meant that all those new condominiums helped pay for improved social housing. It was an innovative model — but one predicated on demolishing dozens of buildings, displacing their residents and erasing the physical memory of a community. It’s a pattern of development repeated in large cities across North America. Just 500 kilometres away, however, another way of doing things has gradually emerged in Quebec.

For Montreal’s Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architectes (SBTA), the preservationist approach to social housing is almost 30 years in the making. It started with Benny Farm: Built for returning Second World War veterans in Montreal’s west end, the mid-rise “garden city” was slated for demolition by 1990. But the community — and architects — protested. In 2003, SBTA won a competition to reimagine the area by adding to it, rather than taking away. SBTA collaborated with a range of designers (including Laverdière Giguêre Architectes, L’OEUF and landscape virtuoso Claude Cormier) to introduce new greenery and a more intimate network of zigzagging courtyards and to retrofit apartments with efficient envelopes and mechanical systems. The complex was a relatively early example of sustainably driven mass housing.

Montreal’s Habitations Saint-Michel Nord is revived with vibrant orange facades and spiral stairs. PHOTO: James Brittain

Almost two decades later, SBTA has brought new vitality to another of Montreal’s aging housing projects: the Habitations Saint-Michel Nord, a cluster of 27 two- and three-storey buildings with 185 apartments between them. Although the spacious and well-ventilated suites were thoughtfully designed, the drab grey and brown buildings, relics of the 1970s, were in a state of disrepair; some apartments were so derelict that they could no longer be safely occupied. And in typical Le Corbusian fashion, the original site plan was a maze of cloistered inner courtyards that made many residents feel unsafe. “I walked around alone, I spoke to no one. I was scared because there were gunshots, there were screams,” recalls long-time tenant Monique Sauvageau. Informed by a rigorous tenant consultation process led by Montreal’s housing agency, SBTA got to work. “We wanted to preserve the low height, high-density environment,” says architect Vladimir Topouzanov, praising the community’s intimate scale.

The firm came up with a bold yet sensitive solution. It did entail some demolition (several mid-block buildings were levelled), but this resulted in a pedestrian-oriented woonerf, designed in collaboration with Vlan Paysages, that spans the block. Clad in permeable paving that memorializes outlines of the former buildings, the promenade provides improved access for fire and garbage trucks and introduces a new community centre and restaurant. SBTA reintegrated the homes lost to demolition in an ingenious way: By adding a third level to eight of Saint-Michel’s two-storey buildings, they maintained the gentle density but gave the renovated buildings a whole new character.

Variations in brick colour highlight individual homes and rooms, underscoring a sense of identity and belonging. PHOTO: James Brittain

Exterior spiral staircases inject a sculptural drama that reflects Montreal’s picturesque vernacular, while a palette of earthy tones that progresses from burgundy to beige proudly defines the brick facades, framed by preserved mature trees. The complexity of the project did require tenants to leave for three years, but in 2020 they returned to a neighbourhood still identifiable as the one they remembered.

Back in Toronto, the challenge of renewing social housing while allowing tenants to stay is one that the heritage specialists at ERA have been tackling for over a decade — and at the high-rise scale. Led by designers and housing advocates Ya’el Santopinto and Graeme Stewart, ERA’s nonprofit Tower Renewal Partnership specializes in retrofitting older apartments, both market-rate and affordable. It has even developed an evolving field guide of best practices, which was tested out at Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton, a 70 per cent vacant building that the firm revived as a public seniors’ residence that meets Passive House standards.

“One key question,” Stewart says, “is ‘How can we retrofit while people are in their homes?’ ” To that end, ERA is taking a holistic approach, combining sustainable and human-centred design standards with resident outreach, as well as contractor training to minimize disruption to tenants.

In Toronto’s East End, ERA is collaborating with architecture firm SvN to gradually bring new life to the Lawrence–Orton social housing community. They have already beautified a 20-storey tower with a ludic interplay of blue and green balconies and expanded it to include a new daycare at its base. Overseen by Toronto Community Housing, the renovation process kicked off with tenant-led “community design teams.” The tower’s residents were actually in charge of choosing the architects, with whom they met throughout the process to highlight evolving priorities. For the design team, it’s a welcome collaboration. “People are experts at telling you the story of where they live,” says Santopinto.

An ongoing facade replacement by LGA Architects introduces a kinetic style to 5 Needle Firway in northwest Toronto. PHOTO: Max Yuristy

At the same time, Toronto’s LGA Architectural Partners is poised to retrofit Lawrence–Orton’s surrounding apartment blocks. For LGA’s Danny Bartman, the project is one of several ongoing social housing adaptations, including 5 Needle Firway, a 12-storey building in the city’s northwest end, as well as the 220 Oak Street high-rise just outside Regent Park. He feels that demolition would be a waste. “Think of all the existing concrete already in place ready for transformation,” he says. “Think of all of the existing mature trees and gardens. Think of all of the connections already in place to support a healthy community.”

In many existing social housing enclaves, it’s precisely those kinds of connections that are lacking. Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens, like Benny Farm, was built for returning Second World War veterans and their families. But unlike the Montreal community, which was predominantly white and eventually absorbed into the urban core, Altgeld Gardens — built for Black families — remains on the post-industrial fringes of the city’s Far South Side. Over 1,500 townhouses are spread across 64 hectares and divided into smaller blocks distinguished by the stepped parapets that cap their gabled roofs.

The 3,700-square-metre Altgeld Family Resource Center is a new focal point for the eponymous community, with the Altgeld townhouses seen to the right. PHOTO: Mike Schwartz

The isolated location may have shielded Altgeld’s residents from some of the daily discrimination faced by the city’s Black population, but the toxic surroundings — including a sewage treatment plant, landfills and a polluted river — constituted environmental racism. The area had Chicago’s highest rates of cancer. And while the environmental problems have gradually ameliorated and the once-brown water now runs clear, there was still the geography of detachment to overcome.

The FRC’s flowing facade is designed to appear equally inviting from all angles. PHOTO: Mike Schwartz

Then, in 2021, the community’s cultural landscape was rejuvenated with the completion of the Family Resource Center (FRC). Designed by Chicago’s KOO, the building appears as an amorphous presence. It integrates a childcare centre and library branch into a multi-purpose hub that hosts everything from community meetings and music production to youth counselling and outreach services — all in a series of bright, interconnected rooms. Its sloping roofline is punctuated by the declarative blue of sweeping aluminum extrusions that contain a pair of sheltered inner courtyards.

At Chicago’s FRC, internal courtyards create safe but dynamic play zones for the Altgeld community’s kids. PHOTO: Mike Schwartz

“We wanted to create a contextual architecture, but one that also subtly subverts the context,” says KOO’s Dan Rappel, describing FRC’s fluid frontage, which is intentionally designed to appear equally welcoming from all sides — a stark counterpoint to Altgeld’s inward-facing townhouses. In effect, FRC subtly weaves the isolated community back into the city. The expressive form is mediated by a cohesive materiality, its brown brick facade visually melding with the older surroundings. Inside, the diverse mix of services and amenities offers both a support system and an invitation into the city’s cultural milieu, with FRC already a hub for young rappers. It’s a new building, but one that reaches out to an older community without disrupting everyday life.

Visible from the nearby highway, the FRC’s vivid blue extrusions are a declarative placemaking gesture for the Altgeld neighbourhood. PHOTO: Mike Schwartz

For all the progress, mid-century tower blocks and housing projects still carry remnants of profound stigma. As a postwar era of public works gradually gave way to neoliberal austerity and disappearing industrial jobs, conditions in many of North America’s social housing communities rapidly deteriorated. Many were demolished. Most infamous was St. Louis’s enormous Pruitt–Igoe complex, which spanned 33 towers and comprised almost 3,000 homes; it was imploded in 1972, only two decades after the final buildings were completed. Architectural theorist Charles Jencks called this reckoning the day modern architecture died, pinning Pruitt–Igoe’s failure on the language of modernist design — in its unwavering faith in density, placeless aesthetic, “tower in the park” site planning, skip-stop elevators, ill-conceived social spaces and more.

As the shortcomings of Le Corbusier–inspired design became more apparent — particularly in high-rises — Jencks’s theory gained widespread acceptance. Social housing projects across America, including Chicago’s Cabrini–Green and Robert Taylor Homes, were detonated in short order. But the design-focused criticism was deeply myopic. Dubbed “The Pruitt–Igoe Myth” by historian Katharine G. Bristol, the dominant narrative overlooked the institutional racism and socio-economic shifts that led to neighbourhood decline. These isolated communities, whose racialized residents faced shrinking job opportunities and were living in buildings with woefully inadequate maintenance, owed their demise to much more than architecture.

Today, we know better. Beyond the alarmism, the lived experience of the residents of these old housing blocks often tells another story. Many are vital and vibrant places to this day. And yet we see more and more revitalization master plans that all but obliterate their precedents. Even as Regent Park’s revamp enters its closing stages, another downtown Toronto community faces the wrecking ball. Completed in 1968 by architects Jerome Markson, Klein & Sears and Webb Zerafa Menkès Housden, Alexandra Park is making way for a denser mixed-income model that underwrites the replacement of social housing units via private-sector condo development. The completed first stage saw townhouses and apartment blocks replaced by handsome new buildings. But was demolition necessary?

An archival photograph of Toronto’s Alexandra Park, depicting a variety of building types and sociable, kid-friendly public spaces. PHOTO: Roger Jowett / City of Toronto Archives

A conceptual design exercise by Toronto’s Studio of Contemporary Architecture (SOCA) — co-founded by Tura Cousins Wilson — explores another way to think about the project’s next phase. Maintaining the homes, social spaces and greenery of a mature community, it envisions a cluster of towers strategically placed on the neighbourhood’s shoulders, increasing overall density while nurturing street-level ambiance. The notional plan accomplishes many of the same goals of densification and revitalization, but with an emphasis on avoiding displacement and disruption.

SOCA reimagines Alexandra Park to make room for new density while preserving existing buildings and ecologies.

As a design philosophy, SOCA’s proposal channels the very same principles that Markson laid out during Alexandra Park’s initial 1960s development. Before construction began, the forward-thinking architect championed a “repair and replace” model that would have integrated the site’s former Victorian architecture with new modernist housing. Nourishing cultural memory and preserving a sense of place, Markson’s prescient vision recognized the value of 19th-century architecture at a time when such buildings were deeply unfashionable. The lesson seems to have been forgotten.

The north end of Alexandra Park as it appears today. PHOTO: Tura Cousins Wilson

When Paris firm Lacaton & Vassal received the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize, it cemented its preservationist philosophy within the architectural canon. It affirmed to the world that to renovate and revive well is to practise design at the highest level. The firm’s work on the Grand Parc housing complex in Bordeaux, for instance, transformed a high-rise community of 1960s slab towers while allowing tenants to remain in their homes. The overall approach celebrated the neighbourhood’s social and physical character and avoided the enormous carbon costs of demolition and new construction. The French duo’s body of work — and their “never demolish” ethos — is now an axiom for the climate crisis and for architects’ role in it. And the buildings they create, or recreate, are beautiful.

Yet if design is a convenient scapegoat for broader socio-economic issues — as it was with Pruitt–Igoe — it risks becoming an equally facile panacea. Discussing Altgeld Gardens, Rappel eschews the self-congratulatory optimism with which designers often position their work in this realm. “The Family Resource Center is an important step,” he says, “but it isn’t everything.” Describing a neighbourhood where economic opportunities are scarce and the nearest supermarket is a 40-minute bus ride away, the architect stresses the limits of a good building. In the Chicago Reader, architecture critic Zach Mortice observes that FRC, while successful, “illustrates how far politics at the drafting desk can take you, and how far it can’t.”

Portrait of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal
Never Demolish: Lacaton & Vassal Win Pritzker Architecture Prize
The acclaimed French design duo of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have been recognized with architecture’s highest honour.

Similarly, Habitations Saint-Michel’s graceful woonerf doesn’t address the underlying socio-economic conditions that made so many residents feel unsafe in the first place. In Toronto, an increasingly stratified city, the same goes for revitalized towers. More broadly, the fundamental problems faced by North America’s largest social housing providers are rooted not in a dearth of design innovation but in a basic lack of public investment.

At the end of 2020, the New York City Housing Authority faced a staggering 483,275 outstanding work orders, with an average response time of 225 days. In 2018, Toronto Community Housing reported a repair backlog of $2.6 billion. Even after a $1.3 billion infusion of federal funding the following year, the agency faces an urgent battle to maintain basic quality of life for its 60,000 households. And while the Tower Renewal Partnership offers a vital design toolkit, fewer than two dozen projects have been completed over the past decade. When the elevators aren’t running and the balconies become unusable from pigeon infestations, architects are more crucial as public advocates than as designers.

Yet design still matters. Across the continent, the highlighted projects differ vastly in scale and context, from high-value downtown Toronto real estate to a post-industrial corner of Chicago. Though varied, the approaches are united by the principle of preservation over erasure. If they use demolition as a last resort rather than a first step, architects can drastically reduce embodied carbon costs while maintaining the social fabric of vulnerable communities. Compared to the utopian promises of modernism — and even the market based optimism of more recent revitalizations — it is a seemingly modest paradigm. But in transforming the architect from a design visionary into a steward of community and culture, it is as radical a change as any.

Martha Schwartz

Martha Schwartz’s turning point came three years ago when she watched a YouTube video in which University of Cambridge sea-ice scientist Peter Wadhams explains how the permafrost of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is melting at an unprecedented rate, releasing methane into the atmosphere and ocean and triggering an Arctic death spiral. “I completely freaked out,” Schwartz recalls. “I had no idea.” So began her second career as a climate change activist. 

One of the world’s most celebrated landscape architects, Schwartz is in a unique position to be heard on the topic. For four decades, Martha Schwartz Partners – a firm with offices in New York, London and Shanghai – has been sculpting engaging public spaces that embrace nature, among them the 2013 reconfiguration of the Place de la République in Paris and an all-new central park for Beijing’s Beiqijia Technology Business District in 2016. Currently in the works are a master plan (in conjunction with CBT Architects) for Hudayriat Island in Abu Dhabi, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (with Dorte Mandrup) in the Ukraine and a large civic park that connects a governmental centre in Shenzhen to the city’s southern waterfront. 

But as a result of her late-career “existential crisis,” Schwartz has also been passionately advocating for the entire profession to take on the mantle of environmental stewardship. She founded the Working Group for Sustainable Cities at Harvard, where she also teaches a seminar in the landscape architecture department at the Graduate School of Design called “Beyond Adaptation and Resiliency: GeoEngineering and Why We Will Need It,” offered jointly with the university’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Students explore the science of climate change, discuss governance and ethics and evaluate solutions ranging from carbon dioxide removal and direct air capture to solar radiation management (SRM). Schwartz is also an active member of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Climate Change Task Force, and her practice is initiating a not-for-profit organization to support SRM research and education. 

“We must move from being professed stewards of the land to stewards of the Earth system”
Martha Schwartz

Considering the time it takes to design and cultivate a landscape, encouraging clients to take the long view is a no-brainer. But Schwartz feels that it is critical for her peers to expand their scope and assume more responsibility. “How we design and plan the Earth now will be a major factor in our future ability to adapt to climate change, live in cities, produce our food and protect our water sources – and life itself.” She feels that the discipline is poised for this new role. “Landscape architects think holistically, deal with complexity, integrate science and art and devise and communicate solutions that address large-scale issues.” However, she warns, it needs to be better versed in climate change mitigation. 

“Mitigation goes to the root cause of climate change, which is the carbon dioxide we have been putting into the atmosphere since the beginning of industrialization. So the question is: How can we promote the importance of reinstituting large-scale ecological processes, such as afforestation, regenerative agriculture and forest and wetland conservation?” These geoengineered approaches to bolstering global carbon sinks, which can draw down large quantities of CO2, are within the profession’s purview, she believes. 

“We must move from being professed stewards of the land to stewards of the Earth system,” Schwartz declaims, “and to advocating for how to put it back together so that humans and other species can live on a planet that is, once again, in planetary equilibrium.”

“What if we built more buildings entirely from plant material?” a client recently asked us. It’s a provocative question, and given the urgency for drastic climate action, it’s an important one. Lumber, engineered wood products, and other plant-derived building materials are less carbon-intensive to produce than conventional construction materials like concrete and steel. Reducing the embodied or “upfront” carbon impacts of construction is one of the most important tools architects have for combatting the climate crisis.

Last fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made an urgent call to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. A subsequent UN statistic categorically stated that we have only 12 years to avert – and mitigate the impacts of – climate catastrophe. In May, a host of Stirling Prize–winning British architects responded by signing “Architects Declare,” an 11-pledge manifesto illuminating what the profession can do in light of “the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.” Calling on architects to “accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work,” the manifesto’s urgency belies the slow crawl of change.

For too long the profession has rationalized using carbon-intensive materials so long as we built to last – and built better. Conventional wisdom was that the embodied impact of even a conventional steel-and-concrete building was dwarfed by the real culprit: the energy suck of its operations over time. In The New Carbon Architecture, Erin McDade notes that operations typically account for around 80 per cent of a building’s total energy impact – assuming a lifecycle of 80 to 100 years. But if we look only 30 years into the future, the spread narrows to 45 per cent operating versus 55 per cent embodied. And time is not on our side. 

The change needs to happen now. In contrast to the long-term impacts of energy efficiency, embodied carbon is an upfront consideration. While it is possible, for example, to add renewable energy at a later date to offset a building’s operational impacts, the carbon costs of building materials cannot be reversed.

A recent Royal College of Art fashion graduate made a statement that architects might be wise to heed. Faced with her own industry’s contribution to the climate crisis, Laura Krarup Frandsen refused to create a final collection in protest. What about architects? Should the 12th pledge to the architects’ declaration be a moratorium on new buildings? Probably not. It isn’t realistic to decline commissions for new construction entirely. But we can all become better advocates for adaptive reuse – which typically releases 50 to 75 per cent less carbon than new construction – and low-carbon building materials.

How Can Architecture Respond to Climate Change?
In the first article in a series on how the architecture profession should respond to climate change, Janna Levitt and Drew Adams of Toronto firm LGA Architectural Partners outline the best practices of creating sustainable buildings.
RCA fashion grad Laura Krarup Frandsen’s final non-collection was staged as a die-in

One of our recent projects, the Kiln Building Redevelopment at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, transformed a structure originally used for drying and firing bricks into a carbon neutral-targeting event and education centre. It was a priority to preserve as much of this historic building as possible, and it resulted in approximately 50 per cent savings in embodied construction (avoiding an estimated 979 tonnes of embodied carbon through reuse of existing material), which is roughly equal to annual emissions of 47 single-family homes in Toronto. Given the client’s openness to focus on user-comfort perception over maximum conditioning, 97 per cent of heating/cooling is achieved through renewable sources. It means the place is a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter that most modern buildings, but the energy savings are substantial.

Other adaptive re-use projects around the world have had similar results, and Nicholas Grimshaw, the 2019 RIBA Royal Gold Medal winner, has been a global leader in this embrace of maximum reuse. “The most destructive thing is to demolish a building, get rid of all the demolished material, and then build another one,” he has said.

We Need to Decarbonize Architecture
The Kiln Building at Evergreen Brick Works

The efforts are now coming full circle for his eponymous practice, which is transforming its 1976 Herman Miller Factory in Bath into a new Faculty of Arts over 40 years later – in large part because of this forethought on ease of adaptability to future use. In a similar vein, the French firms Lacaton & Vassal architectes, Frédéric Druot Architecture and Christophe Hutin Architecture were awarded the 2019 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award for preserving and enhancing a social housing project in Bordeaux.

Before and after the Lacaton & Vassal retrofit of a Bordeaux social housing building

In championing adaptive reuse, and in specifying low-carbon materials and building typologies, designers and architects have tremendous ability to affect change. Most carbon impacts come from a small number of materials. Architects are responsible for a given building’s form, appearance and performance goals. If we are cognizant of the fact that 30 to 50 per cent of a building’s entire embodied footprint is attributed to structure and roughly 25 per cent to enclosure, then we can make inroads to reduce these levels.

Every jog in the plan, every outsized, uninsulated soffit, and every elaborate cantilever with metres of glass, comes at a performance cost. These design decisions consume additional materials and result in higher embodied impacts while creating more surface area through which energy is lost.

AZ Awards 2019 Winner: Idea Exchange | Old Post Office
The first-ever winner in our inaugural Adaptive Re-Use category, Idea Exchange | Old Post Office in Cambridge, Ontario, gracefully marries old and new.

Resources are available to help us curtail design excess. Architecture 2030’s Carbon Smart Materials Palette is a free resource providing detailed emission reduction strategies for high-impact materials as well as suitable alternatives to them, many without design impact. And with accessible tools like Kieran Timberlake’s Revit plug-in, Tally, not knowing or not adapting are no longer acceptable options for design professionals. If the “Architects Declare” manifesto is rigorously implemented, we can realize new creative opportunities and cultivate a new culture of material efficiency to complement our well-established embrace of energy efficiency.

Systemic change is needed, but the architectural profession has to start somewhere. The American Institute of Architects’ major study on our material specifying habits, The Architect’s Journey to Specification, clearly demonstrates that most architects defer to what we know and have already done. We often speak about value engineering for cost but seldom for resources. What if we actively sought to decarbonize architecture? To eradicate waste and pollution?

Appreciating the energy impacts of building envelope design might compel us to rethink our most intensive insulation choices. High-density spray foam is an undeniably efficient insulator, but its CO2 emission impact is exponentially higher than that of various batt options or cellulose – let alone options that are actually “carbon positive,” such as wool, wood fibre or straw. If the operational energy efficiency we achieve is not enough to offset the embodied impacts of certain insulation types, it’s not an environmentally responsible choice.

Insulation is just a detail. And yet a big part of the solution is to work within a context where using less is an automatic impulse – and that means less of everything. Less building. Less building area (and smaller foundations). Less complexity in form. Lighter cladding. Fewer technological bells and whistles. What should we do more of? Renovations, adaptive reuse and infill. And we need to rely more on simple, passive design strategies, informed by the forethought of flexible, future adaptation and reuse.

It is within the power of every designer to advocate for impactful change one project at a time and to advocate that all levels of government lead in legislating for carbon-neutral design that includes material impact. There are models out there, such as the contemporary practice of Carlo Ratti or the new Circular Design Program developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for inspiration. One thing is certain: If we don’t take the challenge of embodied carbon impacts seriously, all our work is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

This is the third article in an ongoing series by Janna Levitt and Drew Adams of LGA Architectural Partners on how architecture can respond to climate change. Read the first two articles here and here.

Re-used bricks and outdoor furniture by Hay animate Core City Park – along with 87 new trees.

Julie Bargmann wears the accolade with characteristic informality. Lauded today as the first-ever recipient of the new Oberlander Prize — a Pritzker-level honour bestowed by the Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation — the landscape architect and educator reflects on the puns that informed a singular career in landscape design.

“Acronyms and four-letter words have always been a favourite of mine… and I don’t want to take things too seriously,” Bargmann says in a video released as part of the award’s announcement, as she describes how wordplay shaped both an academic career and a trailblazing design studio. On the academic side, there was D.I.R.T. (Doing Industrial Research Together). And on the design side? D.I.R.T. (Dump It Right There) Studio.

Portrait of Julie Bargmann
Julie Bargmann, 2021 Oberlander Prize laureate. Photo by Barrett Doherty, courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation

The unpretentious and uninhibited monikers hint at the revolutionary potential of Bargmann’s ethos, and a design sensibility that has pushed the practice of landscape architecture over the course of three decades. Specializing in the ecological revitalization of neglected — and often highly polluted — post-industrial sites, Bargmann playfully recalls being hailed as “the toxic avenger.”

Born in Bergen County, New Jersey, she earned a Master in Landscape Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1987, becoming one of the first employees of Michael Van Valkenburg’s nascent landscape studio while still a student. Now based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bargmann founded the D.I.R.T. design practice in 1992. Driven by social equity, urban regeneration and ecological stewardship, its landscape portfolio is a riposte to the rigid aesthetic formalism and superficial beautification that defined much of 20th-century landscape design.

Many of D.I.R.T.’s early projects were focused on the remediation of so-called “Superfund” sites across the United States — named for a 1980 act to clean up areas contaminated with hazardous substances. Among the many large-scaled commissions it took on across the country were the transformations of the 200-acre Roebling Steel Plant, in New Jersey, and the 440-acre Avtex Fibers site, in Virginia.

The Vintondale treatment ponds designed by Julie Bargmann
The Vintondale treatment ponds in fall.

Another seminal project, the Vintondale Reclamation Park in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, exemplifies Bargmann’s multidisciplinary approach. She worked alongside a preservationist and a hydrologist, and with local communities and governmental agencies, to create a natural filtration system for pollutants in former coal country. Here, she addressed “the devastation wrought by acid mine drainage,” remediating the toxic orange streams into a variegated landscape of water treatment, community recreation, ecological diversity and industrial heritage.

Turtle Creek Water Works, Dallas, Texas. Photo by Barrett Doherty, courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

The winner of a 2001 National Design Award, the Vintondale remediation spurred a series of high-profile commissions. In Dallas, the 2002 reinvention of the Turtle Creek Pump House saw an abandoned public works project reinvented as a garden and arts centre, while the nine-year redevelopment of Philadelphia’s U.S. Navy Yard (undertaken between 2005 and 2014) culminated in the creation of a unique new headquarters for Urban Outfitters, with construction debris and old concrete salvaged as the building blocks of a democratic and accessible urban green space.

Urban Outfitters Site, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Barrett Doherty, courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Throughout her career, Bargmann has expressed a disdain for projects that don’t meaningfully engage with both ecology and the post-industrial condition; she has referred to landscape projects that merely beautify a formerly polluted place as “putting lipstick on a pig.” Her work, instead, digs deep. The recently completed Core City Park in Detroit is a case in point: a tranquil woodland emerges from the urban rubble, furnished by generous public seating.

A street-level view of Core City Park Detroit, designed by Julie Bargmann, on a summer day.
Core City Park, Detroit, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Prince Concepts and The Cultural Landscape Foundation. PHOTO: Prince Concepts / The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

“Unearthing the raw ingredients of design from waste and wastelands defines my life’s work,” says Bargmann. The same principles have also guided her as an educator (she currently serves as Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia School of Architecture). “Both the pedagogy of my teaching and my methodology as a designer address the social and ecological imperatives to reclaim degraded land. Integrating regenerative technologies with design propositions and built landscapes embodies my contribution to the discipline of landscape architecture.”

Bargmann’s singular career makes her a fitting inaugural laureate for the Oberlander Prize. Named for legendary Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the eponymous prize recognizes designers who are “exceptionally talented, creative, courageous and visionary,” with a “significant body of built work that exemplifies the art of landscape architecture.” Comprising a monetary award of US$100,000 and a public engagement program to raise the visibility of the winner’s work — and the discipline of landscape architecture — the Oberlander Prize will be awarded every other year.

From the archives: AZURE’s September 2005 feature on Julie Bargmann and D.I.R.T.

Chaired by Dorothée Imbert, this year’s Oberlander Prize jury was made up of Tatiana Bilbao, Michel Desvigne, Gina Ford, Teresa Gali-Izard, Walter Hood and Aki Omi, with the prize curated by John Beardsley. According to the jury citation, the award is a timely recognition of Bargmann’s “activist approach to practice, seeking out opportunities, challenges, even intractable problems.”

“She embodies the kind of activism required of landscape architects in an era of severe environmental challenges and persistent social inequities,” notes the jury. “In so many ways, she builds on the legacies of Cornelia Oberlander: in her commitments to the public realm, to advancing women in the profession, to the principles of ecology and regenerative design, and to engaging diverse, even conflicted social contexts.”

3d printed house

In Massa Lombarda, Emilia-Romagna, an unusual home, at once primordial and futuristic, has been taking shape gradually. The TECLA prototype is comprised of two interconnected, solar-powered, 3D printed domes – one featuring a living area and kitchen, the other a bedroom and lavatory. While the actual hours put in by the 3D printers number around 200 (or eight days), the project was slowly erected from September to December 2020 because of its material makeup: soil. The abundant, biodegradable natural resource was the impetus for the project, which arose from a meeting between Bologna-based architect Mario Cucinella and the owners of WASP, a 3D printing company based in Massa Lombarda. “That we can conceive buildings that come from soil and go back to soil once they’re no longer needed – that was the dream,” explains Irene Giglio.

Giglio is an architect, and the project manager of TECLA, at Mario Cucinella Architects (MC A). She is also the track leader for the Sustainable Environmental Design program at the School of Sustainability in Bologna, which was founded by MC A and acts as its research hub for this project and many others. The firm is world-renowned for its commitment to creating bold, boundary-pushing architectural forms that advance a progressive environmental agenda.

3d printed house

The “dream,” as Giglio calls it, however, faced many challenges. An ecological alternative to carbon-intensive concrete, earth has been used in traditional architecture for millennia. But its aggregate properties, from very sandy to more claylike, vary depending on site, which makes the project’s biggest ambition – a model for sustainable housing that can be rapidly replicated around the world – especially daunting.

Plan by Mario Cucinella Architects

“The main challenge, then, became developing a new kind of workflow,” says Giglio, “beginning with analyzing the soil sample so that we know what we have to add. Then the percentage of each of the additives is done parametrically. In this way, you can confer to each type of soil the mechanical properties needed for structural purposes.”

In prototyping TECLA, the team took special care to improve every layer over the previous one, hence the three-month timeline of its construction (which WASP “synthesizes” as: “350 layers of 12 mm, 150 km of extrusion, 60 cubic metres of natural materials for an average consumption of less than 6 kW”). It worked with the chemists at Mapei to devise a mix that is fluid enough to extrude yet fast drying (Mapei also developed a water-proofing treatment for the exterior and interior) and with RiceHouse, which provided technical consultancy on rice husk and straw, to optimize “the thermal performance and living comfort of the building envelope.” A self-supporting structure that was engineered with the help of Milan Ingegneria, that envelope is a double-dome. Its shape reflects yet another objective for MC A.

Rendering by Mario Cucinella Architects

“We also wanted to bring 3D printing to the next level,” says Giglio. Most 3D printed structures to date have been comprised of vertical concrete walls with a timber roof, she says. “We wanted to create a new language, something to help us exploit the potential of 3D printing and that could be done entirely onsite (other than the framing) by coupling the most recent technology with an ancient building material.”

But, should TECLA emerge from its prototype stage as a viable model for shelter – one that can be rapidly built once the “workflow” is optimized – how would its future occupants feel about this “mud house 2.0,” as Giglio calls it? Winning over hearts and minds is a major obstacle when it comes to presenting earth architecture as a housing solution. Giglio explains that MC A employs a sociologist, who also asked, “How are you going to convince people to live in it?”

Rendering by Mario Cucinella Architects

The answer might lie in TECLA’s cool factor. While it was conceived as a humanitarian initiative, the building has sparked the interest of people of means: the firm has received requests from landowners who want to build eco-resorts. The sociologist sees this as the gateway to making the so-called mud house cool for everyone else. Then there’s its undeniable sophistication. By using parametric design, the firm could even precisely calibrate ventilation and insulation and ensure an optimal thermal mass.

“It’s not just a naïve shape, but also very performative,” says Giglio. The built-in furniture was printed along with the shell, and the integration of moveable furnishings and lighting, poured flooring (a clay-cement mix called Terracruda, made by Primat) and an eco plaster will complete the project, which is expected to be inaugurated in spring. And then there’s the landscape design. Conceived by Frassinago, the outdoor grounds are designed to collect water and use it for domestic purposes as well as for irrigating vegetables in a circular design that might also make the house the centre of a micro economy.

Photo, top of article, courtesy of WASP.


HiLo stands for “high performance – low emissions.” It’s a humble moniker for a decidedly ambitious building that stretches the limits of experimental concrete construction. The Swiss project is part of NEST, a facility on the Zürich campus shared by research institutions Empa and Eawagin Duebendorf that seeks to gather state-of-the-art technologies for energy-efficient architecture all in one place. The idea is to test out these novel approaches in “real-world” conditions.

The NEST HiLo building in Duebendorf, Switzerland.

Developed by ETH Zürich, under the guidance of the professors Philippe Block and Arno Schlueter, HiLo first came to the attention of architecture diehards with a video showing its creation, which involved spraying a lightweight reusable formwork – a tensioned cable net – with layers of cement. Azure covered it as part of a growing trend of experiments in eco-friendly concrete.

Concrete is Becoming Smarter, More Sustainable and Beautiful
One of the world’s most polluting building materials is undergoing a seismic revolution, becoming a leaner, lighter and smarter version of itself.
The concrete roof touches down to connect with the building’s various levels and to allow for a dynamic approach to glazing.
The raw surfaces lend an ever-present tactile reminder of the innovative roof structure.

Apart from the double-curved roof – a voluptuous volume that recalls a billowing blanket – the project also explores the application of funicular structures for floor/ceilings. That is, weight-bearing concrete slabs that are both geometrically complex yet minimal in their material makeup; the team says that by using a tensile, rib-stiffened funicular shell instead of a flat plate, it eliminated 70 per cent of the material typically used in reinforced-concrete slab floors.

The underside of the funicular slab flooring system creates wonderful ceiling patterns.

Inspired by vaulted ceiling systems, funicular structures bulk up only where material is needed structurally, and “following the forces of compression and tension.” Digitally sculpted, the structures’ resultant hollow forms allow them to seamlessly integrate energy-efficient HVAC systems. 

The solar array, as viewed from inside.

The building’s third major device, and one that plays well with those concealed HVAC systems, is a responsive photovoltaic array. While harnessing sunlight into electricity, the 30 flexible modules are positioned in front of a window to mitigate solar gain and help regulate internal temperatures.

Another funicular slab surface above the HVAC system.

Years after the project’s genesis captured international attention, its completion is even more satisfying to see. While the making of the roof was a viral architecture story, the finished product proves something else: that high-tech eco-concrete can be beautiful.

The funicular slabs, especially, which appear as variously textured surfaces throughout the building, make a compelling case for experimenting with material-minimizing concrete from a purely formal stance. The dramatic roof – as the project’s most visible calling card – gives the building’s interiors an operatic feel.