Story at a glance:

  • Community planning implemented in architecture has led the way for more sustainable, eco-friendly, and energy-efficient designs.
  • Ottawa is planning its first 100% carbon-neutral community, Zibi, with electric car charging stations and a community walk incentive.
  • Amsterdam has created a floating sustainable neighborhood, Schoonschip, with 30 water lots.

Community-based architecture is quickly becoming a focus of many metropolitan areas all over the globe, and countries like Canada and Australia are dedicated to emphasizing more eco-friendly and sustainable projects.

That’s a good thing, considering the world’s population is expected to increase by 34% by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Because of this increase, nearly 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050.

As many of our world centers continue to grow in population, we turn to the experts for inspiration for sustainable community examples and how to build better.

1. Consider the Community Landscape

rdh-architects-gbd-magazine-springdale library 06

The Toronto Springdale Library is targeting a LEED Gold rating with its green roof, geothermal heating and cooling, and gray water systems. Photo by Nic Lehoux

Within a suburb of Toronto, RDH Architects have designed an eco-friendly library space that flows with the landscape of the community. This building features floor-to-ceiling windows that highlight solar-responsive ceramic frit patterns to shield patrons from harmful sun rays and glares.

The finalized structure is an eye-catching, triangular-shaped building that is as much about the landscape as it is about community. The project features a number of other green details, including daylight harvesting systems, geothermal heating and cooling, gray water use for toilet fixtures, and electric car charging stations.

This library is located near a main road in the community and the central plaza to emphasize this public space to community members.

2. Design a 15-Minute Neighborhood

CallisonRTKL redesigned the 1980s-era Ballston Common on a collaborative team with Forest City, rebranding it as Ballston Quarter, a mixed-use city center and cutting-edge retail destination that appeals to smart, young urban dwellers just outside of Washington, DC. Photo by David Madison Photography

While communities continue to adapt to issues like climate change and exploding population rates in some areas, 15-minute neighborhoods help to curb community transit problems and reduce the overall carbon footprint. Some successful urban planning includes the rise of 15-minute neighborhoods, which include innovative solutions for affordable housing, energy, and health care for community members.

“Our cities must adapt to change—climate change, behavioral change, and change in community needs—and make room for flexibility in urban planning, urban design, programming, and management of urban space,” wrote Renee Schoonbeek previously for gb&d.

To further utilize limited open space, Schoonbeek says the 15-minute neighborhood schedules space for a range of activities at different intervals through the day and week. “To create more open space many cities have introduced open streets programs, closing streets for vehicular traffic and allowing businesses to take over outdoor space to serve customers. Longer term we need to continue to prioritize people over cars, turning parking lots and overly wide roadways into publicly accessible and usable open space.”

And when everything is within a 15-minute trip, the need for motorized vehicles diminishes and improves the environmental impact.

3. Plan for Walkability

carbon neutral community zibi gbd magazine 03

Zibi overlooks the Ottawa River and will be home to more than 5,000 people and 6,000 jobs on the border between Ontario and Quebec. It’s next to the Chaudière Falls, in the heart of the National Capital Region, and connected by the Chaudière bridge. Rendering courtesy of Zibi

Ottawa is planning to establish its first carbon-neutral community, Zibi, and is incorporating electric car charging stations, a community walk incentive, and repurposed building materials. This community will span 34 acres and involves collaboration with the Alonquin Nation and three levels of Canadian government.

Ottawa’s plan for walkability includes an incentive-based program for community members who decide to ditch the car on daily errands such as grocery shopping and pharmacy runs.

The Zibi team behind the plan says it should be a place that, with nearly eight acres of riverfront area and green spaces, everyone can enjoy, including tens of thousands of visitors this community would bring in.

Ottawa expects this community to be home to around 5,000 people while providing 6,000 jobs.

4. Incorporate Family Areas

bata shoe factory scott norsworthy exterior

Designed by BDP Quadrangle and Dubbeldam Architecture + Design, Bata Shoe Factory’s adaptive reuse pays homage to the former manufacturing facility through industrial modernist design. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

BDP Quadrangle and Dubbeldam Architecture + Design repurposed the Bata Shoe Factory, located in Batawa, Canada, into a sustainable and environmental project for the community.

The former shoe factory was sold to a plastics company in 2000, but Sonja Bata repurchased the 1,500-acre site in 2008 with plans to create a social and eco-friendly model.

Similar to the former factory’s community-based design philosophy, the renovated mixed-use building acts as a community hub for residents and non-residents alike.

The community amenities of this location include a children’s daycare with an outdoor playground, educational incubators, and a rooftop terrace. Natural gas is not used throughout the building so the carbon dioxide emissions are virtually nonexistent.

5. Share Resources

schoonship amsterdam floating homes isabel nabuurs

Initiated and developed by the residents themselves, Schoonschip Amsterdam includes 46 self-sustaining floating homes and creates a new model for sustainable living. Photo by Isabel Nabuurs

Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals, but in 2008 Marjan de Blok took them to the next level by creating a sustainable floating neighborhood called Schoonschip Amsterdam. This neighborhood is not only buoyant but also manages to share basic utilities across all of its residences. The community is home to 30 water plots.

“Schoonschip is transformed into thriving neighborhoods based on regenerating existing nature and ensuring social, ecological, and financial value remains with the community. This ensures a network of stewardship and care, which will keep the neighborhoods operating in a circular way for perpetuity,” said Sascha Glasl in a previous interview with gb&d, cofounder of architectural firm Space&Matter.

Hundreds of solar panels and blockchain technology contribute to production and exchange of energy among the Schoonschip households.

6. Use What You Have

sustainable community examples stokkoya

Bygdekanten, a sustainable community with a contemporary design. Rendering by Pir II Architects.

On the Norwegian island of Stokkøya (population less than 400), Roar Svenning continues to unveil big plans for a sustainable community resort. The resort currently consists of 30 cottages as well as restaurants and artistic spaces.

“We try our best to adjust our buildings to nature, not the opposite. Less dynamite and more nature-adaptive architecture,” said Svenning in a previous interview with gb&d.

Called Bygdekanten, meaning “on the edge of the village,” the project aims to show off contemporary architecture in a community-based seaside location for people who want to live in nature without sacrificing urban amenities.

All projects in and around the resort implement reused materials as much as possible, according to Ingrid Langklopp, the business developer who oversees the cottages, small hotel, restaurant, bar, art and music spaces, and more.

For Bygdebox, a large triangular building near the waterfront, crews used leftover materials from other projects and a nearby ship graveyard. The multi-purpose area used green glass from a demolished government building, facade panels from an old local bank, and leftover doors and windows from other projects.

At the Stokkøya hotel, repurposing was also key. “We used a lot of recycled materials to build furniture, and we brought in students to build furniture,” Langklopp says. “We used old sails to make curtains; we picked up things from the ship graveyard to put on the wall.”

7. Source Local Materials

how to create a sustainable community geneva rock gbd magazine

Photo courtesy of Geneva Rock

“As our communities grow, we must consider green initiatives to help lower emissions and reduce other environmental impacts,” wrote Nathan Schellenberg, vice president of specialty construction at Geneva Rock Products, in a previous submission to gb&d. 

Geneva Rock mines locally in Utah in an effort to have less of an environmental impact on the community. As one of the largest recycling institutions in the state, Geneva Rock has a zero-waste recycling facility where they consistently reuse and repurpose materials for the future.

“Mining locally means less environmental and financial impact. It reduces the amount of traffic congestion, emissions, and wear on local roads that is normally required to transport materials,” Schellenberg wrote.

8. Renovate with Shared Space

dayton metro library heapy sustainable community examples gbd magazine

Photo by Andy Snow

Dayton Metro Library created a new sustainable community with library renovations that began in 2012. With nine new branches, this project aimed to create an energy-efficient and community-based hub for people in Dayton.

“We set out to build facilities that were both aesthetically pleasing and welcoming to all patrons, creating a shared space that would bring the community together and improve access to everything from education resources and job readiness programs, to art, music, and technology,” said Jayne Klose, community engagement manager at Dayton Metro Library.

The team at the library partnered with HEAPY for urban planning with community in mind. The quality of the indoor environment, the abundance of natural daylight, and the comfortable yet functional spaces truly create a community library space for patrons of all ages. Improving community equity is one of five pillars in the Dayton Metro Library Strategic Plan, and every facility investment was made with inclusion and equity in mind.

“Libraries are so much more than books—they are anchor institutions. It is important that we meet the needs of the community, creating a place for people of diverse backgrounds and experiences to come together,” Klose said.

9. Combine Work, Live, and Play

theatresquared marvel architects sustainable community examples photo by kristian alveo gbd magazine 04

The TheatreSquared project exceeds national standards with repurposed building materials, all-LED lights, furniture milled from trees onsite, enhanced commissioning, and efficient systems. Photo by Kristian Alveo

Completed in 2020, TheatreSquared (T2) in Fayetteville, Arkansas is a multi-purpose venue designed by Marvel Architects where the community can access offices, theater, and housing.

In total, TheatreSquared’s new 50,000-square-foot home combines two top-notch theaters, eight artist apartments, a rehearsal space, offices, education and community spaces, on-site workshops, outdoor terraces at three levels, and an always-open café/bar at the active corner of West and Spring streets, according to the architects’ website.

The team at Marvel says the building plays a significant role in extending the arts and cultural program of Fayetteville as a whole. As it’s situated a block south of the city’s main commercial artery, and in between the Walton Arts Center and the city public library, the building pulls the public south down Fayetteville’s emerging arts corridor. The architects say a planned park across the street from the theater will replace an existing parking lot and further energize this part of the city, allowing the venue to engage even more people in the community.