Architecture can play a pivotal role in giving tangible form and substance to social and environmental needs. Its impact on nature, poverty, and housing shortages, and its commitment to a circular economy are all examples. These factors are also at the heart of the winning projects in the international Zumtobel Group Award 2021 – Innovation for Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment. First held fourteen years ago and now presented for the sixth time, the award sets out to trigger discussion and scrutiny of questions seen as essential for safeguarding our planet for future generations. Over two hundred projects from 42 participating countries prompted the president of the jury, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen from Snøhetta Architects, to speak of a growing attention to environmental values and priorities,which has already resulted in a clear tendency to look at holistic projects in a different way.
This year’s winners were selected in three categories: Buildings, Urban Developments & Initiatives, and Innovation – this last category introduced this year. The winning projects are Lacol, the Black Women Build initiative, and Circular Construction Lab. Special mentions were also awarded.
Lacol, a Spanish architectural cooperative based in Barcelona, created La Borda, a six-story collective housing structure built of wood. Dating from 2012, the project has its origins in a community’s response to a local housing shortage. It’s therefore a good example of how a common need can be transformed into built architecture, with construction completed in 2018. The real significance of this project is that it was a collective undertaking, with its instigators now the residents of the building. It also set a new standard for properly balancing needs with environmental, social, and economic considerations. For Lacol, all these features point the way forward, with the studio hoping that La Borda will be its bequest to future generations as a model for shared responsibility and the correct use of space.
Beginning with its approximately 3200 square feet (300 m2) of shared spaces, including a kitchen, dining area, and guest rooms, the building is all about the principle of sharing. The same applies to the optimization of energy use by residents and the attention paid to limiting the production of biomass. It was built using a light, high-quality, and renewable cross-laminated timber, underscoring the circular credentials of the project.
Two of Baltimore’s most neglected neighborhoods, Upton and Druid Heights both have high poverty levels, especially among women. Set up by the Black Women Build initiative, the Block Outcomes: Rehabilitating Baltimore project won this category for its power for regeneration. The project involves providing work for local Black women in the form of their direct participation in the restoration of many of the area’s most degraded buildings. Contributing towards greater freedom and economic independence for these women, this is another project that sets out to solve local social problems but with spillover effects.
The participants were able to buy the houses they built and then became volunteers for the construction of more homes. This has resulted in a strong network of workers, owners, volunteers, and donors.
The choice of renovating and reusing, instead of demolishing, existing buildings is a sustainable one with reduced environmental impact.
Awarded for the first time, the prize for the best innovative project went to the Circular Construction Lab for its RhinoCircular software, a tool designed to monitor the environmental impact of projects from the earliest stages – right from the initial drawings, in fact. RhinoCircular makes it possible to assess the circularity of the materials usedwith immediate feedback, thereby keeping the environmental impact of the building under control in terms of emissions, embodied carbon, and circularity. However, this tool isn’t restricted to use in architecture and has applications in various sectors, including manufacturing.
Special mentions were awarded to several other projects in all three categories. They include the Tambacounda Maternity and Pediatric Hospital in Senegal. Designed by Manuel Herz Architects, this health facility has curving volumes and numerous common spaces for family members and people who work or visit there often. With two operating theaters, an intensive care unit, and more than 150 beds, the hospital serves over 80 thousand people in a city with low public health standards. The architects gave special attention to the ventilation of the corridors, with rooms on one side only and perforated brick walls that provide constant ventilation.
Another special mention was awarded to the Maya Somaiya Library in Kopargaon, India. The library was designedby Sameep Pandora & Associates without changing the existing layout and functionality of the school area.Conceived and built as a natural extension of the land, the shape of the building’s roof suggests a hill, this helping to integrate the library into its setting. Besides local building materials, the project used 16th-century Catalan tile vaulting, combining it with innovative, modern techniques – another way to rethink the relationship between global and local. The structure of the walls is unusual, with the larger lower sections glazed and the upper parts composed of metal mesh so as to provide ventilation and passive cooling.
The work of URBANA, the design of Cyclone Shelter in Kuakata, Bangladesh, is a response to the disastrous cyclone of 2007. As result, the project has become an architectural prototype for the area. At the top of the access ramp, designed specifically to provide shelter from wind and water but also for people with disabilities, is a primary school, while a medical center, whose furnishings are entirely mobile and flexible, is at ground level.
Lacol, La Borda:
Cover photo: © Lluc Miralles, courtesy of Zumtobel Group
Photo gallery: © Baku Akazwa and © Lluc Miralles, courtesy of Zumtobel Group
Initiative Black Women Build, Whole Block Outcomes: rehabilitating Baltimore:
Photo: © N/A courtesy of Zumtobel Group
Circular Construction Lab, RhinoCircular:
Photo: © Circular Construction Lab, courtesy of Zumtobel Group
Manuel Herz Architects, Tambacounda:
Photo: © Iwan Baan, courtesy of Zumtobel Group
Sameep Pandora & Associates, libreria Maya Somaiya:
Photo: © Edmund Sumner, courtesy of Zumtobel Group
URBANA, Cyclone Shelter:
Photo: © Kashef Chowdhury, courtesy of Zumtobel Group