With 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, it is imperative to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of buildings, which currently account for 40% of the annual global GHG emissions. Technology is set to define the future of urban engineering.

Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim Norway is the northernmost energy-positive office built to date. Powerhouse Brattørkaia uses a variety of technologies to reduce energy consumption in its daily operations. The 3,000 square meters of solar panels on its roof and the upper part of its facade generate around 500,000 kWh of electricity a year, which is twice the energy consumed by the building. The excess energy is stored in batteries and used to power electric vehicles, effectively turning the building into a power plant. This building design forces a radical shift in the way we think about potential energy supply – from centralised and carbon-intensive to decentralised and decarbonised.

The use of innovative technology and sustainable design has also been pioneered across Africa. The famous floating school in Makoko, Nigeria was designed to utilise solar electricity and harvest rainwater to operate its lavatories. Despite its collapse in 2016 due to heavy rains, the design of the floating school has been replicated by engineers in Belgium to provide affordable energy-efficient housing to coastal populations threatened by rising sea levels.

3D printing can further stimulate the development of sustainable buildings. 3D printing effectively creates a finalised product by layering material in an additive process, making the sustainability of the structure dependent on the material used. Although plastics and metals are most commonly employed in this process, scientists at Texas A&M University envision using soil and other naturally sourced materials to 3D-print houses that could accommodate the most vulnerable populations across the world.