The Holcim Awards are the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design. The Next Generation category recognizes the visionary concepts and bold ideas of young professionals and students. In the competition region of North America, the jury selected four entries to receive Next Generation prizes. The winning projects all address fundamental issues and challenges.
The issue of sustainability in the construction sector is of paramount importance because the construction and maintenance of buildings accounts for 40 percent of both energy and material consumption worldwide. In view of climate change and diminishing resources, new approaches are needed along the entire value chain of the construction industry. Developing and applying these new approaches are what the Holcim Awards promote. Every three years, the competition is held in five world regions and then globally. The prize money totals USD 2 million.
The number of entries shows how intensively specialists from the fields of architecture, engineering, urban planning, materials science, construction technology, and related disciplines deal with sustainability issues: A total of 4,742 projects from 134 countries were submitted. About half of them fully met the competition requirements and were then scrutinized in extensive online jury meetings in the five competition regions. The juries spent a total of over 100 hours sifting through and ranking the winners in the Main and Next Generation categories. In this process, they used the five Target Issues for Sustainable Construction with which the Holcim Foundation assesses sustainability. Summarized as Progress, People, Planet, Prosperity, and Place, the Target Issues outline the critical factors of making the environments we build and inhabit truly viable as the building sector moves toward net-zero emissions and circular material flows.
Many high-level Next Generation entries
The Next Generation category seeks visionary concepts and is open to participants up to 30 years of age, whereas the Main category is for projects that are ready for implementation. In the current competition, around half of the entries worldwide were submitted in the Next Generation category. “Identifying only a small group of winners among a strong pool of submissions was challenging,” says Reed Kroloff. The Rowe Family Dean of the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) served as head of the jury for North America. The jury included professionals from across the region: Sarah Burch (Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Governance & Innovation, University of Waterloo, Canada), Sarah Graham (agps architecture, USA), Mitchell Joachim (Terreform ONE, USA), Sharon Johnston (Johnston Marklee & Associates, USA), Jesse LeCavalier (Associate Professor, John H Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, & Design, University of Toronto, Canada), Christophe Levy (Scientific Director and Director R&D Concrete & Aggregates, Holcim Innovation Center, France), and Sarah Whiting (Dean, Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, USA). A further jury member from the Holcim Foundation Academic Committee was Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland).
Each winning idea highlights a different perspective of sustainability
During the selection process, the jury of experts had many discussions inspired by the projects: "about sustainability in general and about the increasing complexity of building responsibly on this continent and the others," says jury head Reed Kroloff. Ultimately, the jury also judged the entries on whether they broadened the perspective and, in addition to a specific problem solution, also had the big picture of sustainability in mind. It is therefore not surprising that, as Reed Kroloff says, “there was a strong focus on reuse, either upcycling or downcycling of materials, and the incorporation of plans and natural systems into the solutions.” The winning projects also share another thing in common: “Each of the winners proposed fascinating and elegant responses to the challenges and opportunities sustainability represents as part of the design process,” says the jury head, and he broadly characterizes the selected projects as “hopeful.”
In addition to the prize money, each winner receives a personalized trophy featuring the Modulor of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The trophy base is made of ECOPact, a low-carbon concrete by Holcim, showcasing materials that enable circular flows and carbon-neutral construction. Holcim is the sponsor of the Holcim Foundation, which conducts the competition. “With their fresh ideas, the Next Generation Awards prize winners keep us at the forefront of sustainable and innovative building solutions”, says Jan Jenisch, CEO of Holcim.
1st prize: Reuse instead of demolition
Countless old concrete buildings will be torn down in the coming years. There is still no standard method for properly disposing of the resulting debris, only for downcycling the concrete. The project by Daniel Marshall, MIT Cambridge, shows how dismantled elements such as floor slabs can be used in the construction of new buildings. “It shows how we could make ‘reuse rather than destroy’ the default plan for the building industry,” says Marilyne Andersen. The method is based on artificial intelligence. It is economical and reduces the carbon footprint. The rubble is first digitally scanned. A program then groups the identified materials and calculates how the individual pieces can be optimally reassembled, like puzzle pieces. Where necessary, gaps are filled using robotic concrete printers. The method also works for glass building envelopes. “The project tries to reuse material that has stood the test of time rather than demolish it and produce something new,” says Daniel Marshall. “It’s all about thinking realistically about some of the ways in which we construct.” The jury also appreciated the elegant and precise exemplifying design solutions presented along with the computational tool.
2nd prize: Alternative building blocks
Conventional brick production requires high temperatures and consumes enormous amounts of energy. The project by Daniel Francisco Gonzalez and Noor Shaikh from Waterloo and Toronto, Canada, proposes a sustainable production method for alternative, sustainably producible materials as insulation and wall veneer. The masonry elements are made of reclaimed cement-kiln dust and agro-industrial byproducts. Fish processing residue is used as a natural binder. The produced blocks will have different colors, weights, and textures depending on the materials used. Above all, production requires little energy. “Our model is based on circular economy,” explains Daniel Francisco Gonzalez. “We use byproducts from other industries as aggregates to produce new quality building materials. We are also reducing the amount of virgin materials needed in construction.” The jury considers this an elegant way of repurposing agro-industrial waste. It promotes the use of local resources, and the blocks being produced can be adapted to different regions of the world. “Even if it is always hard to establish such new building materials at a large scale, the use of waste material from agriculture and aquaculture is ingenious,” finds Marilyne Andersen.
3rd prize: Reduction of byproducts
Big Bend Power Station is a coal-fired power plant that pollutes and impacts Florida’s coastal environment. The proposed project will reduce the environmental impact of this power plant. Available material resources are used in concert to sequester carbon and better manage emissions. A network of bioreactors, open-pond farms, and constructed wetlands supports agricultural use and reduces the emissions. The system is embedded in an expansive wildlife reserve – a buffer and refuge for the local manatees. The jury finds the concept a clever and reproduceable idea to mitigate environmental problems. It aims to transform the area into an attractive landscape that combines nature, architecture, and infrastructure. “What is fascinating is that the project takes the existing and tries to make the most of it,” says Marilyne Andersen. “It tries to restore the old value and even give a new value on top.” Architect Samuel Clovis from Los Angeles hopes that the Holcim Awards prize will help in the further development of his idea: “I’m hoping that the momentum can help the transition from conceptional research to large-scale, real-world application of this technology.”
4th prize: Air cleansing
According to the WHO, urban air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to human health. Phoebe Mankiewizc, Ph.D. student at Yale University, proposes improving air quality by means of multifunctional plant-based air-cleansing systems. The systems metabolize air pollutants and help clean the air. They reduce the need for HVAC systems in buildings and therefore reduce energy consumption of buildings and promote human health. “The real potential is to implement this technology not only in corporate lobbies but also in communities that could really use them,” says the student. “The project is environmentally and socially sustainable. The maintenance could be taken over by community members to benefit the whole neighborhood.” The jury praises the integration of vegetation into a convincing modular system that has healthy effects on people and promotes ecological sustainability. “Plants can help in many ways,” says Marilyne Andersen, “and this project doesn’t just use them to make a building look green – it actually strives to change the comfort within a building.”
Holcim Awards winning projects North America
Next Generation prizes
Awards Next Generation 1st prize (USD 25,000)
Unmaking Architecture, New York – Management tool for reusing salvaged materials
An artificial-intelligence-based tool to optimize the reuse of demolition rubble.
Winner: Daniel Marshall, Teaching Fellow (2019/20), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
Awards Next Generation 2nd prize (USD 20,000)
Off the Wall, Canada – Making building components from food-processing byproducts
A smart production system uses byproducts from agriculture and aquaculture to make elegant building components.
Winners: Daniel Francisco Gonzalez, student, and Noor Shaikh, consultant, IXIM Bioproducts Inc., Waterloo and Toronto, Canada
Awards Next Generation 3rd prize (USD 15,000)
Performative Landscapes in Florida – Contextual reconversion of an industrial site
A design for converting an impacted site on Tampa Bay into a productive and attractive landscape.
Winner: Samuel Clovis, architect, Los Angeles, USA
Awards Next Generation 4th prize (USD 10,000)
Pure Inhale, Connecticut – Plant-based design module research
A research-based project deploys vegetation to tackle environmental, health, and social challenges in urban areas.
Winner: Phoebe Mankiewicz, PhD student, Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture, New Haven, CT, USA
Main category Awards winners to be announced in November
The worldwide total of 21 Next Generation category winners will be presented virtually, whereas the winning projects and authors in the Main category will be honored at a hybrid event at the international Venice Biennale of Architecture in mid-November 2021. At this event, the 33 regional winners will be celebrated and the winners of the global Holcim Awards Gold, Silver and Bronze 2021 will be announced.
Virtual presentations of the Next Generation winners, including detailed descriptions of the winning projects from each world region, complete jury reports, and numerous photos and videos, are available at www.holcim-foundation.org/awards. The English-French trade journal “L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui” has devoted a special issue to the Next Generation winners of the Holcim Awards.
Striving to make the world greener, smarter, and healthier for all
The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction was created in 2003 by Holcim as an independent legal entity to raise awareness of the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning, and the building industry have in achieving a more sustainable future. Holcim is the global leader in building solutions across more than 70 markets. The Group is reinventing how the world builds to make it greener, smarter, and healthier for all.