Since 2005 the Holcim Foundation has awarded $4 million in prize money in a competition aimed at promoting sustainable construction. In each three-year awards cycle, they whittle more than 6,000 entries down to 15 finalists and, finally, 3 winning projects that challenge a conventional understanding of sustainable building practices, address environmental, social and economic issues and are compelling on an architectural level.
This year the Gold prize went to Diebedo Francis Kere of Berlin-based Kere Architecture for a school project in Burkina Faso. Kere used subterranean tubes, planting vegetation, stack-effect air currents and double-skin roofs to route air in a passive cooling system that combats the region's intense Summer heat. The project also includes a reforestation initiative and it addresses the social aspect of the award by creating jobs and providing training. Jury head Enrique Norten, principal and founder of TEN Arquitectos, noted "This beautiful school is not only an elegant design solution, but it also delivers training and employment, uses local building materials, and—with simple means—creates an outstanding environment from a social viewpoint and also in constructive terms."
The Silver prize was awarded to Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner of Urban Think Tank, Brazil, for a project that will reinvigorate an eroded landscape in the Paraisopolis favela in Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest informal communities. The eroded area will be transformed into a thriving public space that includes urban agriculture, a water management system, public amphitheater, music school, small concert hall, sports facilities and transport infrastructure. Brillembourg and Klumpner have also included plans to prevent future damage due to erosion and mudslides.
Finally, the Bronze prize went to a team of German architects led by Jan and Tim Edler of Realities United for their plan to develop an unused area of Berlin's River Spree, transforming it into a natural 2,500-foot long swimming zone, the equivalent of 17 Olympic-sized pools. The new area will provide a public recreation space for tourists and locals, and will also include a 4.5-acre natural reserve with "sub-surface sand bed filters to purify water."