The Top 11 Buildings Of 2013

The most amazing ways we kept a roof over our head in the last year: The greenest office building in the world, a city on wheels, a new take on the college dorm, and more.


A building is so much more than just a roof over your head. Because buildings use 40% of all of our energy, they represent a huge opportunity: Redesign how our buildings work and we could go a long way toward solving our emissions issues. We saw the start of that this year, with the most energy efficient office ever opening in Seattle and a building in Germany that gets its power from algae that live in its walls.


But buildings are also where we spend most of our time, so they should make us happy to be inside them. And so projects like the giant skyscraper in Shanghai are incredibly important. It’s filled with parks and open to the public, in an attempt to get people spending more time with nature. At the other end of the market, there’s the $20,000 house designed initially for impoverished rural Alabamans. But the houses are so nice (and so cheap), they may soon hit the market for everyone.

We tend not take for granted the walls and roofs that surround us, but the new offices, new homes, and even new dorms we saw this year should show that that’s a bad decision. Pick your house of the future out here (and read about last year’s best buildings if you want more here).

1: This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours

For years, students at Auburn University’s Rural Studio have been building cheap houses for impoverished locals. Now their designs are going mass market.

2: A 600-Foot-Tall City On Wheels, For When It’s Time To Get Away From It All


Cities are so … static. The Very Large Structure will let an urban population just roll down the road if commerce or resources dry up.

3: These Tiny Wooden Houses Are The College Dorm Of The Future

Housing is expensive. So why not have students live in cubes they can afford? That’s the idea behind the “smart student unit.”

4: The New Second Tallest Building In The World Is An Urban Green Space Wonderland

The just-topped 2,000-foot-tall Shanghai Tower will have huge 15-story parks throughout the structure–and it will let the public in to play in them.


5: The Greenest Office Building In The World Is About To Open In Seattle

The Bullitt Center is made from totally clean materials, has composting toilets, and catches enough rainwater to survive a 100-day drought. And it’s 100% solar-powered, in a city not known for its sunny days.

6: This Literal Treehouse Is A Glass House Built Around An Entire Tree

What’s the best way to incorporate nature into your living space? How about just putting a whole tree in your house?

7: Take A Look At New York’s New Smallest Apartment


The city today unveiled the winner of a contest to design livable tiny apartments to expand studio-scale housing in the Big Apple.

8: This Entire Building Is Powered By Its Algae-Filled Walls

A new building in Germany gets its energy from what’s growing inside it.

9: The Disaster Shelter You Want To Live In Way More Than A FEMA Trailer

If your house is destroyed in a disaster, you don’t want to live in a tent. The Rapid Deployment Module can be assembled in 20 minutes with no tools and will last at least 10 years.


10: This Beautiful Mexico City Building Eats The City’s Smog

Using a new type of tile that converts the chemicals in pollution into less toxic substances, the Torre de Especialidades is fighting the city’s bad air–and looking good in the process.

11: This Gorgeous Campus Is The World’s Largest Women’s University–And It’s In Saudi Arabia

Up to 60,000 women could eventually enroll at PNU, though their job prospects after graduation still leave something to be desired.

Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at]