Courtesy What Design Can Do

International design platform What Design Can Do and the IKEA Foundation have shortlisted 57 projects from 452 entries for this year's Clean Energy Challenge, which focuses on site-specific issues in five major cities; waste management in Mexico City; transportation in São Paulo; food security in Nairobi, Kenya; clean urban landscape and beautification in Amsterdam; and buildings in New Delhi. This year, the annual competition brief called on designers, entrepreneurs, and students to "rethink how we produce, distribute, and use energy in metropolitan areas."

Judged based on the criteria of "relevance, impact, feasibility, scalability, excitement, and commitment," the finalists have until Feb. 10 to refine and improve their designs based on the selection committee's feedback. On March 6, an international jury will then select 25 winners, which will compete to win "a production budget and a tailor-made acceleration program aimed at making the winning ideas, prototypes, or start-ups market and investment–ready," according to the same brief.

Below are some of ARCHITECT's favorite finalists related to architecture and planning for each of the five cities named in the Clean Energy Challenge:

Mexico City

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Mexico City has struggled with waste management for years. Although some improvements have been made, the city still suffers from the lack of recycling knowledge in the local level. To tackle the issue, the competition brief asked designers to "think about how design can improve household attitudes and behaviors towards recycling and reusing. ... [and] how can our notion of waste be transformed so that we see it as a valuable resource or source of energy, rather than simply trash?”

Courtesy What Design Can Do

Food Waste Upcycling by Ecoplaso
Developed by Mexican strartup company Ecoplaso, this project aims to eliminate petroleum-based plastics by upcycling organic waste and transforming them into bio-plastics, 3D printing filaments, and vegetable-based leather.

Circular Communities for Housing by Netherlands-based Conscious Designs
Made of plastic waste and fly ash, these stackable, self-locking building blocks are designed to encourage local communities to construct their own houses. "The bricks are [three] times more insulating than clay bricks and can easily withstand the temperatures in Mexico." The project developer says this product could save up to 60 percent in construction costs.

São Paulo

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One of the world's most populous cities, São Paulo, is struggling with traffic congestion, pollution, and lack of proper public transportation infrastructure. In the competition's brief, the organization asked designers to develop "ideas that encourage clean and green mobility ... [and] innovative, radical solutions for more sustainable flows of people and goods through the city."

Smart Air from Pim Smeets on Vimeo.

Smart Air by Project Smart Air
This natural air cleaning system is designed to vacuum polluted air out of the streets and into the city's sewerage system. The system works by using high and low pressure to create a suction force. "[Think of it as] opening a second window in a room," according to the project's brief. "[A]s a result the air starts flowing freely. Fine particles have the natural ability to attach to water, therefor it can be safely disposed in the sewer."


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With rapid urbanization and population growth, Kenya's capital city is in need of a sustainable food production system. Lack of food transportation networks and proper refrigeration all contribute to this dilemma. Although urban farms are not strangers to Nairobians, What Design Can Do challenged designers to help "build on this momentum and imagine new narratives, services, products, spaces, and systems to make the journey from farm to fork greener and more equitable for all."

Recycled Plastic Modular Bricks by WMLE
Nairobi-based WMLE has developed a waste management system that collects, sorts, and recycles plastic waste into interlocking plastic bricks for low-cost paving, and posts for fencing or street lighting.

Courtesy What Design Can Do

Greenobi by Eindhoven, Netherlands–based designer Timm Donke
The project envisions a "lush oasis of green fauna, ... a network of micro-parks, and vegetarian food courts" on the city's rooftops where food can be produced, harvested, and consumed in the local level.


Courtesy What Design Can Do

To provide enough electricity to service the metropolitan region of Amsterdam, the city needs sustainable energy resources that could meet the growing demands of its dwellers. Additionally, these solutions must be in line with the city's current heritage conservation guidelines, which, for example, does not allow any solar panels or visible interventions. For these reasons, the Clean Energy Challenge's brief asked for "creative spatial interventions, products, services, systems, and stories that reconcile liveability with the need to transition to renewable energy."

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Aetherius by Cyclic Design
Designed to produce enough electricity to power 600 households, this public art installation generates electricity from wind.

Solar Visuals Product Video from Solar Visuals on Vimeo.

Solar Visuals by Amsterdam-based architecture firm UNSense and Solar Visuals
Developed by UNStudio's technology startup company UNSense and Solar Visuals, this photovoltaics cladding panel can be seamlessly integrated into a building's exterior surface to generate power. Manufactured using UNStudio's patented dot-pattern technique—a printing technology, which, according to UNSense, "is capable of translating images into a setup of dots of different coverage ratios"—Solar Visuals panels are available in a variety of customizable formats, colors, and patterns.

New Delhi

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To serve its growing population, New Delhi is rapidly constructing buildings throughout the metropolitan area. This, according to What Design Can Do, leads into "haphazard urban planning, with both commercial buildings and informal settlements mushrooming without much consideration for sustainability." To overcome the issue, the city needs to find innovative ways to promote "passive building practices to reduce energy use."

Gina Ciancone/Courtesy What Design Can Do

Green Screen by Green Screen India
Developed by an interdisciplinary team of designers, physicians, scientists, and fabricators, this passive air cooling panel is made entirely of agricultural waste to reduce air pollution caused by burning such waste. Aimed for New Delhi's informal settlements, "Green Screen [can] cool homes ... by up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit through air compression and evaporative cooling," according to the project's description.