Although the climate of Scandinavian countries could not be much more different from the UAE, the region can still be a wonderful source of inspiration for better and more sustainable "green" design.
My favourite of late is the concept of plantable "green roofs", which were promoted this month at the Garden+Landscaping Middle East 2011 conference in Dubai. In Norway many houses are "planted" in this way, even those with traditional sloping roofs. There are a variety of lush and charming versions covered with sod and birch bark - some even feature trees and flowers - each laid on top of a waterproof layer that protects the roof.
The country is also home to another type of trendy green design: structures that have been built partially below ground, under a ridge or a crest in the land. This takes advantage of the earth's natural ability to insulate while diminishing the visual effect of a building on the landscape. One example is a hotel called SubHus at the Stokkoya Sea Centre. Skylights placed in the sod direct sunbeams into the rooms, which are decorated with funky thrift and antique store finds.
I also am fascinated by the pure genius of the "house-in-a-greenhouse" idea, pioneered in the 1970s by the Swedish architect Bengt Warne. Sweden now has several versions of Warne's Naturhus, which can save up to 50 per cent on electricity costs. Clearly designed for a land of long winters, the glass exterior also gives plants an extra two months of growing time each year and allows for a greater variety of fruits and vegetables because they are protected from the harsh elements.
Also impressive and much more applicable for the steamy summers of the UAE is Eco-Vikki, a "green" affordable housing development in Helsinki, Finland. Most of the buildings are positioned southward to take advantage of the sun's natural heating abilities. A series of "green fingers" allow for gardening, rainwater collection and composting. Solar panels built into the balconies gather about 30 per cent of the energy needed to meet the building's hot water needs and about 10 per cent of the energy needed to heat the place.
Then there is Denmark, which has long been a leader in green design. Last year Aart Architects delivered the Home for Life, which is being billed as the first "active house" in the world and was voted one of the 10 Best Sustainable Homes of 2010 by the international design and architecture site Freshome.com.
The house, located in Aarhus, produces more energy than it consumes over time through the use of massive windows, solar collectors, cells and heat pump.
More ways to live a more eco-conscious life from the Green Queen