More is less; how designers and architects are interpreting sustainable design practices in outdoor spaces.

The outdoor space renewal is big topic of conversation on From complete renovations to simple updates (with rugs), the stories usher spring in. One of the biggest commonalities I’ve started to notice amongst the homes, prefabs and nomadic dwellings that have been photographed is the continual focus on sustainability.  In the last few years, the concept of sustainability has found firm ground, taken root, and become a driving force in all aspects of design. Outdoor spaces are the outward representation of homeowners’ and renters’ desire to follow a cradle-to-cradle mentality. To showcase this, here are ten amazing outdoor spaces that use sustainable design in thoughtful ways:

Photo: Francisco Nogueira

The focus of this Portuguese home was to create an accurate portrayal of a modern life in Spain. The extremely minimal design used locally sourced materials and natural stone. When it came to the backyard, a concrete patio led to an elongated grass yard…with no furniture.  The omission of unnecessary outdoor decor means it is less likely to end up in a landfill.   

Photo: Joe Fletcher

The goal of this California home was to transcend traditional green design; heavily focusing on zero environmental impact. The outdoor space featured a living roof planted complete with succulents, aloe, vivariums, and ice plants that matched plant life used in the lower level of the yard.  Living roofs capture air pollutants and bring down the energy demands of homes.

Photo: Bruce Damonte

The architects of this home were avid gardeners who wanted the greenery outdoors to create the feeling of “voided space.” They used drought-resistant grasses (which require little water and fertilizer) that gave a floating effect, the movement making it feel like there was simply nothing there beyond what the person looking out was seeing.  

Photo: Rafael Gamo

This home in Mexico city was choreographed to blend to its environment. White resin walls and floors were used to bounce light into darker areas to negate too much use of conventional electricity. The jasmine and vine covered walls create privacy for the inhabits.

This east London Victorian has served as home to many influential artists over several decades. The current owners converted it into a commercial workspace; they added a year round sunroom that extends into an almost hidden garden on the upper level in order to create their own private paradise. In cities like London, outdoor gardens help bring down temperatures and elevated CO2 levels found in areas with denser populations.

Photo: Cristóbal Palma

The architect and designer of this one-room indoor/outdoor Argentinian apartment believed he needed to forgo plaster and paint and use more “honest materials” in its design. Reclaimed wood and rawhide serve as foundational materials and terra-cotta pots became the chosen vessels to houseplants and cacti outdoors.

This French music conservancy and art school used asphalt to create a minimal, modern outdoor play space for students. As the material is easy to repair and has a small environmental footprint, it was the the natural choice to use in the design. The overall contrast against the stark white city backdrop is breathtaking.

Photo: Yuri Zagorin Alazraki

Keeping with the theme of natural elements used as rugs, dirt and gravel are being widely used to create spatial definition while driving visual attention to dramatic, overgrown space rich with plant life. The way the levels are constructed helps preserve the natural hillside from environmental erosion.

Photo: Roland Bello

Outdoor wood tiles and planks are great to use in any outdoor space.  The flooring is extremely durable, but it also has low emission levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), thus making it a great choice as VOCs also impacts air quality.

Photo: Mike Sinclair

The desire for minimalism and demands for no maintenance yards have lead materials like concrete used as a foundational design element. They are smooth underfoot and the patterns present in the concrete bases can become as intricate as a space calls for.  Concrete, whose base is limestone, is one of the most abundant minerals on earth.

 The primary goal of sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment; the basic objectives being to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy environments for home inhabitants (GSA)


This post originally appeared on as part of my design column.