Architecture is more than buildings made of wood, metal and glass. It’s more than houses, office buildings and retail shops. At its best, architecture is a way to create change, to inspire and to remember. Here are five architectural designs that are making a difference in the world.

ARC Power Plant (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Photo Credit:    Inhabitat

Photo Credit: Inhabitat

Referred to as an example of “creative brilliance,” the state-of-the-art ARC Power Plant in Copenhagen is the ultimate example of seamlessly blending design and sustainability. Estimates show the aluminium-clad plant will burn 400,000 tons of waste per year, in turn producing enough clean energy to power 60,000 homes.

ARC is one big step towards Copenhagen’s goal to become the first zero-carbon city in the world by 2025. And, with a 1,500 foot ski slope located on the building’s roof, designers Bjarke Ingels Group prove that saving the planet can be fun.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Montgomery, Alabama)

Photo Credit:      Dezeen

Photo Credit: Dezeen

Not all difference-making buildings highlight humanity’s positive features. Some, such as The National Memorial for Peace and Justice by MASS Design Group, stand as reminders of our darkest hours. The Montgomery memorial is dedicated to the victims of lynchings, serving as a sober reminder of race inequality in America.

The reminder is not for visitors to the museum alone, as several of the dark red columns on site will eventually be shipped to parts of the country where lynchings took place.

The Mwabwindo School (Mwabwindo Village, Zambia)

Photo Credit:    14+ Foundation

Photo Credit: 14+ Foundation

What do you get when you mix United State-based charitable organization 14+ Foundation with prominent New York design firm Selldorf Architects? An eco-friendly educational centre on the plateaus of Zambia, that’s what.

Built with handmade mud-brick by local masons, the Mwabwindo School runs off solar power and collects rainwater for use in the facility’s gardens. Aside from serving as a school for area children, the complex also includes housing for teachers.

Institute for Contemporary Art (Richmond, Virginia)

Photo Credit:    Iwan Baan

Photo Credit: Iwan Baan

More than a contemporary art institute, this design by Steven Holl Architects includes a gallery, an auditorium, a fabrication workshop and a cafe bar. Aside from the versatility of its interior space, the institute also includes green features such as roofs planted with native vegetation and strategically placed windows and skylights to reduce the need for artificial light.

Located on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the building serves as a centrepiece for the city’s lively art scene and a reminder that green is beautiful.

Nanjing Green Towers (Nanjing, China)

Photo Credit:    Stafano Boeri Architetti

Those in the know when it comes to innovative sustainable design will instantly recognize the Nanjing Green Towers as the work of Italian architect Stefano Boeri. Boeri’s Vertical Forest in Milan is green architecture at its best, with thousands of trees, shrubs and plants located on the terraces of the dual towers.

Now, the architect’s vision is coming to Nanjing, China as a way to reduce some of the worst carbon dioxide pollution on the planet. Nanjing’s Green Towers will house offices, a museum and an architecture school focused on eco-friendly design.