The environmental impact of new construction is both disastrous and intensifying. Not only do buildings account for nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but the world builds the square footage of New York City every 35 days. Seeking to buck this trend, real estate developer Urban Villages plans to open a one-of-a-kind hotel in Denver next year. Designed by Studio Gang, the 265-room Populus will become the nation’s first carbon-positive hotel through sustainable construction and a substantial off-site green effort that involves planting trees on 5,000 acres of forest.
Urban Villages has found an ideal partner in Studio Gang, the lauded design firm led by Jeanne Gang, whose global portfolio is underscored by a formal élan and sensitivity to the natural world. This is evident from the start at Populus, whose facade undulates with distinctive windows lit by native Colorado aspens and will be constructed using mixes of low-carbon concrete and high-recycled material. Angled ‘lids’ over each window extend outward to shade the interior of the building, improving energy performance while carefully channeling rainwater to keep the facade pristine. It is also located on the former site of Colorado’s first gas station and will become Denver’s first hotel without on-site parking.
“Improving the resilience of our cities has never been more urgent, and that includes reducing carbon emissions as well as strengthening community ties,” says Gang. “With its distinctive aspen eye windows, the building cultivates a bustling pedestrian scene in its neighborhood, while simultaneously connecting you with views of natural wonders beyond the city limits.”
Carbon positivity is emerging as the next step in eco-focused hospitality, venturing beyond simply incorporating green materials, solar panels, water recycling and plastic bans. The Orange project recently completed the Room2 Hotel in London, which became the first hotel in the world to achieve net zero emissions throughout its lifespan, from construction to demolition. In Bali, the Katamama suites and beach club at the sprawling OMA-designed Potato Head Studios resort are certified climate-neutral, and each guest receives a “zero waste kit” with a reusable water bottle, an RPET tote bag, a bamboo straw and biodegradable products. slippers when checking in. Büro Ole Scheeren’s Regent Sanya Bay and Hotel Indigo Sanya Bay, part of a remarkable resort set to debut on the Chinese island of Hainan in 2026, aren’t completely carbon neutral, but jungles verticals, a stacked construction to minimize the physical footprint and internal layouts designed to facilitate cross-ventilation, increases its durability factor.
Like organic food products, eco-hotel branding has become more style than substance. Studio Gang’s enduring efforts at Populus should set a benchmark for the travel and construction industries if we really want to see tangible change.