Today, it's not enough for the buildings we live and work in to be beautiful, big and bold.
With climate change a looming threat and the need for renewable energy sources evermore pressing, skyscrapers, office blocks and residential apartments need to be green too.
Here, we take a look at 10 of the world's most striking and sustainable buildings and assess their clean energy credentials.
By Anmar Frangoul, special to CNBC.com
Manchester's One Angel Square is the headquarters of the Co-operative Group. Housing 3,000 employees, it has been awarded an "Outstanding" Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) rating.
According to the Co-op, the building is "powered by a pure plant oil fed Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system and utilizes rapeseed oil which is grown on The Co-operative's own farm land."
Excess energy is sent back to the grid. Other features include LED lighting and a system to recycle waste and rain water
With both Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding ratings, the Crystal, in London's east end, offers a fossil fuel free vision of the future.
Run entirely on electricity – the majority of which is generated by photovoltaic solar panels – the building is lit by a combination of LED and fluorescent lights, which are switched on or off depending on the amount of daylight present.
The building's roof collects rainwater, while sewage is treated, recycled and re-used onsite.
The first high rise building to get LEED Platinum certification, the Bank of America Tower, in Manhattan, is one of the world's greenest skyscrapers.
As well as having CO2 monitors, waterless urinals and LED lighting, the building also has its own generation plant that produces 4.6 megawatts of clean, sustainable, energy.
In less than 30 years, the Shanghai skyline has transformed beyond recognition. Today, towering, futuristic structures jostle for space, trying to outdo one another in scale and grandeur.
The newest addition, Shanghai Tower, stands 632 meters tall and is the second-tallest building on the planet, after Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Only recently completed, it is hoped that the skyscraper will be a model of sustainability.
Wind turbines located near the top of the structure power its outer lighting as well as park areas, while transparent inner and outer "skins" will allow natural light to flood the building, cutting down the need for artificial lighting.
Smart controls will monitor everything from ventilation to heating and lighting, helping to cut energy bills in the process.
According to the tower's architects, Gensler, over $556,000 will be saved thanks to lighting controls alone, with the other sustainable features helping to reduce the building's carbon footprint by 34,000 metric tons annually.
More than 750 miles south-west of Shanghai, Guangzhou's Pearl River Tower is another example of China's burgeoning wealth and its appetite for huge buildings.
Standing 309 meters tall and completed in 2012, the tower makes use of cutting edge technology -- such as solar panels and low energy lighting systems -- to cement its place as one of the world's greenest buildings. The tower's design "pushes" wind to turbines, which generate clean energy.
The tower has won multiple awards, and has been described by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as redefining, "what is possible in sustainable design by incorporating the latest green technology and engineering advancements."
Resembling a sun dial, the Sun-Moon Mansion, in Dezhou, Shangdong province, is 75,000 square meters in size and one of the world's largest solar powered structures.
The building – which contains offices, a hotel and a conference center – is powered by solar energy, with features including a solar powered hot water supply, energy saving glass, and 50,000 square feet of solar paneling.
A "horizontal skyscraper" accommodating hotels, offices and a conference center, the Vanke Center is described by Steven Holl Architects as being, "as long as the Empire State Building is tall."
As well as being tsunami proof – Shenzhen sits on China's south coast, next to Hong Kong – photovoltaic solar panels sit atop the structure's roof, supplying over 10 percent of the building's energy, while inside all furniture, doors and floors are made from bamboo.
Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro Place makes use of, "passive design and natural ventilation," to make it one of North America's most energy efficient office buildings.
The building has a geothermal system to heat and cool the building, roof gardens and triple-glazed windows. Thanks to these features, over 60 percent of energy savings have been made.
Built in 1962 and one of the U.K.'s tallest buildings, over £5 million ($8.4 million) was spent to retrofit this skyscraper with solar panels and bring it into the 21st century.
According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the CIS Tower has, "the largest commercial solar façade in Europe."
Over 7,000 photovoltaic cells cover the building, generating 180 megawatt hours of clean energy annually. In addition to its solar power, 24 wind turbines have also been fitted on the building's roof.
Currently home to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, the Middle East has become a hotbed for innovative, stunning skyscrapers.
In Bahrain, it's impossible to ignore the Bahrain World Trade Center's clean energy credentials.
Three huge wind turbines – 29 meters in diameter– are sandwiched between two vast 'sail' shaped towers, generating clean energy for the building.