Winners of the American Institute of Architects’ annual sustainable design competition boast the sleek, light-infused interiors we associate with modern architecture, but also come with a twist. One building’s maple floors were sourced from a local gymnasium, and even its bleachers found new life as interior wood trim—and still display bits of student graffiti. The structure’s exterior cypress cladding was rescued too. Chosen for its natural ability to resist rot, the wood was truly time tested: It came from remnants of 19th-century logging, pulled up from the bottom of a Louisiana river.
On Earth Day, that building, the Brock Environmental Center, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and nine others won top honours in the contest. The projects are affiliated with U.S. architects and, as such, are mostly in the United States; one is in Singapore, known for its pioneering urban design.
The award’s ten measures encompass energy and water use, materials, resilience, economic impact, and even aspects such as walkability and transportation use by building occupants. This year criteria were expanded to include health and wellness, reflecting a larger trend in architecture.
Educational facilities dominate this year’s top-10 list. Green buildings not only translate into savings on utility costs but also into healthier environments, which have been shown to impact student performance and opportunities for hands-on learning. At Discovery Elementary in Arlington, Virginia, students monitor the school’s energy production and consumption on a dashboard—like most winners, it achieves net-zero energy, meaning that the amount generated on-site by renewable sources (such as solar) is equal to the amount consumed. Meanwhile the student “eco-action team” promotes walking, busing, biking, and carpooling, and endeavours to reduce lunchtime food waste.
Check out our gallery of all 10 buildings.
CLASSROOM BY THE BAY Drawing thousands of students, the Brock Environmental Center is a regional hub for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, supporting its education and wetlands restoration initiatives. A connection to nature defines the building’s siting, which provides sweeping views of the marsh and also anticipates sea-level rise and storm surges with its raised design. Parts were sourced from salvage: It's maple floors once belonged to a local gymnasium while school bleachers, complete with graffiti, were used for interior wood trim. The centre was recognised for its positive footprint: It has composting toilets, captures and treats rainfall for use as drinking water, and produces 80 percent more energy than it uses, selling the excess to the grid.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PRAKASH PATEL, COURTESY SMITHGROUPJJR
SCIENCE EXPERIMENT A laboratory is an energy-intensive enterprise, with specialised lighting and ventilation needs. That’s why jurors praised the airy health and science building at Bristol Community College, in Fall River, Massachusetts, for its net-zero energy achievement, “a difficult feat,” they noted, “in a cold climate like New England’s.” The move saves $103,000 in annual operating costs and allows the college, which offers a suite of courses in sustainability and energy, to practice what it teaches. Part of a holistic campus redesign, the new building’s location increases the density—and thus walkability—of campus for students.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EDWARD CARUSO, COURTESY SASAK
INDUSTRIAL EXPOSURE Orange and red pipes flaunt their role in “heat recovery” at Stanford University’s Central Energy Facility. The centre for powering the California campus—more than a thousand buildings—the facility was transformed from an ageing gas-fired plant to one fueled mostly by an off-site solar farm, fulfilling a goal of carbon neutrality and reducing energy use by a third. With large health care and research buildings, the campus needs as much heating as cooling; now a unique recovery system taps heat created in cooling processes to supply 93 percent of the heating and hot water required for campus buildings. The plant reduces Stanford emissions by 68 percent and potable water usage by 18 percent, potentially saving millions of dollars and one of the state's scarce resources.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT CANFIELD, COURTESY ZGF ARCHITECTS LLP
HEALING POWER Like other buildings in Singapore, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital incorporates parks, green roofs, and vertical plantings throughout its campus. But the city-state’s hospitals haven’t traditionally offered direct access to fresh air, light, and outdoor views. This hospital marks a dramatic change, optimising each for patients. About 70 percent of the facility is naturally ventilated and cooled by fans, cross-ventilation, and exterior shading, saving on precious water resources. The building uses 38 percent less energy than a typical hospital in the area.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM NG TENG FONG GENERAL HOSPITAL, COURTESY HOK
THE NEW URBAN FARM After receiving the donation of 388-acre Eden Hall Farm, 32 kilometres north, Pittsburgh’s Chatham University created a satellite campus centred around a sustainable living experiment. The university views the landscape—an agricultural area adjacent to an urban center—as critical to supporting cities of the future. The original buildings are complemented by new facilities for 250 residential students (and eventually 1,200), including a dormitory, greenhouse, dining commons, and classrooms. Students get hands-on experience in renewable energy systems—the campus generates more than it uses—sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, waste treatment, and water management. Now home to the Falk School of Sustainability, the farm is producing the next generation of environmental stewards, who follow in the footsteps of alum Rachel Carson.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRUCE DAMONTE, COURTESY MITHUN
PROMOTING HEALTH At George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, located in the nation’s capital, design embodies well-being. Built around an atrium that admits light and air, the structure encourages physical activity with a staircase that spans its eight levels. A green roof reduces storm runoff; rainwater is collected and stored for plumbing, resulting in a 41 percent reduction in toilet fixtures’ water use. Limestone panels (left) were salvaged from the previous building on the site. Materials used throughout the building contain recycled content.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERT VECERKA, ESTO, COURTESY PAYETTE AND AYERS SAINT GROSS
INTEGRATING HISTORY Located at the heart of Pearl Harbor, on Oahu’s Ford Island, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Inouye Regional Center repurposed two aeroplane hangars—which narrowly escaped destruction in the 1941 attack—linking them with a new steel and glass building (right). The research and office facility for 800 employees was raised to guard it from rising sea levels. Given the size of the hangars, daylight illuminated only a small fraction of the space, so specially crafted lanterns reflect sunlight further into their interiors. Necessity required invention: Due to anti-terrorism regulations, no operable windows were allowed in the space. Through a passive downdraft system that taps prevailing sea breezes, the building is completely naturally ventilated. The adjacent waterfront was returned to a more natural state with native vegetation.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN KARCHMER, COURTESY HOK WITH FERRARO CHOI & WSP
LIVING BUILDING Serving as the gateway to Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, the multipurpose R.W. Kern Center holds classrooms, offices, a café, and gallery space—and is the place where prospective students are introduced to campus. The school converted what was once an oval driveway into a wildflower meadow, now encouraging a pedestrian approach (seen above). The centre is self-sustaining, generating its own energy through a rooftop solar array, harvesting its water from rainfall, and processing its own waste. It's grey water treatment system is in a pilot program for the state and may pave the way for others.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BENSON, COURTESY BRUNER/COTT & ASSOCIATES
IMAGINATIVE INFRASTRUCTURE Two buildings belonging to New York City’s sanitation department redefine municipal architecture. Resembling a grain of salt, the cubist form of the Spring Street Salt Shed holds 5,000 tonnes for clearing icy streets. The Manhattan 1/2/5 Garage (background), whose floors are color-coded for each of the three districts, is home to 150 vehicles, wash and repair facilities, and space for 250 workers. The garage is wrapped in 2,600 aluminium “fins,” shading devices that pivot with the sun’s rays, reducing heat gain and glare through the glazed walls while still allowing views to the outside. Municipal steam heats and cools the building, so no fuels are burned. A 1.5-acre green roof reduces heat-island effect and filters rainwater. A condensate by-product of the steam is also captured, and, along with the rainwater, used for toilets and the truck wash. Combined with low-flow fixtures, the process reduced water consumption by 77 percent.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERT VECERKA, ESTO, COURTESY DATTNER ARCHITECTS AND WXY ARCHITECTURE + URBAN DESIGN
Header Image: FOSTERING EXPLORERS Students have three distinct, age-appropriate playgrounds—with natural elements such as rocks and fallen trees—at Arlington, Virginia’s Discovery Elementary School. The name honours astronaut John Glenn, who returned to space on the Discovery shuttle and once lived in the neighbourhood. Exploration is a theme at the school, whose interior focuses on forests, oceans, atmosphere, and the solar system. The largest zero-energy school in the country, it offers “hands-on learning around energy efficiency and generation,” jurors noted. The school maximises natural light and provides views to the outside in all classrooms. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN KARCHMER, COURTESY VMDO ARCHITECTS