10 Buildings that Can Teach Architects a Lesson

May 25, 2016 | Comments

When you’re trying to illustrate a point, it’s important to give case studies. They’re useful tools to convey information in a more palatable fashion. Remember when you were in high school learning about tangential velocity?

Maybe not. But perhaps you remember when your teacher tried to explain it by providing an example of Wile E. Coyote catapulting a boulder at the Road Runner. That is a classic case study, making a complicated subject easier to understand.

In 1997, the Committee on the Environment (COTE) of the AIA launched its Earth Day Top Ten where it chooses 10 buildings as exemplary case studies of sustainable design. Nearly twenty years later, the program continues to expand its database of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the world.

The hope is that by providing these examples, architects striving for sustainability can understand where their competition lies. They’ll get insight into options for better designs and more energy-efficient buildings.

So which buildings did the AIA COTE choose for its Top Ten Projects? Check them out below.


Biosciences Research Building

  • Location: Galway, Ireland
  • Area: 86,112 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$36,720,000

The Biosciences Research Building was built to provide laboratory space for scientific research needs at the National University of Ireland.

The structure uses a “layered lab” approach as a strategy to minimize energy usage. In this design, energy-intensive departments like imaging suites are placed closer to the core of the building, and the lower-energy using departments along the perimeter.

This layout maximizes natural ventilation and daylight and achieves a programmatic efficiency that allows for an increase in laboratory density.

1. BRB

The facility is one of the first of its kind to use the “layered lab” approach to saving energy—and it worked. (Image courtesy of Warren Jagger.)

The Biosciences Research Building is one of the first laboratory facilities to implement this planning strategy and it has reportedly resulted in a 74 percent reduction from the National Median Energy Use Intensity (EUI) for this building type.


Center for Sustainable Landscapes

  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
  • Area: 24,350 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$15,656,361

The Centre for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is an education, research and administration facility at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

It prides itself on being the first facility in the world to meet all four of the highest green construction standards:

  • The Living Building Challenge (March 2015)
  • The WELL Building Platinum (October 2014)
  • The Four-Stars Sustainable Sites Initiative certification for Landscapes (November 2013)
  • LEED Platinum Certification (August 2013)

2. centre for sustainability whatever

The CSL site is a net-zero water facility, managing all rainfall and treating all sanitary waste on-site. (Image courtesy of Denmarsh Photography.)

If the goal of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was to showcase renewable technologies to the public, it certainly achieved it.


Exploratorium at Pier 15

  • Location: San Francisco, California, US
  • Area: 301,099 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$220,000,000

The Exploratorium is certainly a unique case study: it is an interactive science museum that demonstrates its sustainable design and construction.

The building uses a 1.3-megawatt photovoltaic array to provide power and utilizes bay water for thermal cooling. These resources serve both to maintain the building itself and to power the science exhibits, which involve energy-intensive processes such as steam generation.

The energy-monitoring system and bay water cooling machine room are both on public display so that visitors can see for themselves how the building uses energy wisely.

3. exploratorium

Rainwater is collected in a 27,000-gallon cistern for toilet flushing. (Image courtesy of Bruce Damonte.)

The project is certified LEED Platinum and is close to reaching its goal of being the country’s largest net-zero energy museum.


H-E-B at Mueller

  • Location: Austin, Texas, US
  • Area: 83,587 square feet

This green building supermarket fits right into Mueller, which is a sustainable, mixed-use urban community in Austin.

Supermarkets and fresh food service use more energy per square foot than any other commercial building sector. Ensuring food safety while balancing an energy budget is no small challenge.

H-E-B successfully reduced its energy usage by an estimated 64 percent over the grocery store national median. The green grocer accomplished this feat through a combination of advanced refrigeration and cooling systems, daylighting integrated with computer-automated LED lighting, efficient equipment and strategic building design.

4. HEB mueller

H-E-B Mueller managed to cut its energy usage by 64 percent compared to the median of national grocery stores. (Image courtesy of Casey Dunn.)

Among the store’s energy-saving technology is a propane refrigeration system that causes zero ozone depletion. It also requires 95 percent less refrigerant than conventional systems. H-E-B Mueller is the first North American supermarket to implement this technology.


J. Craig Venter Institute

  • Location: La Holla, California, US
  • Area: 44,607 square feet

The J. Craig Venter Institute is a facility is on its way to becoming the first biological laboratory in the US with LEED Platinum certification and a net-zero energy footprint.

Construction of this laboratory was one of the most critical stages of the project. The building stands on the edge of La Jolla’s Skeleton Canyon Ecological Reserve, a precious nature site used for research and education which promotes the understanding and protection of biological resources.

It was of the utmost importance, therefore, that the development phase of the building did not compromise the surrounding ecology.

J Craig Institute

The J. Craig Institute is located next to La Jolla’s Skeleton Canyon Ecological Reserve. (Image courtesy of Nick Merrit.)

Another challenge with this building was water conservation. In this area of California, the rainy season only runs from November through to February. In order to incorporate a sufficient rainwater harvesting system, the storage capacity had to be maximized to 95,000 gallons.

This allowed for a 41-percent reduction in regulated potable water – a much-needed resource in California.


Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation

  • Location: Berkeley, California, US
  • Area: 24,035 square feet

The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley wanted to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable engineering, so it introduced a new building with high-density, low-carbon educational space.

The project is designed to exceed the AIA 2030 Commitment target, using 90 percent less energy than the national median for university buildings.

Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, Berkeley Architect - Leddy Maytum Stacy

The structure cantilevers 12 feet southward over an existing basement to create sufficient space while retaining a south-facing courtyard. (Image courtesy of Tim Griffith.)

As with the J. Craig Venter Institute, reducing potable water use is a challenge in California’s semi-arid climate. Through a combination of low-flow fixtures, drought-tolerant landscaping, advanced irrigation and storm water management, the facility manages to reduce regulated potable water by 50 percent.


Rene Cazenave Apartments

  • Location: San Francisco, California, US
  • Area: 74,723 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$31,673,500

The Rene Cazenave Apartments provide shelter for the homeless in San Francisco, many of whom have mental and physical disabilities.

The apartments are located in the city’s downtown core and there are plans underway to transform the area with greenery.

A new under-ramp park will provide recreational and landscape features to the site. A vegetative roof was also implemented on the southern wing of the building, creating a more attractive atmosphere while providing roof insulation, storm water management and filtration.

7. Cazenave apartments

A combination of solar panels and efficient electrical fixtures has allowed the Rene Cazenave Apartments to achieve a 55-percent reduction in energy. (Image courtesy of Tim Griffith.)

The building comes with a rooftop solar canopy which provides electricity to the building. There are also solar hot water panels that are installed along the spine of the solar canopy. This has contributed to a 55-percent reduction in energy from the National Median EUI for this building type.


The Dixon Water Foundation Josey Pavilion

  • Location: Decatur, Texas, US
  • Area: 5,400 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$1,800,000

The Josey Pavilion is an education and meeting center built for the Dixon Water Foundation (DWF), an organization dedicated to protecting the surrounding watershed.

The facility is designed as a simplistic meeting center for schools and visitors. Because the building aims to reflect the DWF’s purpose, it doesn’t use active heating or cooling. The temperature is controlled using natural ventilation with the aid of ceiling fans.

8. Josey Pavilion

The Josey Pavilion is a certified Living Building, which upholds green buildings to more rigorous standards than LEED. (Image courtesy of Casey Dunn.)

The structure incorporates extensive windows and open spaces to encourage light. Daylight measurements confirmed that the spaces were visually comfortable and air quality testing confirmed that the ventilation is comparable to being outdoors.


University of Wyoming – Visual Arts Facility

  • Location: Laramie, Wyoming, US
  • Area: 77,484 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$27,000,000

The fine arts program at the University of Wyoming had a number of locations scattered around the campus. Thanks to the new Visual Arts Facility, these locations can now all be consolidated into one central place for students to explore their program.

Wyoming is an area with extreme climatic conditions. To ensure interior thermal control, high-performance windows and a well-insulated, air-tight building envelope were included in the building design. A solar thermal system is also installed both for room heating and domestic hot water.

9. Wyoming VAF

The Visual Arts Facility (VAF) consolidates the fine arts program from its scattered locations throughout the campus. (Image courtesy of Lara Swimmer.)

The Visual Arts Facility is built on native landscaping rather than concrete, which allows water to permeate into the ground. This facilitates a thorough treatment of storm water pollutants.

Water-efficient plumbing fixtures within the building have contributed to an overall 41-percent reduction in regulated potable water. The Visual Arts Facility received most LEED points from this sector and received LEED Platinum in 2012.


West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library

  • Location: Berkeley, California, US
  • Area: 9,400 square feet
  • Cost at Time of Completion: USD$7,900,000

The City of Berkeley decided to upgrade a portion of its public library to introduce more space for community events and enhance the library’s civic presence.

As a part of the city’s action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the new West Branch Library was designed to obtain Net Zero Energy status. One of the ways this was achieved was by facilitating a natural ventilation system. Wind chimneys were built to provide cross-ventilation while protecting the library interior from street noise.

Extensive daylighting reduces lighting loads and highly insulated walls reduce the power required to keep the building air-conditioned.

10. Berkely Library

This building is Net Zero Energy-certified and was given a rating of 3.0 from the Living Building Challenge. (Image courtesy of David Wakely.)

Solar energy provides electricity and hot water and over the first year of its operation, the building was net energy positive.

These projects deserve far more than just a hundred words each. To learn more about the architects and engineers behind their design or about other achievements that have not been mentioned, check out the AIA Top Ten website.


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