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Inside the Year's 10 Most Sustainable Buildings

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From the Bay Area to Ireland and back again, these are the greenest buildings of 2016

As it does annually on Earth Day, the American Institute of Architects (AIA)'s Committee on the Environment (COTE) has released the top ten green projects of the year, which range from centers for education to housing and from locations as far flung as Galway, Ireland to closer to home in Pennsylvania, California, and Texas.

The COTE Top Ten Awards program, which the AIA notes in a release is now its 20th year, is, the organization says "the profession's most rigorous recognition...[of] sustainable design excellence." There's no doubt that, year after year, the awards help raise the bar for truly eco-conscious architecture and design work that makes doing good for the earth look good, too.

Below, a look at the ten projects that clinched this year's AIA honors (plus one bonus project!), with a note on what makes them so radically sustainable.

1. Biosciences Research Building – Galway, Ireland

Payette and Reddy Architecture + Urbanism

The design of the BRB embraces the moderate climate of Ireland. By locating low-load spaces along the perimeter of the building, the project is able to take advantage of natural ventilation as the sole conditioning strategy for the majority of the year and is supplemented less than 10% of the year with radiant heating.

2. Center for Sustainable Landscapes – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Design Alliance Architects

The CSL is an education, research and administration facility at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Designed to be the greenest building in the world, it generates all of its own energy and treats all storm and sanitary water captured on-site.

3. Exploratorium at Pier 15 – San Francisco, California


The building takes advantage of the historic pier shed’s natural lighting and the 800-foot-long roof provided room for a 1.3 megawatt photovoltaic array.

4. H-E-B at Mueller – Austin, Texas

Lake|Flato Architects, H-E-B Design + Construction, Selser Schaefer Architects

H-E-B at Mueller is an 83,587-square-foot LEED Gold and Austin Energy Green Building 4-Stars retail store and fresh food market, including a pharmacy, café, community meeting room, outdoor gathering spaces, and fuel station. It serves 16 neighborhoods and is located in Mueller, a sustainable, mixed-use urban Austin community.

5. Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation – Berkeley, California

Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

[The project] is designed as both a collaborative, project-based educational space and a symbol to the region of the University’s commitment to sustainable innovation, modelling high-density / low-carbon living and learning by reducing energy use 90% below national baseline.

6. Rene Cazenave Apartments – San Francisco

Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and Saida + Sullivan Design Partners, Associated Architect

This supportive housing for formerly chronically homeless individuals replaces a former parking lot and freeway off-ramp with a high density, transit oriented, and healthy living alternative. Filtered ventilation, low emitting materials, ample daylight and views combine to aid the residents, many with mental and physical disabilities.

7. The Dixon Water Foundation Josey Pavilion – Decatur, Texas

Lake|Flato Architects

The Josey Pavilion is a multi-functional education and meeting center that supports the mission of the Dixon Water Foundation to promote healthy watersheds through sustainable land management.

8. The J. Craig Venter Institute – San Diego, California

ZGF Architects

This not-for-profit research institute, dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics, was in need of a permanent West Coast home. Their commitment to environmental stewardship led to challenging the architects to design a net-zero energy laboratory building, the first in the U.S.

9. University of Wyoming Visual Arts Facility – Laramie, Wyoming

Hacker Architects and Malone Belton Able

The Visual Arts Facility (VAF) consolidates the fine arts program from its scattered locations throughout the campus. The building provides a teaching and learning environment that is both state-of-the-art in occupational safety and in its concern for discharge of pollutants from building.

10. West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library – Berkeley, California

Harley Ellis Devereaux

The new 9,500-square-foot West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library is the first certified Living Building Challenge zero net energy public library in California. The building’s energy footprint was minimized through integrated strategies for daylighting (the building is 97% daylit), natural ventilation and a high performance building envelope.

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All Green Design coverage [Curbed]