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  • 04.22.14

The Top 10 Most Innovative Sustainable Buildings Of 2014

From a net-zero energy historic courthouse in Colorado to a homeless center in Oregon filled with green space, these days, the best sustainable architecture goes far beyond a few rooftop solar panels.

By next year, as much as 48% of new non-residential building construction will be green, according to estimates. Sustainable architecture is no longer rare, and that’s something that’s happened fairly quickly–from 2005 to 2012, the number of new green building designs jumped up 39%.

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So when there’s an award for the best sustainable architecture, it’s no longer enough to have just a few ad hoc features, like rooftop solar panels or a rainwater collection system. A new roundup of the top 10 current examples of sustainable architecture–selected by the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment–showcase projects that have a “thoroughly integrated” approach to sustainable design.

Bushwick Inlet Park

“This year, we saw a movement towards projects that were very urban, complicated large-scale projects,” says Catherine Gavin, one of the members of the jury. As architects consider the entire system, she explains, they’re working on everything from locating buildings near public transportation to restoring surrounding natural areas. “We were looking for buildings that were really thinking about the entire site, and how a building integrates into its context, rather than thinking of a building as an individual entity.”

Several of the projects transform old buildings to make them sustainable, rather than starting from scratch.

“Historic preservation and sustainability have been sort of seen as at odds in the past,” Gavin says. That’s changing. A federal building and courthouse in Colorado, for example, originally built in 1908, is now a net-zero energy building–with all of the historic details preserved.

John and Frances Angelos Law Center

Other designs incorporated social sustainability along with environmental features, like a homeless center in Portland, Oregon, that includes private outdoor green spaces for clients to wait for services, and day-lit apartments that others can use while they transition to permanent homes. The facility is also so energy efficient that it will save around $60,000 in power bills each year.

Each of the buildings is also well-designed aesthetically. “I think AIA is really trying to help people realize that good design doesn’t have to be sacrificed to attain a sustainable building,” Gavin says. “It’s the same conversation–a sustainable building and a well-designed building.”

Scroll through the winning designs in the slide show above.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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