In almost every award competition I usually like the runners-up more than the winner, but in the 2015 World Architecture News awards in the Sustainability category they nailed it this time, giving the prize to Snøhetta for the Plus House Larvik. It's built to what is perhaps the world's toughest standard, known as ZEB (Zero Energy Building) standard, which I described earlier:
This house will generate more energy than it takes to build it, operate it, and charge the car in the garage
How tough is this standard? By comparison, the Passivhaus standard sets a limit on how much energy a building can use, but doesn't care what you build it out of, so many of them are full of foam insulation; ZEB takes the embodied energy of all the materials into account and has to generate "more energy than what was used for the production of building materials, its construction, operation and disposal."
The WAN award notes the difficulty in doing this:
Daylight, views, and contact with landscape and outdoor space are reconciled with the need for balancing sealed walls and windows. Heating and cooling is solved passively through placement of glass surfaces, orientation, house geometry, and volume. Materials have been chosen based on thermal characteristics and embodied energy, but also on the basis of their ability to contribute to a good indoor climate, air quality, and aesthetic qualities.
More at WAN and on TreeHugger: Built on a tilt: Snøhetta's Zero Energy House is completed in Norway
The runner-up that we have covered before is the Edith Green - Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, where SERA Architects and Cutler Anderson Architects took a 1974 precast office building and renovated it into a green wonder with a big solar hat. When we first covered this this controversial project, it was supposed to have a huge green living wall. That got cut and replaced with nice shades.
In 2009 Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn dissed the project as the second biggest waste of federal money in the Governments stimulus program. Budgeted at $133 million, the senators noted that "some may wonder why they did not simply tear it down and start over." In fact, it came in just a bit over budget, cost a bit less than a new building would have while keeping a lot of stuff out of the dump, and will save up to $400,000 a year in utilities. It's a model for preservation, rehabilitation and reuse. As Ric Cochrane of the Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation noted, these kinds of dull seventies buildings are coming down all over, because it seems easier to demolish than to retrofit.
As for mid-century high rise buildings—EG-WW demonstrates that they can have new life! Are there others? I’m hoping people send other examples of substantial alterations and retrofits that transform “buildings that can’t be adapted” into icons of reuse.
See all the sustainable nominees here.