The Atlantic Cities attends the ribbon-cutting of Washington, D.C.'s first-ever passive house. A Habitat for Humanity home, Empowerhouse was designed and built as an entrant in the 2011 Solar Decathlon by a collegiate team from Parsons The New School for Design and the Stevens Institute for Technology. The home, now permanently located in D.C.'s Deanwood section, came in 13th place overall but tied for first in the all-important affordability and hot water contests. That's the completed home pictured above.


Smart Planet heads to Paris where a team of researchers are looking to give the city's abundant supply of archaic chimneys an energy-saving, emissions-reducing 21st century makeover by "modifying existing chimney ducts to cool or warm up buildings using the natural air flow." Says team member Julian Rathle: “We believe chimneys are a part of the language of Paris and we’re going to reuse this system and this language on the roof.”


Curbed eyes a hot property that's now on the market in Encinitas, Calif.: A three-bed, four-bath beachfront pad with LEED Platinum certification. The asking price? Try $3.3 million. 


AOL Real Estate shares a few crucial safety tips — i.e. "keep yourself and your equipment at least 10 feet from power lines" — to keep in mind before festooning your home with outdoor Christmas lights. But before safety comes spectacle with a look at an absolutely bonkers home in Torrington, CT. that's bedecked with 80,000 exterior X-mas lights that consume a whopping 800kW of juice every night.


The New York Times dedicates four pages to the topic of Christmas tree longevity.


TreeHugger recommends "11 Holiday Gifts for Gardeners." On the list? Vegan garden gloves, beneficial bug houses, and wearable planters.


Movoto details the ingredients need to construct a typical 2,500 square foot home ... out of gingerbread. They lost me at 4,803 cups of butter.


In other confectionery architecture related news, Architizer launches its first ever Gingerbread House Competition: "Tasking architects and design enthusiasts worldwide to create their own tasty creations, the Architizer staff will judge the entries and choose our favorite five finalists to feature on our homepage and social media platforms. On top of everything else, the grand prize winner will receive a brand new iPad Mini to celebrate the holiday season!"


The Economist remembers Pritzker Prize-winning architect Oscar Niemeyer. The visionary modernist responsible for the butterfly-shaped, built-from-scratch Brazilian capital of Brasilia died this week 10 days shy of his 105th birthday.


Jetson Green has the scoop on Moop, a modern coop (get it?) for "hipster chickens." Six-hundred bucks (or $800 if you're after two runs) will get you a high-design shelter for discerning broods.


Curbed wrangles up a dozen instances of "Shameless, Tasteless Branded Christmas Decor." Oy. Where shall we even begin? I think the "Jersey Shore" tree ornaments is a fine place to start. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Playing catch up: A not-quite-wintery mix
This week: Washington, D.C.'s first passive house opens for businesses, a tres chic chicken coop hits the market and a visionary architect is remembered. Also,