It’s not every day that you find sustainability-minded construction/remodeling firms hosting design competitions for burgeoning architects. But Hammer & Hand, a lauded Pacific Northwest contracting firm that started out doing renovations of historic Portland homes in the mid-90s and has since branched out into high-performance home building and commercial projects, has done just that with the 2014 perFORM Design Competition.

The winner and runners-up in the first-ever competition — a competition launched by Hammer & Hand as a means of challenging "emerging architecture professionals to fuse high design with high performance building in the design of a single-family house in Seattle that achieves Passive House-like levels of energy performance while being resourceful, replicable, and beautiful” — were reveled yesterday, which, in case you didn’t get the memo, was Earth Day.

As I wrote this past summer, Seattle is currently in the midst of an extended Passive House moment as numerous super-efficient abodes pop up around the Emerald City like umbrellas during an epic PNW drizzle. It would make sense then that Hammer & Hand is a major player in Seattle’s nascent Passive House scene (in addition to being an active and outspoken proponent of green building/remodeling, Hammer & Hand co-owner/founder Sam Hagerman was the founding president of the Passive House Alliance U.S.) and that the firm’s inaugural design competition would revolve around applying this stringent, German-borne method of deep green building to home that dispel the myth that “green buildings are ugly and beautiful buildings burn energy.”

The renderings of the winning design, HO[MIN]ID from University of Oregon architecture student Cameron Huber, are indeed beautiful and its energy-saving features, impressive. Boasting an almost barn-like profile, it’s also a careful design, somewhat conservative, that shies away from being overly splashy, complicated. And with a pair of skis and a kayak tucked away in the home’s adjacent storage shed, it’s very Pacific Northwest.

The competition jury, which included Hagerman and several other noted builders, architects, and educators working in Seattle and Portland, were attracted to HO[MIN]ID’s “restraint, purity of form, friendliness to neighborhood context, and understanding of energy performance within a holistic approach to sustainability.”

Explains Huber of his modestly proportioned (1,580 square feet) three-bedroom design: “The goal of this project was to loosely follow Passive House standards in order to achieve a high performance envelope and overall system, while creating a truly flexible environment or a forward thinking [family]. There is far more that goes into sustainability than what can be shown on an energy spreadsheet…”

Features that keep the home’s environmental impact at a bare minimum include a rooftop solar array, green walls, and a rainwater recycling system along with Passive House staples such as high levels of cellulose insulation (R-21 for the ceilings, in this instance), a heat exchange ventilator, passive solar design, and a tight, carefully sealed building envelope.

More on the nuts and bolts of Huber’s design can be found over at Hammer & Hand along with a look at the runners-up in the perFORM Design Competition which include entries from architecture students at Ball State University, Montana State University, and the University of Idaho Integrated Design Lab. A rather lovely design from, Samuel Kraft, an intern at Seattle-based Seek Architecture also made the top five.

It’s also worth nothing that Holst Architecture, the firm that designed one of Hammer & Hand’s most well-known residential builds, the triple-certified (LEED Platinum, PHIUS+, and Minergie-P-ECO) Karuna House in Yamhill County, Ore., just was named the recipient of an AIA COTE Top Ten Green award for Bud Clark Commons, a transitional housing complex in downtown Portland that I profiled yesterday.

The design boards of the winning entrants in the perFORM Design Competition will be on display at Hammer & Hand’s Bullitt Center offices in Seattle for the next several weeks.

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

Designing a passive house for Seattle that's 'resourceful, replicable and beautiful'
University of Oregon architecture student Cameron Huber scores the top spot (and $2,000) in Hammer & Hand's beauty and brawn-seeking perFORM Design Competition.