Earlier this week, amongst the Earth Day shindigs and the unveiling of what’s being dubbed as the greenest commercial building in the world, the American Institute of Architects and its Commitee on the Environment (COTE) singled out a motley and magnificent assemblage of “sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance the environment” to represent the 2013 COTE Top Ten Green Projects program.

The AIA’s annual top-ten-in-green list — now in its 17th year — has always churned out an impressively mixed bag of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings with a smattering of visitor centers, research facilities, and schools thrown in for good measure. I'm going to have to disagree with Gizmodo's Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan when she remarks: "A few years ago, this list was full of single-family homes commissioned by clients with a special interest in sustainability."

The 2013 list actually seems residential-heavy when compared to let's say, the 2007 list, when winners which include a courthouse in Eugene, Ore., a middle school in Washington D.C., a water purification facility in Ct., a library in N.J., and the world headquarters of Heifer International in Little Rock. Only one residential project, a prefab stunner in Santa Monica from LivingHomes, was included that year. It was very much the same deal in 2008, 2009, 2010.

If anything, this year’s selection continues to celebrate the diversity of green building with governmental office structures, schools, mixed-use developments, and senior housing all making the cut. Also: an artisanal cheese factory and ice cream parlor topped with non-profit office space in Milwaukee.

The AIA explains in a press release: “The program celebrates projects that are the result of a thoroughly integrated approach to architecture, natural systems and technology. They make a positive contribution to their communities, improve comfort for building occupants and reduce environmental impacts through strategies such as reuse of existing structures, connection to transit systems, low-impact and regenerative site development, energy and water conservation, use of sustainable or renewable construction materials, and design that improves indoor air quality.”

Although it’s worth taking a gander at all 10 buildings selected by the AIA for their superior greenness, I’ve gone ahead and compiled overviews of the housing-centric projects on the list. You’ll find them below.

A New Norris House (Residential; single-family)

Norris, Tenn.

College of Architecture & Design University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“At 1008 square foot, this production house is less than half the size of the median house. “Rightsizing” reduced material and operational loads and costs, and shifted funds to quality design and construction, passive strategies and high-efficiency systems. The dormer and skylight are placed so daylight is reflected and diffused. No-VOC paint color is warm white with a punch of red-orange hidden within the swing space to produce a warm glow from reflected light. Low-E glass and translucent blinds provide further control over heat, glare and privacy. All interior rooms are daylit throughout the day. Electric lighting is integrated with cabinetry and includes low-energy LEDs.” (Click here for my previous post on the project; that the home pictured at the top of the page).

Merritt Crossing Senior Apartments (Residential; multi-family)

Oakland, Calif.

Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

“The roof area has a cool roof surface and is devoted to both a solar water panels and photovoltaic panels. Ground floor spaces benefit from the full height storefront system that similarly provides ample daylight and transparency to the outdoors. These windows are also thermally broken and have high performance glass. The windows are shaded in summer by either exterior sunshades or an overhang from the second floor. With no mechanical air conditioning, cooling is achieved by a low volume ventilation system augmented by ceiling fans in each habitable room. The site has a 94 walkability rating, an 82 transit rating and an 86 bike friendly rating from walkscore.com.”

Charles David Keeling Apartments (Educational; student housing)

La Jolla, Calif.


“The design response was to tune the design to capitalize on the favorable environmental features, while moderating or eliminating the undesirable ones. This led to a building envelope that uses thermal mass to buffer temperature changes, minimizes solar gain, and naturally ventilates. Water scarcity is managed through a comprehensive strategy of conservation and reuse, including on-site wastewater recycling. A vegetated roof, an unusual feature in this dry climate, absorbs and evaporates rain that falls on that portion of the building, with overflow directed to the courtyard retention basins.”

Ying-Yang House (Mixed-use; live/work space)

Venice, Calif.

Brooks + Scarpa

“This sound passive design strategy combined with a very tight perimeter building envelope and other active sustainable features such as the 12kw solar system make this home a zero energy consumption home. It produces 100% of its energy needs and since completion, has never received an electric bill. The design maximizes the opportunities of the mild, marine climate with a passive cooling strategy using cross-ventilation and a thermal chimney. A large cantilevered roof overhang shades all the bedrooms from direct sunlight while providing ample natural light and ventilation. The project also has green roofs, its own storm water retention system and retains 95% of roof storm water on site. “

Photos: Merritt Crossing, Charles David Keeling Apartments: Tim Griffith; Ying Yang House: John Linden

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

Green of the crop: AIA lists top 10 sustainable buildings of 2013
The 2013 COTE Top Ten Green Projects list has been published by the AIA. Here's a look at a few projects that made the cut.