One of the most significant developments of the modern green movement is the rise in sustainable and eco-friendly architecture. While the building industry in the past has been responsible for some pretty serious environmental damage – whether that’s through detrimental construction practices or through the creation of energy inefficient buildings – new concerns in the industry have given rise to a whole new generation in the last few decades.
Organizations like the American Institute of Architects and the United States Green Building Council (to name just a few) have established standards and best practices for green building. For example, the USGBC has created the standards for LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the premier classification for eco-friendly structures that indicates important things about the building, like their reduction of greenhouse emissions, water conservation, and energy efficiency. LEED certification is highly sought after in the industry, and is often the marker of the best eco-friendly buildings.
For those interested in further exploring the world of eco-friendly architecture, this list of the best sustainable American architecture is a good place to start. Plan a vacation around visiting these marvels of modern ingenuity, or find one close to your chosen destination. If you’re looking to expand the list even further, try searching for LEED-certified buildings in your area.
Compiled using data and evaluations from the American Institute of Architecture’s COTE (Committee on the Environment), this list is in no particular order but reflects ten of the most sustainable projects from the last few years.
Center for Sustainable Landscapes (Pittsburgh, PA)
This educational research facility at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is the epitome of green building par excellence. Designed to meet several of the highest green certifications (including LEED Platinum), the CSL is the only structure in the world to achieve this level of sustainable design. An emphasis on the relationship between humans and nature and built environments is also a core focus of the visitor experience at the CSL.
Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA)
While this family-favorite children’s museum has been around for a while, its recent renovations have catapulted it onto this list. It’s located at Pier 15 on the San Francisco Bay, and takes advantage of its natural environment to maximize energy efficiency and to minimize negative environmental impact. For example, the inventive use of the surrounding water to cool and heat the building reduces energy waste, and their massive array of solar panels on the roof provides energy to run the building’s systems. They’re recognized as being a model for museums of the future.
H-E-B at Mueller (Austin, TX)
Because green building comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s a pleasure to see this unique structure make it to the list. H-E-B is a retail store featuring everything from a marketplace to a pharmacy to a fuel station, and it serves as the sustainable centerpiece of the green community in Mueller. Some of the notable green features include solar panels, LED lighting, electric car charging ports, and water reclamation resources. Mixed-use spaces like these really fulfill the human side of sustainable design, which envisions a future in which building efficiency means serving multiple purposes.
Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation (Berkeley, CA)
Part of the University of California, Berkeley campus, the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation practices what it preaches. It’s both a center for developing the future of green design and a building that typifies many of the best sustainable practices in the industry. Designated as an interdisciplinary space where students, researchers, and citizens from around the country come together to create new green technologies, the Jacobs Institute is sure to create buildings that will make future iterations of this list.
Rene Cazenave Apartments (San Francisco, CA)
Sustainable living is just as important as sustainable design in commercial structures, but concerned citizens who aren’t homeowners don’t often have a say in how green their residencies are. Fortunately, buildings like these apartments offer green living to lower-income residents who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in a sustainable environment. With everything from a green roof with solar panels to hydronic heating and reclaimed water, these apartments offer the best in green habitation.
Visual Arts Facility, University of Wyoming (Laramie, WY)
Envisioned as a place where students and teachers from across the university and throughout the community could come to be creative, the Visual Arts Facility is state-of-the-art in more ways than one. With particular strengths in heating technologies, this building offers advanced solar thermal collectors to support hot water, heated floors, and clean ventilation. Their use of captured sunlight to serve the building’s heating needs is unprecedented.
Highland Street Townhouses (Boston, MA)
This residential structure in Boston was conceived as a prototype for energy efficient urban homes, offering all the comforts a family could want alongside the best in sustainable design. Part of Boston’s Energy Plus Green Building Program, these townhouses are LEED Platinum certified and are capable of producing more energy than they use, classifying them as “radically sustainable.” They’ve thought of everything in designing these homes – from advanced solar technology to landscaping designed to minimize water waste. The building materials used were also chosen to be enduring and environmentally friendly, making every facet of this construction a green one.
New Orleans BioInnovation Center (New Orleans, LA)
Located near New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, this green building offers combined lab and office space to local biotech startups. The central idea is to support local businesses and keep them local, offering premier green facilities to the community that can inspire new innovation. Because it’s particularly hard to regulate temperature in a climate like Louisiana’s, this project had the challenge of reducing energy waste on a structure that by its nature was bound to use a tremendous amount of energy. Their success has inspired a revitalization of this area that’s still ongoing.
The Bullitt Center (Seattle, WA)
This is the office building of the future. Designed to have virtually no carbon footprint, this structure’s sustainability is measured by the balance between energy expenditure and energy collection. Another building that faced significant environmental challenges, this six-story space in urban Seattle needed to find ways to maximize their solar energy potential in a cloudy climate. Extensive testing found the ideal arrangement for solar arrays, skylights, and a curtain wall, and now the building garners 100% of their power from these innovations. The building is also visually evocative of green structures – it’s designed to look and function like a Douglas Fir, capturing and redirecting rainwater for sustainable uses.
University Center at The New School (New York, New York)
Another entry from university facilities, this multipurpose community center at New York’s New School creates as green building presence in the middle of Manhattan. Combining classroom and administrative space with residential space, this building offers the complete school experience in a small area and reduces the need for additional construction. Given the progressive ethos of The New School, it’s probably no surprise that their most recent addition embodies the ideals of forward thinking and innovation. Specific sustainable features like a green roof and water recycling reduces the building’s impact on New York’s delicate environment and overburdened power grid.
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