Winners of the American Institute of Architects’ annual sustainable design competition boast the sleek, light-infused interiors we associate with modern architecture, but also come with a twist. One building’s maple floors were sourced from a local gymnasium, and even its bleachers found new life as interior wood trim—and still display bits of student graffiti. The structure’s exterior cypress cladding was rescued too. Chosen for its natural ability to resist rot, the wood was truly time tested: It came from remnants of 19th-century logging, pulled up from the bottom of a Louisiana river.
On Earth Day, that building, the Brock Environmental Center, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and nine others won top honors in the contest, which is open to U.S. architects. The projects are mostly in the United States; one is in Singapore, known for its pioneering urban design.
The award’s ten measures encompass energy and water use, materials, resilience, economic impact, and even aspects such as walkability and transportation use by building occupants. This year criteria were expanded to include health and wellness, reflecting a larger trend in architecture.
Educational facilities dominate this year’s top-10 list. Green buildings not only translate into savings on utility costs, but also into healthier environments, which have been shown to impact student performance, and opportunities for hands-on learning. At Discovery Elementary in Arlington, Virginia, students monitor the school’s energy production and consumption on a dashboard—like most winners, it achieves net-zero energy, meaning that the amount generated on-site by renewable sources (such as solar) is equal to the amount consumed. Meanwhile the student “eco-action team” promotes walking, busing, biking, and carpooling, and endeavors to reduce lunchtime food waste.
Check out our gallery of all 10 buildings.
This article is part of our Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.