Despite the fact that the main mention of energy during the last six months of electioneering was the two candidates arguing over who could use more coal and drill for more oil, there are still some sane people who realize that relying on dirty fuel won’t take us far in a climate change-threatened, resource-constrained future.
In California, Pacific Gas & Electric and AIA San Francisco sponsor an annual $25,000 competition, Architecture at Zero, that asks entrants to design grid-connected structures that are zero net site energy. That means, according to the challenge’s definition, that a structure needs to produce "at least as much energy as it uses over a year when accounted for at the site level (as defined by the boundaries of the project, whether one or multiple buildings)." It’s impossible to predict exactly how much energy a building will consume before it’s built, so entrants also have to demonstrate that their projects can meet the goal over time—most likely by reducing building energy loads 50% below current standards in California.
This year, Architecture at Zero challenged to design an administration building or student housing for the University of California, Merced, on land that currently contains parking lots, a trailer, and grazing land. The top honor award went to Silver Streak, a project from Bay Area firm Loisos + Ubbelohde.
The project is an administrative building featuring a green roof, a solar PV array, photovoltaic "shading fins," a graywater system for fountains and irrigation, ambient heating and cooling, and interior glare control shades. Cactus, a design from Ren Ito Arq. in Portugal, also received an honor award.
There’s no guarantee that Silver Streak will be built, but it does provide a useful blueprint for UC Merced. As we noted when last year’s winners were announced, it’s not surprising that all the entries have to be grid tied since the competition is sponsored by an electric company, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in all situations—ditching the grid can provide more resiliency in the event of a disaster.
Nonetheless, all the winning designs deserve a look. Check them out here.