image looking up at Portland Building

Five Cultural Buildings on the Cutting Edge of Green Design

The winners of the 2021 Planet Positive Awards in the cultural and civic buildings category included reimagined architectural icons, and innovative new technologies.

The Metropolis Planet Positive Awards were established last year to recognize the incredible breadth of the Green Building movement and celebrate the projects and products that have a positive impact on people and planet.

What does that mean? To be Planet Positive, projects and products must go beyond addressing energy efficiency or a reduction in harmful chemicals. The winning projects make a holistic effort to do good in the world in the related fields of health, equity, and ecological regeneration. Winners in the cultural and civic category, selected by Jen Masengarb, executive director, AIA, Chicago, and Kyle Pickett, environmental steward and co-founder and executive director of The William J. Worthen Foundation, demonstrate the cultural sector’s power to lead on sustainable design.

Submit a project for the 2022 Planet Positive Awards here.

dashboard overlayed over group of people at a conference room
The Portland Building (top and above) received a retrofit with electric-only mechanical systems and low water-use technology achieving LEED Platinum certification. COURTESTY DLR GROUP

Northwest Civic/Cultural

DLR Group, The Portland Building (top winner)

The Portland Building was built when focus was shifting to ideas about energy efficiency and how buildings contribute to global energy use. In the wake of the 1979 Oil Crisis, energy costs were certainly a consideration for building owners, but there was not yet enough knowledge in the industry to inform what strategies would be most effective to lower building energy use. Some of the early strategies utilized in the Portland Building, such as heavily tinted glass and small window openings, proved to be ineffective. The building has now been updated as a fossil-fuel free building, retrofitted with electric-only mechanical systems. It also brought potable water use by about 45% per year.

In addition to exceeding the original sustainability goals and achieving LEED Platinum certification, the project also tracked and exceeded its goals for the diversity of the project team, with with 30% minority / 10% female journeymen and 33% minority / 17% female apprentices.

exterior of glass-clad building with pedestian riverwalk

Northeast Civic/Cultural

SmithGroup, DC Water Headquarters in Washington, DC
The new LEED Platinum headquarters for DC Water, the sewer and water utility serving the District of Columbia and several suburban jurisdictions, is an energy efficient building that pays special attention to how it handles water. A groundbreaking wastewater thermal recovery system—used here for the first time in a U.S. office building—captures heat from the flowing wastewater in winter, while using it as a heat sink in summer.

(honorable mention) Paul Murdoch Architects, Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, PA

The Flight 93 National Memorial is a 2,200-acre national park site commemorating the heroic actions of the 40 passengers and crew who prevented a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital. It transforms a former strip mine into a memorial landscape of environmental and symbolic healing.

image of children's museum on waterfront with birds flying around

South Civic/Cultural

Mithun, Louisana Children’s Museum, New Orleans LA

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana Children’s Museum re-envisioned its mission to holistically address the health and development of children. The new campus encircling a lagoon in the 1,300-acre City Park presents a transformative model for children’s museums. On target for LEED Gold certification, the project also prioritizes low emitting materials and energy reduction. Throughout the 2020-21 school year, LCM hosted about 60 children in PreK and kindergarten at Langston Hughes Academy (a local public charter school) for daily classes. 

exterior of wood-clad preschool building entrance

West Civic/Cultural

LPA, Inc., Environmental Nature Center Preschool, Newport Beach, CA

The LEED Platinum certified preschool aligns the design with the non-profit’s mission to provide environmental education through hands-on experience. The project is pursuing certification through the Living Building Challenge, making it one of the first projects in Orange County to achieve this model of sustainability.

Stantec, Denver Water Administration Building (honorable mention), Denver, CO

The LEED-NC Platinum certified administration building achieved Net Zero Energy within its first year of operation. It embodies Denver Water’s One Water initiative, capturing and reusing 100% of the building’s grey and blackwater.

interior of white atrium, with small shrine in the center

International Civic/Cultural

Revery Architecture Inc., Xiqu Centre, in Hong Kong Xiqu Centre is Hong Kong’s prestigious new home for traditional Chinese opera and officially opened in January 2019. It employs several passive green techniques and meets BEAM Gold Plus Rating.

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