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Competition: Architecture at Zero

An international ideas competition has been launched for a zero net-energy community education complex in Tiburon, California (Deadline: 10 January)

Open to students, architects, landscape architects, urban planners, engineers and designers – the contest seeks proposals for two new zero net-energy buildings on a 21ha former US Navy base in San Francisco Bay, now home to the Romberg Tiburon Centre for Environmental Studies.

The first structure will feature an interactive exhibit space and visitors centre with classrooms, aquariums, a conference centre, staff rooms, a picnic area and event spaces. The second building will host ‘science-on-the-bay’ nature education courses including kayak and small boat-based tours for school groups, university students and other visitors.

Contest site in Tiburon, California

Contest site in Tiburon, California

Contest site in Tiburon, California

According to the brief: ‘The challenge will be to develop an energy plan for this two building cluster and associated uses in an approximately 1.4ha area of the Tiburon property adjacent to a planned restoration of a large wharf and pier and adjacent shoreline to support a variety of aquatic educational programmes and operations.

‘This will be a place where the general public, school groups and teachers can visit and learn about the ecology, biology, restoration and oceanography of the San Francisco Estuary and other nearby coastal ecosystems, as well as the environmental and naval history of the property itself.’

Tiburon is located on the Tiburon Peninsula which reaches south into San Francisco Bay. It is a commuter and tourist town linked by fast ferry services to San Francisco. The settlement’s name derives from the Spanish word tiburón, meaning ‘shark’.

The planned restoration of a pier and wharf adjacent to the contest site is expected to help regenerate this coastal area, which features panoramic views of nearby Richmond Bridge, Bay Bridge and the East Bay.

Contest site in Tiburon, California

Contest site in Tiburon, California

Contest site in Tiburon, California

The Romberg Tiburon Centre was set up as a space where visitors can learn about the ecology, biology, restoration and oceanography of the San Francisco Estuary and other nearby coastal ecosystems.

Teams must deliver technical details on how designs will meet zero net-energy standards. Examples of previous competition entries feature in the competition brief and cover topics such as occupant behaviour, shading studies and annual or monthly end use energy consumption.

The Architecture at Zero competition is organised by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the American Institute of Architects, California Council. A maximum of $25,000 USD in total prize money will be awarded to student and professional winners.

How to apply

Deadline

The registration deadline is 1pm (PST) on 10 January
The submissions deadline is 1pm (PST) on 30 January

Fee

Professionals: $275 USD
Students: Free

Contact details

Email: info@architectureatzero.com

View the competition website for more information

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre case study: Q&A with Jeremy O’Rourke

The partner at LSI Architects discusses lessons learned designing a new environmentally friendly visitor centre in Norfolk, England

Jeremy O’Rourke

Jeremy O’Rourke

Jeremy O’Rourke

How did your Cley Marshes Visitor Centre project deliver a suitable environmentally friendly facility for its surrounding area?

Our client, The Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s project objectives are to inspire people to understand the value of Norfolk’s exceptional coastline and the need for conservation through providing better access to this environment. The visitor centre (2007) follows the form of its surrounding landscape to integrate seamlessly into its environment and minimise its impact on the adjacent wildlife reserve. The project also acted as a showcase for responsible environmental stewardship through the use of renewable technologies and materials.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Which architectural, material, sustainable and other methods did you harness in your design?

A ground-hugging, sedum roof defines a gentle curve over a strip of frameless glazing, providing uninterrupted views over the nature reserve. An overhanging roof provides shading, while the design introduces natural daylight into the building to significantly reduce the need for artificial lighting. The building was constructed using materials with low embodied carbon, and is highly insulated and naturally ventilated. It incorporates renewable technologies such as under-floor heating from a ground source heat pump, a solar collector for hot water and a wind turbine – providing free energy for four fifths of the demand in an average year. The unprecedented popularity of the building meant that it soon lacked space for education and interpretation; a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed an education centre to be added, giving the trust the extra space needed to tell to a wider audience the story of an evolving, dynamic landscape and the wildlife that resides there.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

What advice would you have to competing teams on designing a net zero visitor centre for San Francisco Bay?

Consider your context carefully, including any possible expansion in the future. It is important that, as well as being net-zero, the facility inspires and does not compete with its surrounding landscape. Visitor centres have very specific occupancy patterns – which might be in relation to the time of day and time of year – which can have an impact on requirements for heating and cooling, and can affect the efficacy of technologies.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre by LSI Architects

Q&A with Margie O’Driscoll

The Architecture at Zero competition organiser discusses her ambitions for the project

Margie O’Driscoll

Margie O’Driscoll

Margie O’Driscoll

Why are your holding an international ideas contest for a net zero visitor centre in San Francisco Bay?

The Architecture at Zero competition, now in its seventh year, was conceived as a response to the zero net energy targets set out by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) in the 2008 report, California’s Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. In this report, the CPUC set out four ‘Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies’ for California that include the goals that all new residential construction in California be ZNE by 2020 and that all new commercial construction be ZNE by 2030.

Buildings account for a majority of energy use- designing and building Zero Net Energy buildings in simply one of the most important ways the design community can respond to climate change.

As you may know, California governor Jerry Brown is deeply committed to working globally on climate change. He famously announced last December that if the US government decided not to gather climate information, (California) would ‘launch its own damn satellite’ (to collect climate change data).

What is your vision for the future of the visitor centre?

Karina Nielsen, the director of the centre, hopes that it will serve as a vibrant regional hub to support and train interdisciplinary, science-based problem solvers, with a focus on the San Francisco Estuary and Gulf of the Farallones ecosystems. Natural processes and resources greatly impact human health, quality of life, cultural heritage and economic prosperity, and these coastal ecosystems support the vitality of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Creative thinking by diverse teams that work within and across disciplinary boundaries is needed to solve the vexing environmental problems of today and the future. The centre will provide a forum for students, researchers and educators of natural and social sciences to employ a diversity of perspectives and disciplinary approaches while collaborating on research-based solutions to the wicked problems confronting coastal ecosystems. The centre will also support community engagement through a variety of public programmes, including citizen science and volunteer opportunities. Finally, the centre’s work will focus on the health and resilience of the San Francisco Estuary and Gulf of the Farallones ecosystems, including the human communities they support, for today and for future generations.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to students and professionals anywhere in the world. Past winners of the competition have included both large and small firms and architects and engineers. There is always at least one student winner who is awarded prize money. This competition is important for designers since several (past) winning teams have been hired to work on implementation of the project. And, of course, the prize money of $25,000 is also an incentive. Past winners have received media coverage in a variety of outlets, including the Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record and Metropolis.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

This competition is the only Zero Net Energy competition organised by PG&E and the American Institute of architects California Council. However, PG&E is considered a national leader among American utility providers for its promotion of zero net energy and energy consumption reduction, offering classes and financial incentives for businesses and residents to save energy.

And the AIA California Council, as the organisation of architects in California, reflects the desire of the state’s architects to develop programmes and efforts that respond to climate change.

Are there any other net zero projects you have been impressed by?

Some of the most impressive zero net energy projects have been past competition winners. Especially by students! See our website for past winners.