“Design is so simple. That’s why it’s so complicated.” –Paul Rand

Resident Brian Whitlock saved some serious cash by taking on much of the construction and electrical work himself.
Tuned into its sylvan setting, this affordable green home in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is a modern take on the surrounding centuries-old structures. The bright green paint on its facade contrasts with the Cor-Ten steel cladding.
In Hillsborough, North Carolina, local firm Tonic completed a modern home at a modest $155 per square foot. Its in-house team of skilled builders constructed the house and crafted the custom touches without subcontracing—a costly and common undertaking. They also reined in expenses by using readily available materials, like oak and steel. Though the home is nearly 800 square feet larger than their previous residence, the residents’ energy bills average 30 percent cheaper thanks to spray foam insulation, tightly sealed ducts to reduce drafts, low-e glazed windows, and Energy Star appliances. Photo by Richard Leo Johnson.
Their tenants include veterinary student Leslie Carter and intern architect Brad Raines.
Cassidy used the pool as an anchor for an overarching backyard master plan that pulled the parts together.
Little Compton Retreat in Little Compton, Rhode Island, completed by ZeroEnergy Design in 2011. Photo by: Greg Premru.
Going Underground

The site the Wadhams found for their home was designated as “green belt” land, which meant that there were restrictions on the size of the structure’s footprint. Because it’s critical for the pair to live on a single floor, especially as they grow older, Archer tucked the home’s three guest rooms—vital for four visiting children and eight grandchildren—all belowground. Not only does that keep the home’s layout trim, but with the living spaces and master bedroom at ground level, the couple will be able to stay in the house for longer, getting more use out of the energy and resources expended to build it.
The interior of an urban passive house by Loadingdock5, located at 174 Grand Street in Brooklyn. Photo by: Raimund Koch.
South-facing windows, bedrooms situated at each end of a simple gabled structure, and a sleeping loft maximize both energy efficiency and an open, airy feeling in this Rhode Island vacation home by ZeroEnergy Design. Photo by: Greg Premru.
Cubicco’s prefab houses, like the Cabana Beach model, are built with laminated veneer lumber, an engineered material that uses up to 90 percent of a tree—compared to typical wood timbers that use only 60 to 70 percent. Modules can be disassembled if the owners relocate.

Though they may look like architecture school run amok, the steep pitches and cants of the roof have everything to do with the home’s ecological agenda. By creating a series of green roofs, maximizing daylighting and water catchment, and optimizing the positions of light tubes and building-integrated photovoltaic panels, the roof is a canny mix of passive solar design and state-of-the-art technology.
Multifamily Living: Kevin Daly Architects designed this 33-unit affordable housing complex in Santa Monica, California, with sustainable features including a green roof and windows with hoods that were shaped based on solar orientation studies.
The 53rd Street Prototype was built on a 40-foot-wide lot.
The 99th Street plan is shown here. "Layouts were driven by the most basic design principles: hyper-efficient floor plans that minimize circulation with singularly-located plumbing stacks," Lehrer says. "The roof slope and roof-site drainage was also made as simple as possible. The continuum of public to private space was carefully orchestrated."
"Color simply and cost-effectively enriched and made the architectural idea palpable and pleasurable," Lehrer says about the prismatic theme. "It was used to explicitly articulate and dramatically enhance the circulation and spatial concepts. It helps make modest, but wonderful, spaces a little magical."
Exterior courtyards and patios allow the residents to enjoy outdoor living.
The houses, like the 53rd Street Prototype, feature lean and gracious walkways to the front door. "Though these prototypes are set in economically challenged neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, their design provides for integrated defensible space while maintaining openness and connection to the outdoors," states the project description.
Lehrer Architects developed three affordable housing prototypes for challenging infill lots in South Los Angeles. The project was completed in conjunction with Restore Neighborhoods L.A.
"We believe luxury begins with massive natural light, fresh air, seamless indoor-outdoor living and viewing, and maximizing the longest intrasite viewshed," Lehrer says. "In other words, a view from one end of (even a small) a property to the other."
Invited to participate in a design competition for a monument celebrating 200 years of Mexican independence in 2010, the firm responded with a futuristic proposal for 5,000 affordable apartments on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma as a commentary on the project’s cost.