Road to Zero Energy

A Perspective of Two Projects

Buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases (GHG). Slowing the growth rate of GHG emissions – then reversing it – is the key to addressing climate change and controlling the global average temperature.

The 2030 Challenge, issued to accomplish this, asks the global architecture and building community to adopt several targets:

  • All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 60% below the regional (or country) average/median for that building type.
  • At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 60% of the regional (or country) average/median for that building type.
  • The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to reach carbon-neutrality by 2030 (which means using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power and/or purchasing (20% maximum) renewable energy.

The Road to Zero Energy

Fueled by our early adoption of the 2030 Challenge and further reinforced by our collective and individual commitment to preserving the environment, we continually challenge ourselves to find sustainable solutions to reduce building energy consumption and to understand the required effort to reach the goal of a “Zero Energy Building” (ZEB).

A ZEB is a building that has a net zero energy consumption annually. Achieving a ZEB begins by evaluating the program and the site to minimize the building load as much as possible, then using energy efficient technologies to meet the needs of the building. Finally on-site renewable energy sources are used to offset the building energy consumption.


Inspired by such magnificent ecosystem, the concept for the Learning Lodge @ Grandfather Mountain is inspired by its context – a building that will not only minimize its impact on its surroundings, but that will also give back to the community and to its environment more than it takes. Driven by concepts of Conservation, Restoration, Reduction, Recycling and Renewable Resources, this facility will be the first non-residential Zero Energy Building (ZEB) in North Carolina. 

This concept supports the idea that the building minimally impacts the site, with minimum footprint and disturbance, similar to an insect, a bird or a nest: here today, gone tomorrow, without a trace. Hence, the concept of a Zero-Energy Building, a self-sufficient complex, non-polluting, giving back more than it takes.  The following design strategies were implemented based on the program, site and on-site renewable energy sources

Reduce Building Load

The best way to save energy is to turn it off, whether it is lights, computers or air conditioning. The next best solution is to limit the need for energy consuming components. For a building, this means making important design decisions that help reduce the overall building load, which translates into energy savings. It starts by embracing the site attributes to shape and position the building on – or “into” – the site.

Integrate Energy Efficient Technologies

Integrating technologies such as a ground-coupled geothermal system, radiant floor system, a solar thermal array, a back-up wood fired boiler and low flow/high efficiency plumbing fixtures allow the facility to provide improved occupant comfort and exhibit flexibility. 


Use Renewable Energy

Utilizing natural resources available from the sun, wind and earth is an excellent way to create energy onsite. Southern exposure offers plenty of available solar hours to produce electricity through photovoltaic panels and hot water though solar thermal collectors. In addition to solar energy, the site offers significant potential to capture wind energy through wind micro turbines located on site and through a closed loop geothermal system with deep wells, the building will be able to use the ground as a source to transfer heat.

A Complete Definition of Stewardship

Exhibits within the Learning Lodge will introduce nature on several levels so that ultimately, many different kinds of visitors will leave with:

  1. A feeling of connectedness with nature
  2. An understanding of how they, individually, fit into nature and natural cycles
  3. A sense of appreciation and love for nature that leads to
  4. A feeling of responsibility to protect and preserve nature for future generations, leading to
  5. A desire to do something, and then, taking action.

In a nutshell, the full and complete definition of stewardship.


Like the Learning Lodge, the new Bioclimatic European School Complex in Crete, Greece, is designed as a Zero Energy Building (ZEB). The three-story facility will become an exemplary sustainable project driven by the goal of a design that consumes less energy than it produces, thus achieving a zero-energy design.

Our design for this complex minimizes the building load based on an evaluation of the program and site, integrates energy efficient technologies to meet the needs of the building, and capitalizes on on-site renewable energy sources to offset the building energy consumption.

Architecture, Sustainability and Curriculum

Creating a Zero Energy Building will not only exemplify the core values of the new Bioclimatic School, it will also fully exploit the facility’s incredible potential to become a teaching tool.

From the landscaping and architecture to the materials, systems and renewable technologies it uses, each and every corner of the building can integrate and reinforce an instructional curriculum that emphasizes sustainability, purpose of design, application of new technologies, the functionality of systems and a holistic approach to problem solving a challenge such as global warming. In this spirit, students will learn about life, concepts, sustainability, our impact on the environment and the choices we make by merely using the building as a key element of curriculum. This is a crucial component of 21st century education – understanding how the relevance of what is learned today can be applied toward real applications and future solutions to global challenges.