The 10 Best Houses Of The Year

It’s architecture awards seasons right now, with honours and medals being doled out with what seems like daily regularity. Thankfully, the AIA’s 2014 Housing Awards breaks up the march of zillion-dollar projects with something a little more real: Places where normal humans actually live.

The following 10 houses are home to an incredible range of clients: fly-fishing enthusiasts, low-income seniors, skiers, autistic adults, and avid cyclists. Most of them are remarkably energy efficient, and a good number of them are built from the bones of older abandoned structures. They’re all worth a look — if for no other reason than to remind us that architecture is for humans, as well as photographers.

28th Street Apartments; Los Angeles

This historic, 80-year-old former YMCA in LA was the basis for a development designed by KoningEizenberg Architecture. It contains 49 units of housing for kids exiting foster care, the mentally ill, and the chronically homeless. There’s also 743sqm of space for support services too, like a job training program. The building itself is skinned on one side with photovoltaics — it’s an unusual application of PV panels, and Gizmodo recently got an IRL tour.

Informal House; South Pasadena, California

Simple, inexpensive, and efficient: Massive sliding doors make this home — designed by Koning Eizenberg Architecture--easy to ventilate, while huge underground earth tubes pipe air into the spaces too.

Kicking Horse Residence; British Columbia

The tilting roofline of this ski, ahem, shack in Kicking Horse, BC, is designed to shift the load of snow away from critical stress points. The architects, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, sourced the timber from the surrounding forests.

Park Passive; Seattle

Passiv Haus — the stringent German building certification that focuses on retaining energy through insulation — is a relative newcomer to US architects. This single-family home by NK Architects was actually the first certified passive home in Seattle.

Sol Duc Cabin; Seattle

A prolific fly-fisher commissioned Olson Kundig Architects to build “a compact, low-maintenance, virtually indestructible building to house himself and his wife during fishing expeditions.” The resulting building is a tiny, stilted cabin whose steel shutters can be locked when the couple aren’t there.

Topo House; Wisconsin

Lest Midwesterners feel underrepresented on this list, a rural Wisconsin home designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects also made the cut. Built for two avid Madison cyclists who wanted to be closer to the trails, it’s super-efficient and super strong: The area, according to the architects, is increasingly prone to tornado-strength storms.

1221 Broadway; San Antonio

This abandoned building in San Antonio was long known as “the biggest homeless shelter run by the homeless.” The building was auctioned off, and the owners turned to Lake|Flato Architects to create something from its concrete bones. They gut renovated the interior and turned an ageing behemoth into something more energy-efficient than most new homes.

Cherokee Studios; Los Angeles

The anodized aluminium facade of this LA apartment building, designed by Brooks + Scarpa, folds out and back to keep the interiors cool. The tenants control this operable skin themselves — and it’s part of what makes the building 40 per cent more efficient than similar structures in LA.

Merritt Crossing Senior Apartments; Oakland, CA

Considering the influx of rapidly ageing Baby Boomers into co-housing across the country, it’d be odd if senior housing didn’t make a single appearance on this list. This Oakland building by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects was built for a non-profit offering housing to seniors with incomes between 30 and 50 per cent of the local median. Inside, apartments are heated with solar hot water and PV panels, and the building uses only half the energy of the average for its type.

Sweetwater Spectrum Community; Sonoma, CA

Autism-specific housing has “reached crisis levels,” according to Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the designers behind this community in Sonoma. This project grew out of a nonprofit that caters to adults with autism — and it serves as a model for similar nonprofits across the country. Inside, 16 autistic adults live in apartments that are carefully designed to reduce sensory stimulation. The buildings are outfitted with durable and doors and detailing, all of it designed to keep residents safe and happy.