AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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OS House

This photo shows a view of the house from the bluff.
Photo credit: John J. Macaulay


  • Location: Racine, Wisconsin
  • Building type(s): Single-family residential
  • New construction
  • 1,940 ft2 (180 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Urban setting
  • Completed March 2010
  • Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Homes v.1 --Level: 97.5

Located in an old downtown neighborhood in Racine, Wisconsin, this house for a young family demonstrates how a small, sustainable residence built with a moderate budget can fit into a rustbelt city suffering from decades of economic decline. One of the first LEED Platinum homes in the Upper Midwest, the house occupies a narrow infill lot along the edge of Lake Michigan, completing a row of residences built over the last century. Based on massing studies testing the building's performance in relation to site constraints, solar exposure, and vegetation, the building is a simple rectangular volume with a series of outdoor rooms—an entry court, elevated patios, and a main-level terrace—all confined within the boundaries of the rectangular volume itself. The main level's transparency allows for a visual link between the street and the lake, while the upper rainscreen system creates a deep, ventilated envelope with superior performance. Along the edges of the outdoor rooms, the façade transforms into a delicate scrim of aluminum rods, defining spatial boundaries without obstructing views.

Environmental Aspects

The majority of LEED-certified homes are built in suburbia and exurbia. While they may be "green" in terms of energy performance, they also perpetuate unsustainable settlement patterns. This project exemplifies an alternative model: a small, durable, high-performance residence embedded in an established neighborhood, taking advantage of an existing infrastructure and incorporating sustainable design principles and systems to minimize the building's ecological footprint and its dependence on the energy grid.

Smallness was key, for environmental and fiscal reasons. A rigorous reevaluation of the initial program allowed us to distill it to its bare essentials, eliminating space-consuming areas like walk-in closets, individual bathrooms, and oversized bedrooms. A one-car garage with bike storage was integrated into the simple volume of the house. Taking advantage of the lake breeze and the site's solar exposure, outdoor rooms were created to reduce the house's depth, allowing for maximum natural cross-ventilation and daylight. In order to maintain a visual link between the street and Lake Michigan, the neighborhood's greatest natural asset, a hybrid building envelope balances the desire for transparency with the need for superior thermal performance, combining the benefits of high-efficiency glazing with a super-insulated rainscreen system.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Robert Osborne and Vera Scekic, Individual(s)
  • Typically occupied by 4 people


Integrated team, Design charrette, Green specifications, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Transportation benefits, Indigenous vegetation, Stormwater management, Water harvesting, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Insulation levels, Glazing, Airtightness, HVAC, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity, Durability, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, C&D waste management, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Moisture control, Low-emitting materials

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Last updated: 4/14/2011

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

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