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The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) has completed the development of HouseZero, the retrofitting of its headquarters in a pre-1940s building in Cambridge into an ambitious living-laboratory and an energy-positive prototype for ultra-efficiency that will help us to understand buildings in new ways.

HouseZero’s design is truly innovative: It requires nearly zero energy for heating and cooling, needs zero electric lighting during the day, operates with 100 per cent natural ventilation, and produces zero carbon emissions. It is an environmentalist’s dream house. Ali Malkawi, founding director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities and the creator and leader of the HouseZero project, says: “HouseZero’s flexible, data-driven infrastructure will allow us to further research that demystifies building behavior, and design the next generation of ultra-efficient structures. By creating both a prototype and an infrastructure for long-term research, we hope to raise interest in ultra-efficient retrofits and inspire substantial shifts in the design and operation of buildings.”

“Harvard HouseZero is an extraordinary physical example of efficiency and transformative design,” said Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard GSD and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design. “As a living laboratory, it equips Harvard students and researchers with an unparalleled, innovative infrastructure for exploration and research as they design the next generation of sustainable buildings and cities around the world.”

As a prototype, HouseZero works to address one of the biggest energy problems in the world today—inefficient existing buildings. The U.S. building stock is responsible for around 40 per cent of energy consumption, with housing nearly a quarter of that use. Property owners spend more than $230 billion annually heating, cooling and powering its 113.6 million homes. Addressing the energy-inefficiencies locked into this problematic building stock offers tremendous opportunity for curbing its impact on climate change. Paving the way through ultra-efficient retrofit strategies, HouseZero creates a blueprint for reducing energy demands and increasing cost savings for property owners.

About the Harvard Center for Green Buildings & Cities

The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities aims to transform the building industry through a commitment to design-centric and computationally-driven strategies that directly link research outcomes to the development of new processes, systems, and products. By strongly emphasising innovation and multidisciplinary collaboration, the Center will work to promote holistic change within the built environment, namely the creation and continued improvement of sustainable, efficient, high performance buildings and cities. The CGBC was established at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2014.

Team Credits

  • Client: Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities
  • Lead Architect, Landscape Architect and Interiors: Snøhetta
  • Energy/Climate Engineer: Skanska Teknikk (Norway)
  • Construction Manager: Columbia Construction
  • Structural Engineering: Silman Associates
  • MEP/FP Engineering, Lighting: BR+A
  • Civil Engineering: Bristol Engineering
  • BAS/Controls/Natural Ventilation System: WindowMaster
  • Acoustics: Brekke & Strand Akustikk
  • Code & Accessibility: Jensen Hughes
  • Geotechnical Engineering: Haley & Aldrich
  • Vertical Transportation: Syska Hennesy
  • Specifications: Kalin Associates
  • BAS/Controls/Security Systems: Siemens Building Technologies
  • Photovoltaic System: Solect Energy
  • Landscape Architect, rear yard and surrounding properties: Reed Hilderbrand
  • Project Management: Harvard Planning & Project Management & CSL Consulting
  • Operations Support: Harvard Graduate School of Design Staff