Equitable, Resilient Housing Designs Inspire a Carbon-Free Future

SCE sponsors this year’s Architecture at Zero competition, one of the first design contests to focus on decarbonization, equity and resilience.

As Dave Intner, SCE’s senior advisor of Education and Outreach, addressed seasoned architects and architecture students, he reflected on a time when the world’s most critical problems did not include the Earth’s temperature.

“The last time the Earth experienced a year that was colder than the historical average was in 1976 — 46 years ago,” said Intner, a licensed architect himself. “The seven-hottest years on record have been the past seven. We cannot deny that, as a society and global community, we face an imminent climate crisis.”

The need to respond to urgent climate developments led the
American Institute of Architects, California (AIA CA) to establish the Architecture at Zero competition, an international design contest that strives to generate innovative and sustainable building plans to help achieve the state’s 2030 and 2045 decarbonization goals. In its 10th year, the competition challenges the industry to accelerate progress toward a carbon-free future by motivating students and professionals to incorporate greater energy efficiency, equity and resiliency into their building designs.

“UrbanVillage” by Wrocław University of Science and Technology was awarded a Student Merit Award for integrating a spectrum of energy storage strategies across the design plan.

“We want to do everything possible to equip the architectural profession and the design and construction community as a whole to meet these challenges as we’re moving forward,” said Nicki Dennis Stephens, executive vice president of AIA CA. “We’re adamant that the value of decarbonized buildings is that they are not just good for the environment, but they’re better for our people.”

Like the Architecture at Zero competition, SCE envisions a decarbonized future and identified a path forward in its Pathway 2045 blueprint. The pathway involves a near-complete transformation across all sectors of the economy to avoid the worst effects of extreme weather. Building electrification is a critical component of the transition; nearly one-third of space and water heaters must be electric by 2030 if the state is to meet its greenhouse gas goals.

SCE partnered with the AIA CA and the state’s major utilities to sponsor this year’s competition to foster solutions and advance building electrification efforts within the architectural community.

The utilities support the Architecture at Zero competition to encourage thought leadership in developing design strategies as we seek to reduce carbon and become more resilient in the face of extreme weather events."

Dave Intner, SCE’s Senior Advisor

“The utilities support the Architecture at Zero competition to encourage thought leadership in developing design strategies as we seek to reduce carbon and become more resilient in the face of extreme weather events,” said Intner.

This year’s competition challenged entrants to design affordable housing plans for farmworker families in Visalia, a critical hub of the San Joaquin Valley’s rich agriculture industry. The housing plans and strategies were developed for
Self-Help Enterprises, a nationally recognized community development nonprofit, to inform the design of real-life housing projects in the future.

Out of 180 entries from 35 countries, seven winners were announced during a recent virtual ceremony and awarded a total of $25,000 in prizes. The winners were recognized for their creative site plans, innovative energy-efficiency strategies and for uniquely responding to the challenges of equity and resilience through the design process.

“Design excellence is really the intersection between the performative aspects of the buildings and humanity,” said Allison Williams, a professional architect and competition juror. “This puts to the test, ‘how can we be responsible?’ and ‘how can we not do just one or the other?’ You have to address it all. As architects and engineers, we can engage all our senses toward design excellence as the outcome.”