Story at a glance:

  • The demand for LEED buildings is increasing, according to the US Green Building Adoption Index.
  • These 12 LEED projects range from education centers and homes to nature centers and office buildings.
  • Universities like Yale have committed to achieve carbon neutrality by or before 2050.

LEED-certified buildings are on the rise and making our cities greener, according to the 2019 US Green Building Adoption Index by CBRE. “The 2019 Green Building Adoption Index shows that 4,879 or 13.8% of all commercial office buildings across the 30 largest U.S. office markets are green certified—the highest total in the index’s history. Measured in square footage, 42.2% of total space across the top 30 office markets is green certified, up from 41.9% last year,” CBRE said.

Architects and designers hoping to achieve LEED certification can look to a variety of projects for inspiration. As the need for LEED-certified building projects increases, it’s important to consider the surrounding built environment.

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership,” according to the USGBC.

From earning points for using sustainable wood and Energy Star appliances to improving projects with solar panels and natural lighting, a variety of design strategies can help architects earn LEED in both commercial and residential projects. These are just a few projects offering inspiration.

1. ​​Arizona State University’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology 7 Building, Tempe, AZ

gcp arizona state university gbd magazine 03

ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science & Technology building 7 (ISTB-7) achieved impressive sustainability goals with the help of GCP Applied Technologies and others.  Photo courtesy of Architekton | Grimshaw

Arizona State University (ASU)’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology 7 building is just one of the university’s many LEED-certified buildings, but it is one of the most progressive.

As with many big projects, the design team at ASU had the challenge of choosing material responsibly. With cement as a choice material, architects Architekton & Grimshaw, engineers Buro Happold, and McCarthy Building Companies wanted to find a way to use cement to offset the building’s embodied carbon. The team set out to utilize a post-consumer byproduct to reduce the total amount of Portland cement in the building structure by at least 40%. In addition to the sustainability requirements, the concrete for this project needed to be aesthetically pleasing since it would be used in Class A architecturally exposed columns, walls, stairs, deck soffits, and polished concrete floors.

After much collaboration with McCarthy Building Companies and admixture supplier GCP Applied Technologies, Hanson Aggregates used fly ash alongside WRDA 64® water reducer with ADVA® 195 superplasticizer from GCP Applied Technologies. Once they selected a mix the team started batch trials to ensure it performed as structurally intended.

2.  Miami Beach Convention Center, Miami Beach, FL

resilient building examples gbd magazine

The context-driven design of the Miami Beach Convention Center reflects the natural elements of Miami’s acclaimed beaches, including waves, manta rays, and coral reefs. Photo by Robin Hill

The redesigned Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) is a top-tier example of a community event space committed to sustainability. The project achieved LEED Silver certification from the USGBC in 2020.

The MBCC’s design was part of the City of Miami Beach’s vision to reposition the center as one of the most technologically advanced convention centers in the US. One of the main focuses of the project was to stay up-to-date with FEMA code as part of a resiliency plan to safeguard against future hurricanes and flooding.

Fentress Architects collaborated with Arquitectonica on the context-driven design to incorporate natural elements. Part of this process included the design team adding 12 acres of greenspace, preserving more than 100 existing trees, and adding more than 1,300 new trees. As a result, the design increases the previous acreage of the 25-acre campus by 245% and significantly reduces heat island effect.

3. Yale Science Center, New Haven, CT

yale sustainability plan gbd magazine

The Yale Science Building features high-performance air distribution and heat recovery. Photo by Paul Coco

In 2010 Yale University began requiring that all renovations and new buildings meet LEED Gold status. This university-wide plan showcases the potential for not just one LEED-certified project within a built ecosystem, but many, with consideration for renovations and rebuilds.

The Yale Science Building opened in 2019 with an energy use intensity target of 200 KBTU—half of what comparable lab spaces on-campus consume. The Yale Science Building was designed to meet LEED Gold, with features like high performance air distribution, heat recovery, and lighting systems. The project also has a rooftop greenhouse.

Yale is committed to ensuring its infrastructure is good for the environment as well as the student body. ​​“IAQ is crucial to the health and well-being of building occupants. Our standards ensure the use of materials with low VOCs, nontoxic materials, healthy furniture, and appropriate air changes and filtration,” Ginger Chapman, director of the office of sustainability at Yale, previously told gb&d. 

4. Administrative Office Building, Duarte, CA

walter p moore gbd magazine 04

Walter P Moore and Gensler designed the City of Hope administrative office building in California. Photo by Benny Chan, Fotoworks

Walter P Moore completed an administrative office building for The City of Hope in the spring of 2020. City of Hope in Duarte, California is a comprehensive cancer center focusing on advancing research and treatment protocols.

Walter P Moore provided structural and enclosure engineering for the project as well as a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment, contributing to a structure that has been designated LEED Gold v4. The design firm said, “We found that importing superior aggregate from British Columbia and using supplemental cementitious materials to replace a portion of the Portland Cement the team was able to maintain construction schedule but reduce the embodied carbon of the structure by over 2.8 million pounds of CO2e.”

LEED-certified projects like this office building will ensure high performance as well as thoughtful features like exterior walkways, cascading stairs, less insulation, solar panels, and a steel/mesh sunshade.

5. AstraZeneca West Coast Center, San Francisco, CA

Photo: David Wakely

AstraZeneca and HOK put a focus on the way people will inhabit the West Coast Center. Photo by David Wakely

HOK designed AstraZeneca’s 100,000-square-foot West Coast Center to consolidate four divisions of the company into a single facility. The project features energy-efficient, LEED Platinum–certified interiors that prioritize employee connectedness and comfort, with an added emphasis on daylighting. A majority of the work spaces offer ample natural lighting.

In terms of energy reduction, the design cut out unnecessary lab equipment, improved the core and shell, and reduced the site’s mechanical system capacity. The team paid great attention to the center’s plug load as well, Erin Ezell, an HOK senior sustainable design specialist, previously told gb&d. All of the research refrigeration equipment was replaced with the highest efficiency models available, and all lights run on occupancy and daylight controls. The project also features daylight harvesting systems, and automated shades are installed around the perimeter. The project was further elevated by adding water efficiency systems, locally sourced materials, and centralizing freezers into an efficient farm.

AstraZeneca aims to be energy-, carbon-, and water-neutral by 2025, and this project brings the company one step closer to that goal.

6. Environmental Nature Center and Preschool, Newport Beach, CA

04 lpa gbd magazine enc

The new 8,000-square-foot, three-classroom Environmental Nature Center (ENC) Preschool is the second LEED Platinum Net Zero building on ENC’s 4.7-acre campus in Newport Beach. Photo by Cris Costea Photography

LPA Design Studios recently worked on The Environmental Nature Center and Preschool (ENC) in Newport Beach. They set out to design a top educational space while conserving energy and water and supporting the Environmental Nature Center’s mission of sustainability. At the time it was recognized as the first LEED Platinum building in the region.

The ENC has been operating net positive since 2008, generating 60% more energy than it’s using. The new preschool is expected to be net positive, generating 105% of the preschool’s power needs. No natural gas is used in the building, and PV panels supply 100% of the ENC’s power.

Additional features include photovoltaic panels that are designed to provide 105% of the net energy for the preschool’s electrical needs. Single-sloped roofs capture the water, which is channeled through rock basins to bioswales, where the water is naturally treated and clarified by plant materials before leaving the site to recharge aquifers. All of the plants across the campus are native to California and do not require irrigation, according to LPA Design Studios.

7. Engineering Innovation Hub, New Paltz, NY

suny new paltz eic urbahn architects leed gold design

The Engineering Innovation Hub at State University of New York in New Paltz will accommodate programming and support collaboration between the college and local industry. Photo by Leon Hordijk, Surfacedesign

State New York University at New Paltz opened its Engineering Innovation Hub (EIH) in 2019 and achieved LEED Gold status. The EIH was designed by Urbahn Architects, who worked with engineering and construction teams to achieve LEED Gold on a limited budget.

LEED points were awarded for a variety of features throughout the project. The building’s roof is a white reflective TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) membrane system, with added insulation to improve the R-value. This composition reduces the heat island effect by providing a high solar reflectance index.

The design of a 31,200-square-foot landscaped site contributes to the project’s sustainability. The project team addressed the LEED category of Sustainable Sites and Water Efficiency in several ways. The entire building site was formerly covered by a parking lot, and the new site plan maximized the open green area surrounding the building footprint. The final building envelope and mechanical systems designs resulted in an energy cost savings of 28%. The building is also close to public transportation and provides bike storage.

8. The Ecology School, Saco, ME

05 kaplan thompson architects gbd magazine ecology school

The Ecology School will come to life thanks to the efforts of Kaplan Thompson Architects, Scott Simons Architects, Briburn, and Richardson & Associates. The firms partnered with landscape ecology analysts to understand the site’s potential and the school’s goals for improving every inch of its diverse riverfront property. Photo courtesy of Kaplan Thompson Architects

On a historic 105-acre farm on the Saco River in Maine, Kaplan Thompson Architects is on a quest to build the most sustainable building in the Northeast. There, work has begun on The Ecology School, designed to achieve the Living Building Challenge 3.1 certification.

The building has more than 700 solar panels onsite to support the goal of producing 105% net positive energy. Kaplan Thompson architect Jesse Thompson previously told gb&d the team was able to bring in an incredible suite of local, sustainable, low-embodied energy materials everyone was proud of, including Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified wood. All water used on site is reclaimed and treated with activated carbon filters and UV light. Captured storm- and rainwater will nourish the fields and gardens, which in turn grow nutritious produce for the Dining Commons.

9. Eco-Friendly Home, Wellesley, MA

Wellesley LEED house Interior Stairs

This LEED home in Wellesley, MA features continuous insulation, an airtight envelope, and triple-pane high-performance windows. Photo by Eric Roth

Residential architects are also using LEED to prove the sustainability of their projects, like ZeroEnergy Design’s (ZED) recent New England home. The 4,200-square-foot house is not only comfortable and convenient, it’s also LEED Platinum. Some of the features that earned the project valuable LEED points include durable materials, finishes, cabinetry, and casework throughout the house that have low or no VOCs. The team also designed a mechanical system with ventilation to provide constant fresh outdoor air.

The house also offers an impressive solar array that faces the backyard. The project incorporates many of the top building enclosure strategies—continuous insulation, an airtight envelope, and triple-pane high-performance windows—combined with an efficient HVAC system. Other efficient systems within the house include an air source heat pump for heating and cooling, a heat pump hot water heater, LED lighting, energy recovery ventilation.

In general, it’s not hard to see why architects, designers, and homeowners would desire more eco-friendly homes. “LEED-certified homes are designed to provide clean indoor air and ample natural light and to use safe building materials to ensure our comfort and good health. They help us reduce our energy and water consumption, thereby lowering utility bills each month, among other financial benefits,”according to the USGBC.

10. The Powerhouse, Beloit, WI


The Powerhouse facility in Beloit, WI now has a running track, conference facility, batting cages, café, and more. Photo by Tom Harris

The Powerhouse, a student union and recreational center at Beloit College, was a unique reuse design opportunity for Studio Gang. The prestigious team of architects embraced one of their core philosophies by starting a design with what’s already there with this project. For the Powerhouse, that meant reinventing a 120,000-square-foot decommissioned power plant.

Juliane Wolf, partner and design principal at Studio Gang, worked with Beloit President Scott Bierman and Beloit’s vision to transform the former power plant into a human-use building for students and the community. Beloit College worked with Alliant Energy to ensure the building was not torn down, which ended up being a huge benefit in the building’s carbon emission performance.

One of The Powerhouse’s most impressive sustainable resources is the nearby Rock River. “The building is cooled and heated with a river-source geothermal system. The Rock River helps power the electric heat pumps, which reduces our use of fossil fuels. We use this system to cool and heat the building, mostly through radiant panels and radiant floor slabs,” Dan Schooff, chief of staff at Beloit College, previously told gb&d. While the project’s LEED certification is still in process, Beloit staff and Studio Gang are conducting a post-occupancy evaluation to see if the sustainable features keep the building at their target goal—up-to 50% below code requirements.

11. Westwood Hills Nature Center, Louis Park, MN

leed examples in the us 01 HGA gbd magazine Westwood Nature Center

HGA designed the Westwood Hills Nature Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota to be zero energy. Photo by Pete Sieger

When team at HGA designed Westwood Hills Nature Center, they made sure every element of the project enhanced its sustainability. “The building is oriented in plan to take advantage of solar angles and prevailing winds; its roof form opens the building up to views and maximizes daylight to reduce energy use,” Glen Waguespack, senior project designer at HGA, told gb&d.

“From a systems standpoint, the biggest contributor to energy reduction is the geothermal wellfield, which uses the earth as a heat source for our radiant and forced air systems; heating loads are dominant in a cold climate like ours,” Waguespack said. Lighting controls and a building automation system help the facility operator manage the building systems as efficiently as possible.

The site design expands an existing prairie and creates an outdoor classroom space on the site of the old building. The building forms an experiential and informational threshold to the site. Targeting Zero Energy certification, HGA’s design provides a high-performance building envelope and energy use is offset by rooftop solar photovoltaic panel.

12. Montgomery Middle School, Chula Vista, CA

leed examples in the us montgomery-Middle-School-lpa-design-studio-gbd-magazine-01

Montgomery Middle School. Photo courtesy of LPA Design Studio

In 2013 LPA worked with Sweetwater Union High School District in California to develop a net zero design for a 37,500-square-foot addition for Montgomery Middle School. The expansive project earned LEED Platinum certification.

The school is built on an east-west axis to maximize daylighting, minimize heat gain and allow for natural ventilation. LPA was sure to include an innovative HVAC system installed in an outdoor mechanical yard. This feature freed up space for photovoltaic arrays, while a bioswale filters and releases storm water into the ground, so water damage will never again plague the school. These design strategies help offset 100% of the facility’s reduced energy use.

New schools like Montgomery Middle School can be catalysts for positive change in their communities and they will serve multiple generations while maintaining net-zero.