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Harvard HouseZero

Harvard HouseZero

The Harvard Center for Green Buildings (CGBC) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in collaboration with Snøhetta and Skanska Technology, are retrofitting CGBC’s headquarters in a pre-1940s timber-framed building to become one of the world’s most ambitious sustainable buildings. As a first-of-its-kind research project, HouseZero demonstrates how to transform a challenging building stock into a prototype for ultra-efficiency, rapidly reducing the level of reliance on energy-intensive technology while simultaneously creating comfortable indoor environments. 

HouseZero attempts to address the global environmental challenge of climate change by focusing on existing buildings, which account for energy inefficiency and carbon emissions on a vast scale worldwide. Through intelligent design that generates inspiring work spaces and a comfortable indoor climate, HouseZero achieves groundbreaking reductions in energy use and carbon footprint. 

To realize this ambition, the design of HouseZero is driven by highly ambitious performance targets, including 100% natural ventilation, 100% daylight autonomy, almost zero energy required for heating and cooling, and zero carbon emissions, including embodied energy in materials. Once completed, the building will produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate and operate it. This measure considers the building’s total life-cycle, including the embodied energy for construction materials, building operations and equipment plug-loads over a 60-year lifespan.  


Architecture, Landscape, Education, Work Spaces, Renovation & Expansion, Sustainability, Social & Meeting Spaces





Cambridge, Massachusetts 


Research project, renovation 


4 600 sqf / 427 m2


The Harvard Center for Green Buildings & Cities (CGBC)


Skanska Technology

The research and design process for HouseZero demanded extensive analysis and dynamic simulation as a prelude to the first workshop. A combination of intelligent, highly-specific architectural design approaches, including innovation at the product-level, aid targets. The design solutions account for both energy usage and embodied energy attributed to materials, operations, and plug-loads over the total lifespan of the building. This approach informs the design from the outset rather than requiring compensatory measures later.

In combination with an open and interdisciplinary creative process, ensuring a holistic and universal concept for the design, HouseZero is based on the following design strategies: