The Architecture at Zero design competition, now in its fifth year, honored a Seattle-based design studio Mithun for their Zero Net Energy Campus proposal for San Francisco called ESTUARY. The competition called for designing a hypothetical ZNE building for the University of California that responds to the zero-net energy targets set out by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) in 2008.


Mithun, Architecture at Zero competition, zero net energy, energy efficient building, San Francisco, green campus, green architecture, residential towers, natural cooling, daylighting

The Estuary is an energy-efficient student housing design for the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus. It comprises three residential structures enveloping a central terraced courtyard that connects residents as well as energy and water systems below. Around 750 students can be accommodated in a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, complemented by amenities such as an outdoor café, childcare center, living machine, rooftop agriculture, and a shared central courtyard.

Related: HOK’s Net Zero “Battery Park” for San Francisco Has an Algae Facade

The residential towers are arranged to offset individual unit views and optimize daylight harvesting and natural cooling. The competition jury noted the project’s synergetic approach in combining engineering and architecture to achieve performance goals. The design was developed by Mithun’s multidisciplinary team in Seattle and San Francisco, in collaboration with engineers at PAE.

“Our design exploration and the resulting concept underscore the absolute importance of human behavior to the achievement of zero net energy performance,” said Brendan Connolly AIA, Design Partner at Mithun and member of the ESTUARY design team. “In addition to high performance building and system strategies, the design of ESTUARY celebrates human actions that drive down energy demand. Human action is an integral part of the fabric of the architecture, and this visibility further encourages stewardship, social engagement and a community-wide commitment to a zero net energy balance.”

+ Mithun

+ Architecture at Zero National Competition