One of our favorite projects mentioned in the AIA/COTE 2007 list of Top Ten Green Projects was perennial Inhabitat favorite Stephen Holl’s Whitney Water Treatment Plant located in New Haven, CT. This project is fantastic in many ways, but the real beauty of it lies in the fact that the 30,000 square feet water treatment facility is sitting under the largest green roof in the state of Connecticut.

The long stainless steel building shown on the images house the extensive operational facilities required for the plant as well as an exhibition lobby, laboratories, a lecture hall, and conference spaces which are used for the multiple education programs that run on the facility. The roof garden design, the largest in Connecticut, expanded the existing wetland area where the site was located.

The shape of the building serves multiple functions. Architecturally the building has been cladded in thin steel shingles. The shingles, due to the shape in which they have been warped, absorb and reflect the heat of the sun preventing the exposed facility from gaining too much heat. Furthermore, the inverse-raindrop shape of the building, as well as reminding us of, well, rain droplets, also helps in reducing the area exposed to the sun reducing the heat gain even further.

The thin profile for the building allows all regularly occupied areas to have easy access to daylight. Furthermore, domed skylights in the green roofs allow daylight to enter the water treatment plant. These domed skylights serve a secondary function, which is that of allowing the visitors to the public parklands to see the water treatment process occurring within in the facility. On the materials side, the stainless steel shingles of the facade are recyclable and reusable. The building also features recycled terrazzo tiles, cork tile flooring, low VOC paints and sealants.

And of course, the most important feature of this facility lies in the way that it handles water for the project as well as how it interprets the processes of the water treatment in the facility below. The project is divided into six areas analogous to what is happening below the surface in the treatment plant. Those domed skylights mentioned above? They sit right above the ozonation bubbling area of the plant. On an area where there is rapid mixing and high turbulence, little streams move along the grass above. Furthermore the facility’s landscape manages the storm water drainage system for the facility, preventing storm water runoff as much as possible.

The integration of education, architecture, and landscaping in the project for a facility, which in most cases, would be hidden, or worse, badly designed, is what makes this one of the top ten green projects of 2007, and one worthy of the attention that it is getting.

+American Institute of Architects
+Stephen Holl Architects
+Regional Water Authority


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  1. Ixat May 22, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    OMG!! I live in New Haven, and I had no idea!

  2. Richie May 4, 2007 at 8:38 am

    Cool design. No handrail on external staircase seems like a poblem, and code violation, however. An examination of the Steven Holl images page ( , click on ‘watercolor’)
    shows that there’s a semingly very green approach being used to treat this water. Does this facility also then add Chlorine, Alum and other chemicals as well ? This project seems to build on the pioneering work of Dr. John Todd and his ‘living machines’ water treatment systems ( ). Is this an accurate observation ?

  3. Hun Boon May 4, 2007 at 2:06 am

    I took a look at the other 9 winners, and this has the most organic and natural looking shape.

    “Inverse raindrop”? Looks more like “lightbulb” or “keyhole” shape to me. 😉

  4. Henry Julier May 3, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    This is right across the dam from my house. The neighborhood had no clue what was being built there… I didn’t even know untill I happened upon the project in an exhibit. It’s a really nice space and has several paths and benches for dog walkers and other people like that.

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