All images copyright Andy Ryan –

Okay, so at first glance, Steven Holl’s new eco-friendly building seems a little austere. But let’s put it into context: “inspired by the black rocks and white snow of the Swiss Alps,” it seems just about right. Designed in partnership with the Swiss firm Russli Architects, this official residence for the Swiss Ambassador in D.C. will be open and ready for business on September 16th. So what is it about Holl’s design that unanimously set it apart from all of the other Swiss-American teams competing for the job?

Well for starters, it was NOT designed to the USGBC’s LEED standards:

Holl Swiss Residence2

Instead, the team designed the residence in accordance with the Swiss “Minergie Standards,” which we’re told surpass LEED certification requirements. The project incorporates passive solar energy on the south façade and a green roof, keeping energy consumption low.

The building’s concept is based on diagonal movement through the adjoined spaces, which overlap around a cruciform plan – providing a view through the building of the Washington Monument. And what about those black rocks and white snow? The materials provide a color and texture contrast against each other. Charcoal colored concrete against sandblasted, structural glass panels. White walls against black terrazzo and rich, dark stained bamboo floors.

Steven Holl Architects has built a deep repertoire of projects. One of the greener projects to be completed is the Whitney Water Purification Facility in Connecticut, which serves as a water treatment station and educational park. This facility incorporates several sustainable attributes including a ground water heat pump system, green roof, and bird sanctuary for migrating species. For more information on Steven Holl Architects, visit their website at

+ Swiss Residence by Steven Holl
+ Andy Ryan architectural photography