Every year we look forward to the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment’s (AIA/COTE) top picks for the best green building projects of the year. This year’s selections are a showcase of sustainable design approaches that balance functional aesthetics with environmental consciousness. Each winning design has been evaluated under a comprehensive list of measures from community connectivity, to energy efficiency, to longevity of purpose. Those that have risen to the top of the AIA/COTE list for 2008 are examples of successful programs that, through extensive collaboration, have achieved low-impact structures that fuse architectural excellence with environmental stewardship.

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The Cesar Chavez Library, from Line and Space (above), was recognized for its design innovations that deal with the unique desert climate of Laveen, Arizona. Met with the dual challenge to prioritize water and energy conservation, this design uses elements like extensive overhangs, roof-top rainwater collection and earth berm construction to lower the building’s energy load. The building provides naturally lit spaces for a 25,200 sq. foot library that greets 6,400 visitors per week.

Another project in this year’s top ten is one that we’ve featured here on Inhabitat, the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Wisconsin designed by Kubala-Washatko Architects. This design was in the spotlight as the first LEED Platinum, carbon neutral building and was also recognized with an accolade from the Forest Stewardship Council for using sustainably-harvested timber throughout the structure – 78% of the wood used was FSC-certified and 92% of those materials were locally processed and harvested on site.

The Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle, Washington, won kudos this year for their Discovery Center at South Lake Union. A modular pavilion, the center “was designed to be demountable and transportable for future disassembly and reassembly at multiple future locations.” The prefabricated building sits above the site on concrete piers, which helped decrease site disturbance during construction.

Inhabitat favorite KieranTimberlake was among this year’s winners with their design for the Yale Sculpture Building and Gallery. Other projects honored by AIA/COTE this year include the Garthwaite Center for Science and Arts, Cambridge School of Weston (Architerra, Inc.), Lavin-Bernick Center (VJAA), Macallen Building Condominiums (Burt Hill with Office dA), Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex, Pocono Environmental Education Center (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson) and Queens Botanical Garden Visitor & Administration Center (BKSK Architects).

In-depth information on each of the winning designs from this year’s AIA/COTE picks can be found at the AIA website, with descriptions of each project’s approach to the complex set of metrics used in selection. The AIA has also set up the website with the full project scope of each winning design from program, to finance, to lessons learned in the green building process.