The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Design has just completed HouseZero, an energy-positive living lab for sustainable architecture. Designed by renowned architecture firm Snøhetta, along with Skanska Teknikk Norway, the groundbreaking building aims to produce more energy over its lifetime than it consumes. Hundreds of sensors are embedded inside of HouseZero to continually monitor energy performance and advance data-driven research to help produce more energy-efficient and sustainable architecture.


Billed as “an energy-positive prototype for ultra-efficiency,” the HouseZero living lab is set in a retrofitted pre-1940s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The renovated structure aims to meet near zero-energy targets for heating and cooling, use zero electric lighting during the day, produce zero carbon emissions and operate with 100 percent natural ventilation. The working prototype will serve as a research tool for understanding energy inefficiencies in existing buildings as a means to curb the current and future building stock’s impact on climate change while simultaneously helping property owners save on energy costs.

“HouseZero’s flexible, data-driven infrastructure will allow us to further research that demystifies building behavior, and design the next generation of ultra-efficient structures,” said Ali Malkawi, founding director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities and the creator and leader of the HouseZero project. “By creating both a prototype and an infrastructure for long-term research, we hope to raise interest in ultra-efficient retrofits and inspire substantial shifts in the design and operation of buildings.”

Related: Snøhetta designs an energy-positive data center to fight climate change

A combination of low-tech and cutting-edge technologies is used in HouseZero to meet the ambitious energy targets. In addition to passive design strategies and operable windows, for instance, the building is equipped with a window actuation system that uses sensors and a computer system to automatically open and close windows. Using data collected over time, the building will “adjust itself constantly” throughout the seasons to create a healthy and thermally optimized environment year-round.

+ HouseZero

Photographer Credit: Michael Grimm