Tim Griffith

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading organization in sustainable building and natural resource conservation, has built a new LEED Platinum and net-positive-anticipated innovation center. ARCHITECT contributor David Hill profiles the two-story, 15,600-square-foot headquarters, which doesn't have any central heat or air conditioning, despite being located in the mountains of Aspen, Colo., where the average temperature in January is about four degrees.

According to RMI, it’s the most energy-efficient building located in North America’s coldest climate zone, and uses 74 percent less energy than similar office buildings in the zone. Remarkably, there’s only a small heating system—in the form of targeted electric floor mats, meant to be used only on the coldest days of the year, and whose collective output is equivalent to roughly 16 hairdryers—and no cooling system at all. A resin-based phase-changing gel in the walls keeps the building comfortable in the summer by absorbing the cold at night and releasing it during the day.

The Passive House Institute U.S. says that the building has one of the lowest air-leakage values in the country. The building also utilizes an 83-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof, which provides enough energy for the structure plus five electric vehicles.

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