The Innovation Center in Basalt, Colo., might be a small building, but it has a big story to tell. Located near the tony resort town of Aspen, the 15,610-square-foot two-story structure opened in December 2015 as the headquarters for the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the sustainable-energy nonprofit research group founded by Amory Lovins. Since the early 1980s, Lovins has been championing the virtues and economic benefits of passive-solar design and super-insulation; more recently, RMI helped spearhead a â€śdeep retrofitâ€ť of the Empire State Building. So itâ€™s only fitting that the institute, working with Portland, Ore.â€“based ZGF Architects, designed the Innovation Center to be the highest-performing building in one of North Americaâ€™s coldest climate zones.
Remarkably, the project, located 6,600 feet above sea level, has no central heating or air conditioning. In winter, when nighttime temperatures regularly dip into the single digits, the building, clad in Colorado sandstone, zinc panels, and untreated juniper wood, stays warm inside largely because of its super-insulated envelope and passive solar features. In the summer, exterior venetian blinds cover the south-facing windows, controlling solar gain; at night, windows automatically open to draw in cooler air. A rooftop solar photovoltaic system generates enough electricity to meet the buildingâ€™s energy needsâ€”plus enough to charge four electric vehicles.