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Architect picks for 10 best homes of the year

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy of the AIA

The most architecturally impressive buildings of the year, at least according to architects, do more than just look nice. They actually make life better for the people living in and around them.

One student housing building in Boston, dubbed "a beacon" by an architect admiring it, has a stage in the center that's visible from the street. A home in Washington state is made of four separate buildings, facing unique landscaping on the property, that embrace the seasonal changes of the area surrounding them. A working family farm home in Tennessee, named after the family's truck, embraced both the old and new to create a harmonious home for a family that loved its land.

"Architecture has changed in the past year by not following any one particular trend, but by responding to the local conditions and working within that framework," said Jon Dick of Archaeo Architects in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dick was also a juror on the American Institute of Architects' 2015 Housing Awards panel, which annually recognizes 10 of the year's best buildings. All the winners, the theater and homes among them, are surprisingly personal to residents and aim to improve on the existing environment. All were inspired by the family histories, cultures and diverse life experiences of the people who live in them, and many of the architects go the extra mile to accommodate the landscapes and ecosystems of the land on which they're built.

"The projects selected this year were very different," said Kathy Dixon of K. Dixon Architecture in Marlboro, Maryland, also a juror. "The similarities are less in their physical design and more in the design thinking that led to final results. There were conscious efforts to provide more community and sustainability in these design solutions and they were successfully executed."

Here are 10 of the best homes of 2015, according to the nation's top architects.

Bridge House

Photo by David Sundberg/ESTO, courtesy of the AIA

Joeb Moore and Partners
2015 AIA Award Winner: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences

Bridge House is located in South Kent, Connecticut, on the Housatonic River near Kent Falls State Park. It was commissioned by a retired couple who wanted a home where they could connect with nature. This property delivers with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wooden bridge-like structure that's incorporated seamlessly into the sloped landscape and creates a physical connection between the home and the land.

Bridge House

Photo by David Sundberg/ESTO, courtesy of the AIA

"You would never see this house anywhere else," said Jody McGuire of SALA Architects in Minneapolis, also a Housing Awards juror. She said this home stood out to her most among this year's winners. "It is completely site-specific."

Marlboro Music: Five Cottages

Photo by Paul Crosby Photography, courtesy of the AIA

HGA Architects and Engineers
2015 AIA Award Winner: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences

Marlboro Music, a seven-week summer music festival in Marlboro, Vermont, provides opportunities for young and master classical musicians to collaborate in the Green Mountains on the Marlboro College campus. Five small New England Cape Cod-inspired cottages, with communal kitchens and living areas, were designed for festivalgoers to live in while working on their music. At the end of Marlboro Music, the cottages are rented to college faculty members returning to the school after summer break.

Marlboro Music: Five Cottages

Photo by Paul Crosby Photography, courtesy of the AIA

These small homes do a good job of responding to local history, according to Dick, while maintaining a contemporary look and feel.

Old Briar

Photo by Jeffrey Jacobs, courtesy of the AIA

Applied Research
2015 AIA Award Winner: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences

Old Briar, located in Halls, Tennessee, was named after a family pickup truck, and it represents the owners' return to their Lauderdale County homeland. Dennis and Martha O'Dell wanted a house where they could gather their children and grandchildren, and the AIA jurors said the modest, modern-yet-rustic home on a working farm "seems like it was a labor of love."

Old Briar

Photo by Jeffrey Jacobs, courtesy of the AIA

The property stood out most to Steve Schreiber, who chairs the Department of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst,and was the jury chair. He said it was a particularly good example of a building that's partially new and partially renovated, and he noted that the project was inspired by architectural research being done in universities.

Studhorse

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy of the AIA

Olson Kundig Architects
2015 AIA Award Winner: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences

Studhorse, located in the Methow Valley region of Winthrop, Washington, is inspired by the homeowners' interest in experiencing the transitions between all four seasons. The property is designed with four separate structures and a courtyard in the center. Each structure serves a different purpose. The first contains public areas like the kitchen and family room. The second contains private areas like the bedrooms and the den. The third is home to the guest rooms. And the fourth includes a sauna for relaxation.

Studhorse

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy of the AIA

With its use of modest materials like concrete and integration with nature, this project stood out most to Dixon. She said the collection of structures worked together to create a home that successfully complements its environment.

The North Parker

Photo by Matthew Segal, courtesy of the AIA

Jonathan Segal
2015 AIA Award Winner: Multifamily Housing

The North Parker is an affordable housing project at the corner of 30th and Upas Streets in San Diego. Owned by the architect who designed it, Jonathan Segal, the building seeks to promote community interaction by featuring outdoor gathering and commercial spaces that are easily accessible to nonresidents. The property also features 27 individual residential units, two restaurants, a bar, an architectural office, raised patios, multiple entrances and gardens.

The North Parker

Photo by Matthew Segal, courtesy of the AIA

This year's AIA jurors appreciated the project's sophisticated take on a 1950s' modernist aesthetic, relationship to its community and its "vital mix of uses."

Bayview Hill Gardens

Photo by Bruce Damonte, courtesy of the AIA

David Baker Architects
2015 AIA Award Winner: Multifamily Housing

Bayview Hill Gardens is an affordable and sustainable housing project located in Hunter's Point on San Francisco's far southeast side. The building was built in place of what the company calls a "derelict motel," that was a hotbed for crime in the area. Bayview Hill Gardens is dedicated to housing families who were formerly homeless, and it features 73 units, support programs for adults and children (including vocational services, after-school care and field trips), a central courtyard with an edible garden, a residents' lounge and an African-inspired design theme.

Bayview Hill Gardens

Photo by Matt Edge, courtesy of the AIA

"The firm succeeded in providing a high level of design for a population that doesn't typically get to experience it," Dixon said. "The residents are a population that needs encouragement, support, respect and dignity, and I believe this residence provides those things to them."

Broadway Affordable Housing

Iwan Baan

Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of the AIA

Kevin Daily Architects
2015 AIA Award Winner: Multifamily Housing

Economic and environmental sustainability joins sustainable, affordable housing in the Broadway Affordable Housing project in Santa Monica, California. Its 33 units are rented for between $560 and $1,300 per month to families earning between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area's median household income, which is $79,793, according to Realtor.com. The property features two community rooms run by the Boys and Girls Club, a computer room, laundry area and a garden with fruit trees.

Broadway Affordable Housing

Iwan Baan

Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of the AIA

McGuire said a "delightful effort" was put into the common spaces, and Dick highlighted its bold LA sensibility, "particularly how it addresses the street," he wrote. "There are references to an earlier era that are accomplished in a sophisticated, yet very fun manner."

160 Massachusetts Avenue Tower

Photo by Bruce T. Martin, courtesy of the AIA

William Rawn Associates
2015 AIA Award Winner: Specialized Housing

The 16-story 160 Massachusetts Avenue Tower in Boston is a new residence hall for students at the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. Architects called the bright and vibrant building "a beacon in an urban context," thanks in part to an impressive 40-foot-tall performance space at its center, with a stage that's visible from the street through the building's many floor-to-ceiling windows. During the day, the room also functions as a dining hall.

160 Massachusetts Avenue Tower

Photo by Bruce T. Martin, courtesy of the AIA

"This project really contributes to the streetscape by an enlivened base, made up largely of glass walls that blur the distinction of inside and out," Dick wrote. "It will surely become an important activity node for the neighborhood."

John C. Anderson Apartments

Jeffrey Totaro

Photo by Jeffrey Totaro, courtesy of the AIA

Wallace Roberts and Todd, with support from the nonprofit DMH Fund
2015 AIA Award Winner: Specialized Housing

John C. Anderson Apartments, an affordable housing development for seniors featuring 56 units, is located in the Washington Square West neighborhood of Philadelphia. It's a rapidly gentrifying area with rising real estate prices that have pushed older residents out of their homes. Predominantly a "Gayborhood" and the center of the city's LGBT community, according to the AIA, local LGBT advocates have responded with financial support and design input for this project that has provided some older community members with "LGBT-friendly" places to live.

John C. Anderson Apartments

Jeffrey Totaro

Photo by Jeffrey Totaro, courtesy of the AIA

"This facility is a role model for what is becoming a new demographic housing market focus," Dixon said. "The building itself blends wonderfully into the existing traditional urban fabric with its materials and color selections, yet it has a certain avant garde modernism to it."

La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing

Photo by Anice Hoachlander/Hoachlander Davis Photography, courtesy of the AIA

Collaboration between Studio 27 Architecture and Leo Daly
2015 AIA Award Winner: Specialized Housing

La Casa, a housing facility for people who have chronically experienced homelessness, is a 40-unit building is located in Washington, D.C. It was created for the Department of Human Services, and is owned by the city. La Casa is the first permanent, supportive housing of its kind in the area, offering real homes instead of nightly shelters and providing services like substance abuse counseling and job placement to its residents.

La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing

Photo by Anice Hoachlander/Hoachlander Davis Photography, courtesy of the AIA

"La Casa is an exceptionally strong project that marries the best of modernism, while creating a strong sense of urban fabric," Schreiber said. The other architects also pointed to the building's ability to provide privacy, safety and support while still feeling like part of the broader community.

Ilyce Glink
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Ilyce R. Glink is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated columnist, best-selling book author and founder of Best Money Moves, an employee benefit program that helps reduce financial stress. She also owns ThinkGlink.com, where readers can find real estate and personal finance resources.

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