Sierra self-sufficiency

Special Award: Earth-friendly materials

The torn-paper profile of the Sierra Nevada makes a rugged backdrop for this angular, contemporary home that employs alternative construction techniques and solar technologies.

Why it won: Thick walls of rammed earth use straw bales as low-cost insulation. Salvaged lumber was turned into beams, flooring, and interior siding (some stained a vivid blue). Kitchen counters incorporate recycled glass. Solar-heated water circulates in a radiant-heat floor that is further warmed by winter sun. In summer, the roof overhang shades windows, while thick, highly insulated walls keep it from overheating. Photovoltaic panels on the roof and on a trellis make the house largely independent from the utility power grid.

Design: Arkin Tilt Architects, Berkeley (510/528-9830)