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USGBC 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition: Small, Green, Affordable

USGBC’s Natural Talent Design Competition provides applied learning experience in the principles of integrated design, sustainability, and innovation, all of which are components of the LEED® Green Building Rating System™. Participants compete in local competitions, and the top winner of each moves on to compete for a national award at USGBC’s annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo. Awards include green building scholarships, as well as travel and registration to Greenbuild, where finalists’ entries are displayed and final judging occurs.

The 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition focuses on a single design challenge for all entrants: to design a compact, affordable home for elderly occupants that will meet LEED for Homes Platinum certification requirements.

For the first time, the competition will be split into student and emerging professional categories, allowing entrants to be evaluated with their peers. The most exciting new feature of the competition is that the national winners will see their designs actually built in New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood. Located in the heart of the city, Broadmoor is characterized by low and middle-income residents living in shotgun and raised basement houses. The neighborhood flooded badly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was almost reverted to uninhabitable green space as a catch basin for floodwaters. Residents strongly objected this suggestion and have been rebuilding their neighborhood since 2006. The new facets of this year’s competition will help level the playing field for entrants, streamline the local judging process and bring displaced residents home to New Orleans.


The Salvation Army joins the U.S. Green Building Council this year in hosting USGBC‘s 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition. Entrants will design an affordable, 800 square foot green home for an elderly client in the Broadmoor, New Orleans neighborhood. Winners will be announced after the top four entries have been constructed, inhabited and evaluated.

Through its EnviRenew initiative, The Salvation Army is kicking off a large-scale residential green building campaign in five neighborhoods in New Orleans, facilitating the construction of 125 new homes and the renovation of 125 existing homes over the next three years through the provision of grant financing to homebuyers and homeowners. EnviRenew identifies sustainability as a critical component of comprehensive neighborhood recovery and engages green building issues within broader discussions regarding affordable housing, community capacity, neighborhood renewal and storm-resilience.

The Salvation Army and the U.S. Green Building Council recognize that financially vulnerable individuals, families, and neighborhoods are particularly in need of the benefits that sustainable design and green building practices bring. This partnership challenges entrants to design homes that demonstrate both short-term and long-term affordability, a high quality of life for their residents, and replicable strategies that contribute to our understanding of how to build affordably, efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment.


Entries are requested for the design of an affordable single-family home that meets the requirements of USGBC’s LEED for Homes Platinum-level certification and contains between 720 and 880 square feet of living space. The client for each home will be an elderly individual or couple in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans. The home must be designed with this client in mind, as well guests and future homebuyers. Four home designs will be chosen: two student designs and two emerging professional designs.

To arrive at these four homes, panels of judges in each USGBC Chapter will pick one student entry and one emerging professional entry for competition at the national level. A national panel of judges, including residents of the Broadmoor neighborhood and builders and designers from both New Orleans and elsewhere, will then choose four designs from the pool of local winners.

The four teams will be brought to New Orleans (max. 2 individuals per team) to finalize designs with the potential resident.

  • Student Category: Students must be currently enrolled in a full-time, accredited undergraduate or graduate program in the following fields relating to residential design and building: (i) architecture, (iii) architectural drafting (ii) landscape architecture, (iii) building design, (iv) interior design, (v) urban planning, (vi) construction, (vii) construction management, (viii) engineering, (ix) affordable housing, (x) disability/elderly services, (xi) business (BBA/MBA), (xii) economics, or (xiii) marketing/ communications. Students must be 18 years of age or older at the time of entry. Those whole qualify in this capacity may only compete in the Student category and Students teams may only be made up of Students.
  • Emerging Professional Category: Emerging Professionals must be no more than 5 years out of most recent schooling and be employed in one of the following fields relating to residential design and building: (i) architecture, (ii) landscape architecture, (iii) building design, (iv) interior design, (v) urban planning, (vi) construction, (vii) construction management, (viii) engineering, (ix) affordable housing, (x) housing policy, (xi) disability/elderly services, (xii) real estate development, or (xiii) marketing/communications. Emerging Professionals must be 18 years of age or older at the time of entry. Those whole qualify in this capacity may only compete in the Emerging Professionals category and Emerging Professionals teams may only be made up of Emerging Professionals.


Four designs will be selected: two student and two emerging professional entries. Selected designers will travel to New Orleans to develop their designs in collaboration with builders and residents.


  • Floor area within the building envelope must be between 720 and 880 square feet. Exterior elements are restricted only by cost and zoning requirements.
  • The house must demonstrate the ability to achieve Platinum certification in USGBC’s LEED for Homes Rating System.
  • Total costs, including materials and labor, must not exceed $100,000 Land value is excluded from this price point. Please use the cost estimation template provided for typical materials and labor costs in New Orleans.
  • Designs should carefully consider the context of the Broadmoor neighborhood, which consists of the historic, narrow lot, one- and two-family homes that are typical of New Orleans. (see neighborhood information in Appendix A).
  • The house should be designed for a typical middle-block, 30’ x 100’ lot oriented north-south (see general site information in Appendix B).
  • Finish-floor elevation should be no lower than 7 ft. above grade. Designs should carefully consider the relationship of the house to the street and neighbors, given the height requirement.
  • Designs should incorporate strategies for hurricane resistance and resilience, including 150 mph wind rating and window protection.
  • Designs should strongly consider how the lot’s landscape will interact with the built structure and provide site plans showing integration between these elements. Landscape does not need to be considered within the $100,000 price point.
  • The Principles of Universal Design or a similarly inclusive set of principles must be used, with particular emphasis on features that will be appropriate to elders. Consultation with individuals in elder care and design are encouraged.
  • Designs must be ADA compliant.
  • Entries must include proposed methods for educating occupants about energy and water usage.

How to enter?

Entrants must complete the electronic entry form in accordance with the official rules.

Entry fee

Registration rates are $25 per student team and $50 per emerging professional team, but will increase to $50 and $75, respectively, after 1 March 2010.