Awards, publications, presentations, certifications, and construction news at the architecture firm COULSON.




An essay by Carly Coulson published by AIA ARCHITECT.

Imagine it is -40°F outside. From a place of perfect thermal comfort, a magical blizzard dances around you – like being in a snow globe.  You feel a seamless connection to your natural surroundings…yet no active heating is being used. In fact, this near-zero energy building has no high-tech gadgetry or renewable energy systems. The focus is purely on the poetic sense-of-place that the architecture and landscape create…it is INVISIBLE SUSTAINABILITY.

From the extreme cold climate of northern Minnesota, our architecture and research firm COULSON has been refining this approach since 2008, meeting the highest levels of sustainability using simple, invisible methods, without impacting the aesthetic creativity and elegant simplicity we strive for. Our journey began with the groundbreaking design of the University of Minnesota Bagley Classroom, a LEED Platinum and AIA COTE Top Ten Green Building, and we have gradually advanced to achieve greater design freedom, transparency, cost control, and minimalist details in our recent projects.

With a conservation-first, keep-it-simple approach, we focus on the building envelope and elimination of heating and cooling loads. This alone can achieve a 70% to 80% primary energy reduction without renewable energy systems. The essential tool is advanced energy modeling. We incorporate it into our daily design process at all project phases. Taking both a rigorous and an experimental approach, we respect the details and fundamentals, but allow time to explore…”what would happen if we tried this?”

We’ve found that question is more affordable and fluid when we’re doing energy modeling in-house, and it provides us a joy in creative discovery – from it we’re writing a new language for green building.



December 2017




Please check out this powerful issue of ARCHITECT Magazine. It is devastating in its blunt facts and inspiring in its audacity – with a bold call to action for sweeping change in architecture.  It’s a gorgeous work led by Editor-in-Chief Ned Cramer, both compelling and scientific, with a rich visual and written narrative that makes a passionate plea to our profession.

COULSON is very honored to be featured in this issue, sharing our experience in meeting rigorous energy targets and using the tools of sustainability to write an exciting new language for architecture. 

“Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time.  Not style, not fees, not education, not community, not health, not justice.  All other concerns, many of them profoundly important, are nonetheless ancillary.  The threat climate change poses is existential, and buildings are hugely complicit – even more so than that stock culprit, the automobile.  As every architect should know, buildings consume some 40 percent of the energy in the U.S. annually, and they emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide (CO2), through greenfield development, cement production, and the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal.  Because CO2 traps solar energy in the atmosphere, thereby heating the planet, it is the chief agent of climate change, making buildings – and by association, the architecture profession – profoundly responsible” writes Cramer.


October 2017





We are so excited about this beautiful publication of Disappear Retreat in DESIGN DETAIL Magazine September 2017 issue.

Disappear Retreat insinuates into the landscape with a jewel-like form and mirrored glass that takes on the identity of the site in its reflections (transparent ultraviolet color prevents animal collision). A mosaic pattern of thin-film PV integrated into the south glass wall generates all the energy needs from the sun and camouflages the building into the surroundings like a spotted forest animal. The universe, stars, and northern lights press close through a frameless glass roof.

The innovative design by COULSON strives for a paradigm shift where low-tech, low-cost, sustainable building is attainable now without sacrificing aesthetics, comfort, or transparency. The building meets PASSIVE HOUSE and LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE, the most rigorous targets in the world.

COULSON is dedicated to the highest level of sustainability. This passion for the environment is not only technical, but extends to the experience of nature, which is an essential element in our design work and life. We want to merge architecture with the natural world to live seamlessly and lightly with its mysterious beauty. Disappear Retreat embodies this ethos and we are honored to be featured in this DESIGN DETAIL issue focusing on innovative international buildings that redefine the live/work/play balance.


September 2017




89%  –  that’s our overall portfolio-average energy savings (pEUI) for all the projects at COULSON since we started.

We are so pleased to be honored as 1 of only 6 AIA Signatory Firms in the U.S. exceeding the 2030 Challenge for our portfolio.

We do rigorous energy modeling– seamlessly integrated into our design process for every building.  As a Signatory Firm we report the results of our portfolio every year.  Our portfolio-average for 2016 was 100% pEUI. This high performance is invisible, without impact on the poetry of place and the design excellence we strive for.  It is accomplished with simple low-tech components and passive strategies with innovation in advanced building analysis and integrated design. 

The AIA 2030 Commitment is a national framework for tracking progress and helping architects meet the 2030 Challenge calling for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and by 2015 achieve a 70% reduction in energy use.

In July the AIA released “By the Numbers” a summary report for 2016.  Of the 400 Signatory Firms, only 6 in the U.S. are meeting or exceeding the 70% target. The AIA reports a 42% average savings for all Signatory Firms and “though the 42% pEUI savings doesn’t reach the current overall target of 70% or more, we continue to see that these targets are reachable, as demonstrated by the six firms that achieved portfolio-average pEUI savings of 70% or greater…”


July 24 2017




Carly Coulson, AIA, LEED AP, was interviewed by the amazing designer Angelina Rennell.  It is a privilage to be included among the inspiring artists, curators, and designers she profiles at BEKLINA where she connects unique perspectives for those of similar passions for beautiful and thoughtful design.


June 17 2017  




COULSON is honored to be included in AIA Minnesota "The Guide To GOOD DESIGN 2017" featuring our project Disappear Retreat in MIDWEST HOME Magazine June/July 2017 issue.

Disappear Retreat dissolves the living footprint to zero energy, zero waste, zero water with all essentials integrated into this prefab, off-grid dwelling providing a minimalist lifestyle in resources, cost, and aesthetics.  The design is light, transparent, and seamlessly connected to the surroundings, insinuated into the landscape.  The innovative project meets 2030, PASSIVE HOUSE, and LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE and requires no mechanical heating or cooling for cold climates from Chicago to Calgary.


May 25 2017 




COULSON is honored to receive two 2016 Green GOOD DESIGN™ awards from The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and The Chicago Athenaeum for –  MH House and Pays d'en Haut.

Along with The City of Paris and international corporations like BMW and TOTO  –  120 projects from over 22 nations were selected by an international jury as the world's most important examples of sustainablity in products, programs, people, environmental planning, and architecture for 2016.  

The GOOD DESIGN™ program was founded in Chicago in 1950 by Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Edgar Kaufmann Jr. to recognize design excellence and introduce modern design to the public with passion, innovation, and revolutionary zeal.  

Now in 2016 Green GOOD DESIGN™ attempts to blaze a new direction in design history, impacting consumer habits, restructuring manufacturing, influencing the design of cities, and raising a consciousness about our limited global resouces. The program honors those that have forwarded exceptional thinking and inspired greater progress towards a healthier and more sustainable universe with new approaches led by visionary architects, designers, planners, corporations, governments, and institutions.

MH House is a suite of near-zero energy, modern glass pavilions for living and working with a primary energy reduction of 90% and a peak heating load of just 2000 watts in the extreme climate of Duluth, MN. It is designed for LEED Platinum and Passive House certifications. The Pays d'en Haut renovation creates a fluid and open connection with the natural world on the shore of Lake Superior while working within the constraints of an existing building to achieve an 82% reduction in primary energy demand without any renewable energy and a 4300 peak heating load, meeting the Passive House Institute's EnerPHit requirements.

MH House and Pays d'en Haut are featured in the Green GOOD DESIGN™ exhibit "Design A Better World Now" organized by The European Centre for Architecture Art Design at Contemporary Space Athens in Greece.


April 15 2016


MH House_Carly Coulson Architect_Exterior Rendering Winter


MH House, designed by COULSON, is the winner of a 2015 RADA Award.  The project has been recognized with an Honorable Mention in the On The Boards category.

The RADA Residential Architect Design Awards honor outstanding work in advancing residential design.

MH House is an innovative, near-zero energy, suite of glass pavilions in Duluth, Minnesota.  The design re-imagines a new, highly-flexible, office and residential building type and is designed for LEED Platinum and Passive House certifications.

From the Jury:

"The entire project is systematized, and it's designed to meet Passive House standards without looking like a Passive House."


May 4 2015  


Carly Coulson Architect_Milan Expo 2015


Carly Coulson, AIA LEED AP, will be a keynote speaker at the Perspective 2015 Architectural Forum at MiCo-Milan in Italy sponsored by THE PLAN Magazine and EXPO MILAN 2015.

Carly was selected as an emerging international architect to present her design work and philosophy at the forum.  She will also give detailed presentations of MH House and Pays d'en Haut to an international jury who will select the overall winners of THE PLAN AWARD 2015.


April 28 2015 


Pays d'en Haut_Carly Coulson Architect_Bruce Damonte Photographer_Kitchen Entry


Pays d'en Haut has been selected as a finalist for THE PLAN AWARD 2015.  The project was honored by the editorial committee of THE PLAN Magazine in the Renovation category.

Pays d'en Haut is a transformative renovation, creating a fluid and open living connection with an extreme climate and beautiful landscape, working within the constraints of an existing structure, and achievingenergy freedom.

THE PLAN - Architecture & Technologies in DETAIL is an acclaimed international architecture publication in Italy.


April 17 2015    


MH House_Carly Coulson Architect_Rendering Third Floor Interior


MH House has been honored as a finalist for THE PLAN AWARD 2015.  It was selected by the editorial committee of THE PLAN Magazine in the Future Projects - House category.

MH House is an innovative, near-zero energy, suite of glass pavilions in Duluth, Minnesota.  The design re-imagines a new, highly-flexible, office and residential building type and is designed for LEED Platinum and Passive House certifications.

THE PLAN - Architecture & Technologies in DETAIL is an acclaimed international architecture publication in Italy.


April 17 2015