Earth Day—the first one, back in 1970—was a catalyst for Peter Pfeiffer, FAIA. Even as an impressionable high schooler, Pfeiffer had a taste for construction and an enthusiasm for environmental causes. That inaugural Earth-fest simply showed that his two interests could coexist.

But sustainable design wasn't a passing fancy for Pfeiffer, who has dedicated the past 29 years to developing and advancing building practices that follow green principles. As a college student he gravitated naturally to Arizona, where he spent a summer with Paolo Soleri. “He really turned a lightbulb on in me [and] made me realize that you can define architecture by its ability to work with its setting,” Pfeiffer says. His academic foundation in building science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was bolstered by graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. There he earned a master's degree in sustainable studies, working with a professor who wrote software to analyze energy use in buildings. “I found out that a single-pane window in the shade is more efficient than a double-pane window in the sun,” he says of the experience.

In 1987, Pfeiffer teamed up with partner Alan Barley, AIA, to launch Barley & Pfeiffer Architects in Austin, Texas. Since then, the firm has been preoccupied with creating “high-performance homes,” which Pfeiffer describes as comfortable, maybe even luxurious, energy-efficient homes that are healthier to live in and easier to maintain than conventional houses.

Pfeiffer's firm is a national trendsetter in the fields of energy and natural resource-conserving design, low-toxicity living environments, and green construction technology. Even though the architects load their houses with thermal-siphoning strategies, Formaldehyde-free damp-blown insulation, nontoxic termite treatments, rainwater-harvesting systems, and sustainably harvested woods, they still value—and deliver—good design. Says Pfeiffer: “It's the appropriate marriage of technology and aesthetics.”