In the workaday world, creative architects are limited by such prosaic matters as clients' tastes and budgets. But that hasn't stopped LEED-certified architect Graham Smith of the Lunny International Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, from thinking bigger. What, he wondered recently, would the ultimate sustainable house look like? Something striking enough to endure far into the future even as it incorporates sustainability's current best practices? Something ambitious, but not entirely utopian?

The 2,600-square-foot house, which Smith co-designed with computer graphics modeler Cyril Meusy, makes longevity, adaptability, and efficiency top priorities. Designed for a standard 33-foot-by-120-foot urban lot (Smith's own), its spine is a curved monolithic wall made of rammed earth excavated from the site—a north-facing barrier against the noisy street. The house's heat sources—stove, exterior barbecue, fireplace, and utility room heater—are all linked to this massive wall, and reversible fans mounted on the top and bottom of interior chambers allow the wall to store and distribute hot or cold air. Smith's design takes the proverbial indoor-outdoor connection to new heights with a wind tower that pulls in prevailing breezes. Its six microturbines are covered with a sleek screen—something the neighbors would surely appreciate.

The house resembles a submarine emerging from the landscape, and its green roof strengthens that perception, as though the plantings had simply risen with the building. Storm water soaks into the edible garden, while a small pool one level below collects the runoff and reflects light into the living room. “These measures have an impact on the infrastructure of cities,” Smith says. “As more and more buildings go up, larger systems are needed to handle water that runs off of impervious surfaces.”

Nothing about this design screams “green.” If anything, the alternative energy sources add an aesthetic zing. Smith made the solar panels part of the composition; mounted horizontally and vertically, their sparkling blue tiles accent the building's simple planes.