In a celebration of purpose-driven architecture, HMC Architects’ “Resilient Roots,” has been honored with a prestigious Merit award at The American Institute of Architects (AIA) California 2023 Architecture at Zero competition. The Architecture at Zero competition engages architects, designers, engineers, and planners in the pursuit of sustainable design and celebrates decarbonization and equity. Out of 192 submittals, HMC won one of three professional awards.   

This year, teams were challenged to design an agriculture center for Allensworth, California — California’s first Black town — that not only honors the town’s history but emerges as a destination for sustainable agriculture and Black history.  HMC’s design team enthusiastically embraced the challenge, seeing it as a perfect embodiment of the firm’s “design for good” mission, a mission deeply ingrained in uplifting communities and driving positive change. The competition — HMC’s second ever in architectural design — allowed them to demonstrate the transformative power of architecture in addressing pressing societal issues.  

The town of Allensworth had endured unyielding adversity with resources relentlessly being eroded over time. Stripped of its local train stops, grocery stores, and water rights, the once-thriving landscape had turned into a forgotten, barren land, plagued by arsenic contamination. Despite these challenges, the team saw an incredible opportunity to use design as a healing force to remedy the town’s struggles.  

The result is a captivating hub that rekindles the town’s historic spirit of unity and prosperity, allowing resilient roots to grow deeper than ever.  It employs passive technologies before integrating renewable energy. The building features a standardized low-carbon wood frame grid for easy construction and flexibility to accommodate community events and farmer training while honoring Allensworth’s heritage. At the center is a greenhouse fueled by carbon dioxide-rich air, supplying fresh produce to the community while converting CO2 into oxygen. Humid air is recycled on site for plant watering and cooling. Elevated walkways promote community health through walking and biking, and rammed earth walls define communal spaces, providing thermal comfort, wind protection, and privacy. Native plants filter air pollutants and stabilize the soil. Overall, the Resilient Roots hub symbolizes community strength and rejuvenation. It embraces sustainable practices, empowers farmers, promotes wellness, and respects the town’s identity. This integrated system embodies equity strategies that foster a sense of nurturing and belonging and sets the stage for a thriving future for all of Allensworth. Resilient Roots addresses the town’s historical lack of facilities and aims to bring the community opportunities to grow and flourish. 

The prospect of revitalizing lives and rebuilding hope through design was an exhilarating challenge for the design team. “Resilient Roots” had become more than a project; it is an embodiment of HMC’s commitment to design for good and mission to make the world a better place, one transformative structure at a time. 

Architecture at Zero is presented by Southern California Edison (SCE); San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E); Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E); Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and The American Institute of Architects California (AIA California). To learn more, and see the full list of winners, visit