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Heifer International's headquarters received the American Institute of Architects' highest honor Monday for its ecologically minded design as the organization prepares to break ground for an expansion.

The half-moon-shaped building along the Arkansas River won the institute's honor award, given only to 13 projects around the world this year. Meanwhile, the institute gave two honor awards in regional and urban design to the University of Arkansas for two different projects.

The glass and steel, $17.5 million Heifer building joins its neighbor, the Clinton presidential library, in receiving the award. Two projects by architect E. Fay Jones, the Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs and the Roy and Norma Reed home in Hog Eye, round out the list of Arkansas honor award winners since 1949.

"In the end, this building is just another tool for Heifer to help end world hunger," architect Reese Rowland said. "It was a rare opportunity for us to put a message so visible in the architecture."

In particular, Rowland said efforts to make the building burn as little energy as possible and rely on recycled materials caught judges' attention.

Floors of bamboo - the world's quickest growing wood - line the floors into hallways lined with recycled carpeting. Toilets flush rainwater, LED lights shine in elevators and sensors control room lighting. The building shapes itself around the sun, allowing windows to catch natural light.

"The simplest details are crisp and clean," the judges wrote. "The cured area works perfectly with the way the sun hits the building."

The U.S. Green Building Council previously honored the charity's efforts by awarding its headquarters a platinum rating, its highest possible certification. Rowland said the efforts allows the building to consume only half the energy of a normal office building its size.

The honor award announcement comes as Heifer prepares to break ground later this month for its new, $7.8 million Murphy Keller Education Center. Rowland said the center, which will take a little over a year to build, will share a similar shape to the headquarters, allowing a circle around grassy courtyard.

The 18,000-square-foot center will house a conference center, gift shop and exhibits about Heifer. The charity has provided livestock and training for more than 60 years to poor families to help them become self-sufficient.

The University of Arkansas also won awards for its habitat trails development in Rogers, which includes 17 homes in a five-acre development. Judges also honored the university for its plan to improve its College Branch stream, which is in a 40-acre area of campus.

For more information see Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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