Can a building be as easy on the environment as it is on the eyes? Without a doubt, says The American Institute of Architects (AIA), a professional association based in Washington, D.C. To prove it, for the past 12 years, the organization and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) have awarded the top 10 green projects across the globe.

At the same time, science is providing new ways to build green buildings—from using paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to high-efficiency ventilation—as well as revealing just how important a pleasing and healthy environment is to our interiors.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and as Scientific American Mind reported in its April issue, neuroscience is shedding new light on how constructed environments impact health and well-being. As it turns out, green buildings don't always put the humans who will be using them first. For instance, they're often, as we reported last week, downright noisy.

As a host of organizations and publications have created their own rankings of buildings based purely on eco-standards, the AIA has created a list of green buildings that also meet the aesthetic and functional needs of the people and communities that encounter and inhabit them. From a low-income apartment building situated by a light rail line to a new town center that reused materials from its old municipal buildings for construction, these projects are putting Earth and its residents on equal footing.

View a slideshow of AIA's top 10 green architectural projects worldwide