Showing posts with label sustainable design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sustainable design. Show all posts

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Net Zero - Part III

This house is net positive, meaning it "creates more energy than it uses," and its existence is proof that sustainable architecture can be beautiful and upscale.  The architect, Thomas Doerr, designed this home to use passive solar heating along with quality insulation and solar power.  Many aspects of the design show thoughtful decision making processes, looking for the least impact on the environment along with truly beautiful craftsmanship. 

My favorite quote from this video is, "Their electric meter spins backwards."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Net Zero Home - Part II

Since we know it's possible to build net-zero, creating buildings that do not need to use the local grid, it's important that new construction meet that goal (or better, net positive, which is making more energy than the building uses).  However, reusing existing buildings is always best whenever possible for many reasons.  For one, it preserves our heritage.  Also, it protects natural habitats, since reusing existing development prevents new construction and sprawl.  Finally, it usually takes less material, which reduces overall consumption and waste.

This video shows how one family was able to renovate their 110-year-old Folk Victorian home into a net zero home by using quality insulation, changing their light bulbs to compact fluorescent, using energy and water efficient appliances, installing geothermal heating and using solar power.  Despite all these changes, their home maintains all of the original charm and character, both for the present and future generations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Net Zero Home - Part I

As Winter approaches, many face energy bills that skyrocket as temperatures plummet.  There is another way to build, though, that requires minimal to no heating and cooling from municipal supplies.  It is possible to construct a building so that it sustains itself through proper insulation, quality materials, geothermal heating/cooling and solar power.  In fact, it is possible to sell energy to the local utility company rather than buying it, if one's building is designed so well as to be net positive on occasion.

This video shows the first net zero house in Michigan, which is known for its cold climate.  How many people in frosty northern climates would love to pay no utility bills in the middle of Winter?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sustainable and Beautiful = Long Term Success

I appreciate the questions raised in the paper "Undoing the Relation: Image, Sustainability and Architecture" where the authors Anne-Marie Willis and Tony Fry suggest that instead of focusing on the aesthetics of a building design in the planning stage, instead we ask the questions:
  • "What is this building to sustain?"
  • "Is what it is to sustain itself sustainable?"
  • "How can it be designed so as to sustain that which is sustainable?"
These are valueable questions, partially because it's focusing on what needs to be done rather than what would look impressive, and also because these questions encourage looking at the whole ongoing process of the building, as an entity with a job over the course of time.

Photo: Erik Christensen

Beauty and aesthetics are not to be ignored, however, because these factors heavily factor in to the designs ability foster reproduction.  When people see a visual image of a building that gives them an emotional pull, they then find themselves plotting how to make what they saw happen again, but for themselves this time.  As an example, I would point to any green roof with plants doing well.  For whatever reason, this image lights up the hearts of just about anyone.  It could be due to biophilia, genetic memory, instincts or any number of factors, but a lot of people just love a green roof.  To extend the scale of the image, I've noticed that people also love the idea of green roofs and walls in an urban context.  When I've shown pictures of imaginary cities to people with a sea of skyscrapers full of living roofs, they always exclaim over how "cool" that is.  It's like people just know there's something "right" about it.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard a person say they wish they could live in a "place like that" when they've seen an image of a house or a city with green roofs.  Now, I don't mean to suggest that green roofs are appropriate for every project by any means.  What I'm saying is that sometimes a beautiful image carries a lot of weight in the hearts and minds of people, and, when that happens, it's more likely to show up again and again.  Someone might spend years plotting how to live their life so that they can eventually live under such a beautiful roof.

Photo: Chicago City Hall Green Roof, by TonyTheTiger
The authors are right, though, that in this time of climate crisis, add-on sustainability isn't going to cut it.  We have to rethink the way we live our lives and what processes need to die away.  A green roof doesn't solve that much, nor a worm bin nor a rain water barrel, if one is flying across the country several times a year and making 45 minute drives to work every day.  Adding solar panels to a house that is sucking up crazy amounts of energy only prolongs the inevitable collapse of resources.

The authors make another good suggestion:

"Sustainments are modest and accumulative, situation specific, starting wherever you are and can, in this sense sustainments ar emany of thse things currently designated as features of sustainable architecture - but they are more than this, because they are focused on time and process not just on space and object."  So, the pertinent thought process becomes how to make the building something that sustains over time rather than something that consumes over time, which is more important than what it looks like.

If architects and design teams could see, figuratively speaking, DNA strands instead of blueprints, and a face instead of a facade, we'd get closer to solving our problems.  Treating buildings with the same kind of consideration as a living creature or an ecosystem leads to making sustainable decisions that tie the building into the natural world, with its rhythms and processes, rather than working against the climate and conditions.  Good choices along these lines will work out better long term if they are visually attractive, however, because that adds the emotional component needed for people to apply and reapply these methods.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beautiful Underground Home

This house is pretty amazing.  Look how little habitat it disturbs!  Incredible.  See the article Beautiful Swiss House is Buried Under the Earth by Diane Pham of inhabitat. The article mentions that "[b]y building the house underground, the architects were able to almost completely eliminate the need for heating or cooling in the winter and summer months."  Kudos to the architects SeArch and Christian Müller for showing us what is possible.

sustainable design, green design, vals, switzerland, search, christian muller, green building, underground house, hill house

sustainable design, green design, vals, switzerland, search, christian muller, green building, underground house, hill house

Friday, November 4, 2011

Design To Withstand Climate Change

This is an interesting article, Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate Changing World, from

Photo: Global Green

This article explains how buildings should be designed to adapt to a changing world, since the likelihood of climate change abruptly altering the world around us is high.  It's kind of sad, but practical.  It includes advice like raising buildings and mechanical equipment off the ground, since floods and sea levels might destroy the building otherwise.  There's lots of emphasis on passive heating/cooling, use of on-site generated renewable energy, and rain water harvesting.

I would have added, were it my article, a section urging urban food growing and seed banking, since if a community finds itself unable to acquire food from long distances in the event of an emergency, it would be better to have a plan already in place for this important aspect of life.  Communities ought to do this anyway, for their own well-being as well as decreasing dependence on industrial farming and petroleum.  I don't think enough people realize what is happening in the world of farming and how our ability to find viable seeds in the event of catastrophe is rapidly diminishing.