400 Mile Per Gallon Architecture
Imagine you are considering the purchase of a new car that gets 40 miles to the gallon... when you learn about a similarly priced high performance alternative that is far better built, looks great, and runs 200 to 400 miles to the gallon, depending on your driving habits. It uses some German parts and a lot of German technology, but it is mostly a domestic product. Oh, and another thing; the maintenance is a Read More →
Design in Uncertain Times
No one knows what twist of fate will materialize next week, or tomorrow, or even today. We live with a gnawing awareness that actions we take - or fail to take - now may have profound consequences that are often equally unpredictable.
What are the implications for architecture in this uncertain world? What is our potential to better shape our built environment to help stabilize or improve situations for oursel Read More →
The Possibility of Good
"...to 'be less bad' is to accept things as they are, to believe that poorly designed, dishonorable, destructive systems are the best humans can do. This is the ultimate failure of the 'be less bad' approach: a failure of the imagination. From our perspective, this is a depressing vision of our species' role in the world. What about an entirely different model? What would it mean to be 100% good?"~ William McDon Read More →
Your Home or Office Can Power Your Car
Passive House: Designing and building buildings so well for a specific site and climate we can eliminate eighty to ninety percent of the energy demands of space heating, cooling, and humidity control. This is fully achievable and affordable today, using readily available technologies and materials. And trust me, the architecture will be stunning, but not odd; I can create nearly any character working in this realm.Th Read More →
Shading Data - No Guesses
One of the many aspects of site specific architectural design now standard practice in our pre-design research process is to acquire a forensic understanding of the shading conditions that will alter how our architecture will be exposed to the sun over the course of each year.Designing high performance buildings, there is far less room for intuition and assumptions commonly taken for granted in the design and const Read More →
Cakes Left Out in the Rain
That natural forces will act on, and ultimately destroy, any contribution we make to our built environment persists as one of the few things we can be sure of about the fate of any building. For architects, this presents a challenge somewhat analogous to that of medical professionals who, destined to ultimately surrender the battle associated with our desire for immortality, heroically strive to help u Read More →
Chemical Hazards in Consumer Products
Building with toxic materials is such a bad practice, in part because we are embedding them into environments where people then tend to have long term exposure to them. It's good to be aware that carcinogenic and toxic material is not only found in scores of products in the building industry, but also in common consumer goods. One informative website that works to provide helpful information about this is healthySt Read More →
Rammed Earth: Deep Green by Design
A view of earth from space reveals a trace band of blue - our atmosphere - just visible across the sunlit edge of our planet. Below, eighty percent of the globe is coated by salt water but a fraction of the depth of that atmosphere. The remaining surface area rising just above the seas supports an exponentially thinner layer of organic soils. David Suzuki has offered the observation that if we accurately modeled th Read More →
David Suzuki Explores Rammed Earth
In this short film clip, David Suzuki visits a home built with SIREWALL - rammed earth walls that are insulated, steel reinforced, solid sandstone. Unlike traditional rammed earth, SIREWALL is a top tier, cutting edge contemporary architectural material appropriate for any climate.
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The Fulcrum of the Power Grid
The railroad system that spans our continent represents one of the most ambitious historical achievements of our nation. Our infrastructure of power utilities gradually eclipsed that incredible achievement in both scale and significance. We are the beneficiaries of over a century of ongoing investment in the distribution of electricity. This incredible asset is poised to play a major role in facilitating our transiti Read More →
Travel and Architecture
One of the most addictive aspects of a career in architecture is the level of ongoing learning that it engages one in throughout the entire arc of a career, of a lifetime. The sources of this 'continuing education' need not be distant or exotic travel. The insights offered by local interactions and every day life are generous indeed. But to expand ourselves beyond the boundaries of familiar contexts and references, Read More →
The Intelligent Choice
Europeans have lived with high energy costs for a long time, and have a strong pragmatic awareness of the costs associated with heating and cooling buildings. So it may come as no surprise that the leading standard in energy savings comes to us from Germany: The Passive House standard.
It's not a brand - anyone with the knowledge and desire can use these technologies. The advantages are clear: a means to create be Read More →
The First Step to Net Zero Energy
A 'net-zero energy' building generates more energy than it needs. The most important item in Net-Zero design is reducing the demand for energy. This is the main principle behind the Passive House concept, so it should be a natural progression for architects designing to the passive house standard to also pursue Net-Zero Energy. A passivhaus project is already over half way toward being a Net-Zero Energy project.Here Read More →
What Plants Can Teach Us About Storing Energy
Biomimicry: What plants can teach us about storing energy... Good bye, fossil fuel dependency!
The main challenge with sun and wind energy is storage. Because the sun isn't always shining, and the wind isn't always blowing, we need to be able to bank away renewable energy when it's available for times when it is not. A team from Harvard is learning how to do just that... from plants. They are looking to photosynth Read More →
Building with Organic Materials
All the rivers run into the sea, and yet the sea is not full. Ecclesiastes 1:7
Waste does not exist in nature. In the natural world, everything is cyclical; everything happens in closed loops and dynamic systems of loops. One familiar example would be the hydrological cycle, in which energy from the sun charges the atmosphere with water vapor and moves it inland on thermal currents, where it falls to th Read More →
Design for Future Abundance
The classical English pattern of using the village commons (that communally owned and used land which was available for pasturing private livestock) did not involve a conflict between public and private welfare as long as there was enough land. However, as herds increased, the over-grazed land became less productive so that the herdsmen had to increase their stocks in order to stay even, and thus the commons were des Read More →
Getting Off Oil - With Architecture
It is no secret that our dependence on oil reaches into every aspect of modern life. This must change - actually, will change, whether we like it or not. Not only are we wreaking environmental havoc burning fossil fuels, it is certain the costs will continue to dramatically rise, impacting every corner of our economy. Global demand is steadily increasing as supplies are steadily tapering. It is a problem of epic scal Read More →
Optimizing Walls for Energy Performance
We assign a very high priority to comfort in buildings - specifically, thermal comfort. One of the basic distinctions between being inside' and 'outside' is that when we are inside, we expect to be comfortable. We essentially live in two climates - interior and exterior - and the construction assemblies that make up the floors, walls, and ceilings of our buildings, often referred to as the building envelope, mediates Read More →
All Around Us, Obsolete New Buildings.
Because they use such exorbitant quantities of energy, new buildings built to code are actually going to be obsolete from day one of occupancy.
"Built to code is a euphemism for built to the lowest legally permissible standard." ~ Sam Rodell
Most buildings currently under construction are fated to become dramatically more expensive to occupy and lose value as energy costs increase, Read More →
We designed and built our home on a site in a small development enfronting wetlands. Rather than extending the ubiquitous domesticated landscape of American suburbia into the native landscape, we instead pulled the wetlands and native landscape back into the domesticated realm of the housing development, weaving our building into it.
The Mallard couple pictured here takes up residence every March on one of t Read More →
Waste is Food
A 'circular economy' is a term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, completely restorative. In a circular economy, material flows are of two types: biological and technical. Biological nutrients are designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere. But everything is reused. In a circular Read More →
Blackened Cedar Siding
The term "Shou-Sugi-Ban" is Japanese (焼杉板) and translates to "burnt cedar board". The term describes the centuries old Japanese technique of charring "Sugi" (cedar) planks.For centuries, Japanese carpenters used recovered driftwood from the coastlines of Japan for an artistic finish that also improved durability. Japanese driftwood was prized for its unique appearance and durability due to the weathering proc Read More →
Designing with Sheets of Light
One of the most exciting and interesting aspects of architecture is lighting design, and emerging technologies are creating an ever expanding horizon of design possibilities. This is a flexible 'light sheet' that provides high quality lighting while eliminating many of the constraints and challenges traditional lighting options impose. This new medium for lighting combines the mechanical, electrical and light s Read More →
Phase Change Materials
Putting Nature's Magic to Work For Us: Phase Change Materials
We see it all around us, all the time; temperature changes make stuff freeze, melt, or vaporize. These 'phase change' transformations, in which molecules change from one state of matter to another, are so common we take them for granted. Ice cubes in a drink, no big deal!But there are some interesting physics involved in every instance of these little m Read More →
Zero Net Energy Owners Speak Out
A Zero Net Energy Home produces as much energy as it consumes, resulting in zero net energy bills and zero net carbon emissions. But the story does not end there. Zero Energy Homes have many other advantages over standard homes and so-called 'green' homes. They are very quiet, they provide fresh filtered air, they are very comfortable, and they are very sturdy homes. When the modest extra cost to build a Zero Read More →
Environmentally Optimized Commercial Laundry
You might not think of architects as being particularly interested in laundry as a design issue, but we get really excited about saving our clients money and easing the impact that the facilities we create have on the environment. And when we're talking about thousands of tons of laundry being processed annually, the stakes are large... very large. We can cut hot water usage by 90% or more and dryer energy usage in Read More →
Reintroducing China to Rammed Earth
China is undertaking the largest building boom in the history of the world. A young and talented pair of Canadian architects are working to introduce SIREWALL rammed earth as a healthy, sustainable option for building beautiful and durable architecture in China.
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You are quietly being poisoned...
Most people assume there is some level of oversight protecting them from unhealthy building. That is not the case. No form of regulatory oversight is concerned with the levels of toxic materials embedded in building materials.
Building codes, for example, primarily focus on issues like life safety in the context of fires and earthquakes.The construction industry is a toxic disaster, from source to installation, and Read More →
Responsibility and Gratitude
"Our life work is built on a foundation of reverence, responsibility, and gratitude." ~ Sam Rodell
Imagine building a scale model of the earth 75 yards in diameter. The biosphere in this model would be roughly the thickness of the skin of a tomato. It is here, between earth and sky, where the story of each of our lives, and indeed the history and future of all terrestrial life is written. It's a dynamically Read More →