Friday, October 30, 2009

Design is the Problem?

Click here for an in-depth interview with Nathan Shedroff, author of "Design is the Problem: The future of Design Must Be Sustainable." The interview is by Editor-in-chief Allan Chochinov of Core77, design magazine and resource.

From the interview: "We need to say to the rest of the world, essentially, 'Look, we did a lot of this wrong. Try to take the best of what we've accomplished without the worst.

Related: "Green is the Old Standard"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Real Green, Real World: Builder/Architect Magazine November 2009

D+A Studio profile in the November issue of the Seattle Builder/Architect Magazine.

Green Products Slideshow

10 awe-inspiring, Sustainable Designs for a living world at Copper Hewitt, featured on

Monday, October 26, 2009

Windmills on the Horizon

From a recent trip through central Washington.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Getting Cold Outside...But Not Below the Frost Line

The San Juan Channel House employs a geothermal system connected to a hydronic radiant floor heat, which sounds intimidating, but is a great way to reduce fossil fuel usage by relying on a renewable energy source: the ground.

The installation of geothermal heat for the SJCH includes a trench 5' deep, 65' long, and 15' wide (the frost line on the island is 12"). Three layers of coils are laid on top of each other in the trench, with 2' between each coil. All feed into a main line. The water is kept at a fairly constant temperature, about 54 to 56 degrees. Less energy is then required to get the water to a suitable temperature for heating in the hydro
nic system. The system is zoned for different areas of the house.

Hydronic floor heat pipes before the slab pour

One of the great advantages of hydronic floor heat from an energy use stand point is that is constant and cannot be quickly adjusted, therefore, when someone is cold they can bundle up instead of just cranking the thermostat. This leads to lifelong habits of adjusting yourself to the climate as opposed to having the climate adjust to you. Radiant floor heat allows for a constant temperature between the zone 1' below the ceiling and 1' above the floor.

The up-front cost is about $5,000 more than a traditional forced air system (using the trenching system outlined above, going deeper adds to the cost), but should pay for itself in 5-10 years, depending on local energy costs. Some of this up-front cost is made up for in the lack of duct work, including the improved air quality and ease of not accommodating duct work in the framing.

The geothermal heat is augmented by additional energy saving moves. The wood-burning fireplace is by Bodart & Gonay, a Belgian brand, and has an 88% efficiency rating. The fireplace is connected to a fan vent feeding outlets to the master bedroom above, allowing heat from the fireplace to naturally rise and heat the second floor as well as the first floor living area.

One disadvantage of the geothermal system is that the heat pump loses efficiency when the temperature dips below 25 degrees, which is very uncommon for our region. When this happens, or whenever the temperature drops suddenly, the residents use the wood fireplace. The wood stove heats the entire house with less wood and lost heat than a traditional open fireplace.

The geothermal heat system for the San Juan Channel house is also discussed in Seattle Magazine
and At Home Magazine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Termites as Architects

"Tiny Architects:" A great take on green building from Living on Earth (broadcast on KUOW presents). Biologist J. Scott Turner discusses the termite's building and ventilation techniques. Architect Mick Pearce says that when designing a building, architects should study how local animals have intuitively adapted their living spaces to a particular climate.

Click here to read a transcript or listen to the interview.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Makes it Green? news

The San Juan Channel House is going on tour! The AIA Seattle and the Committee on the Environment (COTE) What Makes it Green? 2009 Top Ten Green Awards winners will be exhibited throughout the northwest. More details coming on dates and locations.

The Exhibition Tour is sponsored by BetterBricks.

Single Family Neighborhoods of the Future (and Past)

Last week I attended "Design for Livability: Sustainable Cities," presented by AIA Seattle, Cascade Land Conservancy & the UW College of Built Environments. Presentations included discussions of Ecodistricts, Eco System services, and health and built environments.

One presentation that I found very relevant was "Transforming Single Family Neighborhoods." Seattle has been feeling this transition for many years with the introduction of infill townhouses, condos, and changes to the code regarding accessory dwelling units. This trend will most likely continue as more people move into cities (about 13% of the world's population 100 years ago, now about 50%) and cities continue to densify. While I believe that this is probably inevitable in order to conserve outlying land (as with the Growth Management Act) and allow for efficiencies in a city, I am a firm believer that this can happen without sacrificing the quality of life of those who live in single family neighborhoods.

Here is a great project presented by Sandy Fischer of EDAW, for Portland Metro's "Integrating Habitat" Competition.

Bungalow Courts (AKA Pine Street Cottages) in Seattle is an example of a pre WWII compact single family neighborhood (10 houses on a 15,000 SF lot) that is once again in fashion, thanks to a revival by developers Kucher/Rutherford. This document by the Housing Partnership, "The Right Size Home," includes this project and is a very comprehensive look at small single family home alternatives around Seattle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chris Jordan: Running the Numbers & Other Trash Talk

Chris Jordan is one of my favorite modern photographers. I am not good at visualizing large amounts (for instance, we use 2.2 million pounds of whatever a year). His series "Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption" is a stunning visual assessment of waste.

Chris Jordan, Crushed cars #2, Tacoma 2004 44x62"

Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Oct 3rd - January 3rd.

More about C
hris Jordan.

Part my passion for green building is driven by my fascination with trash and the waste stream. It is exciting for me to figure out how things can be re-used or re-purposed. My husband has had to endure me experimenting with this on a small scale, such as making shelves out of leftover wood floor boards and closet organizers built of tomato boxes (these are the most sturdy cardboard boxes, I have had them for years).

I have
read some great books on the subject which I highly recommend. They are a great glimpse into the world that we don't often think about but is as prevalent a part of life as the items are before they become trash.


Garbage Land, Elizabeth Royte

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, Heather Rogers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Beyond the Bounds" Case Study

We will be presenting about our addition of Design Build to our traditional design services at "Beyond the Bounds" for the AIA Committee on the Environment. Velocipede Architects will also present.

October 22, 4-6 pm

For information about the presentation:

Office of Velocipede Architects
3104 Western Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Green" is the old "Standard"

A few weeks ago, we presented at the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild's annual green building slam. There was a good turn out and great projects were presented. But I had to wonder: is this just a self-congratulatory meeting of like minds? Or can we hope that it is something more?

We spend a lot of time touting our green projects. This is not without good reason, as they are "green", compared to standard building practices. But this "standard" has only been around a short time. There was a time, not too long ago, when buildings were naturally cooled, did not depend on fossil fuels for heating, no chemicals were used anywhere and all materials were local. I am not proposing that we go back to the 19th century and I do not mean to negate all of the progress we have made in life safety, sanitation and building technology. I am very thankful for my fire detector, elevator and dishwasher. But looking back at a longer, broader view of history, we are just trying to play catch up.

It may just be a matter of semantics. For instance, all food was "organic" a handful of decades ago. Now, somehow, chemical treatment is "conventional" agriculture, and agriculture as it has been practiced for generations, without chemicals, is relegated to the margins.

So, "standard" building techniques are just what we have ended up with through specialization, standardization and chemical inputs. My point is that, as individual designers and builders, it's OK to be a little bit proud of our green accomplishments, when viewed in the context of the relative price of materials and the convention of standard building practices. But in a larger context, we are just trying to fix the mistakes that we (the building profession, industry, society, etc) have made.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Universal Design for the rest of us

Anna's recent experience being a captive on the first floor of her home has us both thinking more about Universal Design. Earlier this year, I picked a up a great book by Wendy A. Jordan, Universal Design for the Home, which shows many examples of simple moves to achieve UD. Using elements from this book, I compiled a checklist for clients to consider many Universal Design features and mark it as "necessity; would be nice, if cost allows; allow for future implementation in plan, need more information, and not interested." From here we can prioritize and gauge what UD features are important to our clients.

Hare House Phase II, now under construction, includes s
ome UD features, including outdoor spaces on each floor and an elevator. Although the elevator is a large upfront cost, it allows for aging in place and for the clients to stay in the house as long as possible. The house is then ready should anyone be injured (or have their 5th knee surgery).

Not everyone wants to or can afford to go so far a
s build an elevator in their home. A space can be designated for an elevator that can be installed in the future, or just think about where an elevator could be during the planning phase. I am mentally remodeling my grandparents 2-story home (laundry in the basement) every time I am there.

Everyone home doesn't have to be a showcase fo
r the latest UD feature, but these ideas should be kept in mind as we are designing a home. It should be another layer of the process, just as we think about daylighting, durability, daily use patterns, etc. Good design should be universal, the concepts should not be mutually exclusive; just as many may consider now that all good design must be sustainable design.

Many are familiar with the story of Architect Michael Graves: a much more serious situation, but one that really illuminates the importance o
f UD: (Metropolis, Fast Company).

My favorite Universal Design feature, the washer and dryer in the master closet (photo: Point2 Homes)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lessons Learned, Part 1

After living in my own custom residence for a year, I have learned many simple design lessons that will alter the way I approach future projects.

Universal Design is actually Universal
I never thought once to include any accessible design features within my own house. I suppose it's the fact that I am still young and just now realizing that I am not invincible. Last month, I had another knee surgery and the set of stairs to my wonderful master suite became quite daunting. After weighing all the issues at hand, I would not take drastic measures such as moving my bedroom to the first floor, but I would include a large walk-in shower on the first floor. This simple revision to the downstairs bathroom would have eased my recovery and any future ones as we age. Even the young and invincible should plan for future injuries and temporary setbacks. Small design changes can make big impacts for these temporary moments.

The Mud Room is Always Too Small
To save money and cut back square feet, we merged the laundry and back entrance into one mud room. This space is always cluttered, cramped and full of shoes. If you have school aged children or pets or a life, never cut square feet from this precious space that is the functional belly of your house, digesting everything that comes in and out. I now believe that the larger your mud room, the more organized, simple and larger the rest of your house will appear.

Living Rooms versus Dens
I love open floor plans with their minimal walls and large rooms. The ability to watch my children as my husband and I cook dinner together is a cherished function of our house. However, I would greatly appreciate the ability to not constantly hear and see the television. We do not allow television in the bedrooms, so the only spot for it is in the family's living room. Ideally, a small room perfectly sized for a couch and the television, and adjacent to the kitchen would be magnificent. A window between the den and kitchen would be even better, so we can pass the popcorn through or tell them to change the channel.

I continue everyday to learn from my own house. I will keep posting more ideas and design lessons for your use. Stay posted for more.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Small House, Big Design"

Anna and I wrote a piece for the October issue of Builder/Architect Magazine. The "Small House, Big Design" article describes the features of the San Juan Channel House. D+A Studio will also be featured in the November issue. Look for us in future issues as the "resident green experts."

"Building green does not need to be triumph of paperwork and money. Through a simple combination of historic building methods, modern design and smaller spaces, we can create a sustainable future."

A special thanks to Seattle/Puget Sound editor Curt Hines for working with us on these writing projects.

Builder Architect Magazine