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It is time to think bigger about architecture and sustainability.  I named my company ecotecuturestudios in order to emphasize the need to combine ecology and architecture.  Well, everyone is jumping in with acronmymns like BIM (Building Information Modeling) and BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics).  These are a great first step, but I think it is time we all think bigger.  Instead of integrating just information or photovoltaics or some fancy recycled insulation, let’s begin designing our buildings (BIG).  BIG is where Green is the norm, every detail has been analyzed for its ability to be sustainable and the amount of energy it takes to make the product.  Everyone wants to run out and buy a new Prius, but they never stop and analyze how much energy it took to build that new car.  Why not buy a very fuel efficient car that prevents the construction of a new one?  The same practice should be applied to architecture and construction.  For example, I love the idea of Insulated Concrete Forms.  However, the foam form is made from a petroleum product.  Isn’t that the real enemy here – the harmful release of CO from the cars we drive every day and our dependence on foreign oil?  This is the point I have made over and over.  We must integrate Green but we must do it wisely.  We must choose the products that make economic sense, we must choose the products that make environmental sense and then we must incorporate them seamlessly into he architecture.  It is time to go BIG with knowledge and passion.

Green Architecture and Green Home Plans

Contemporary Ecotecture

Classically Styled Ecotecture

On my website, www.ecotecturestudios.com, I have plans that I have created for clients and speculative construction over the last twelve years.  Some of these plans are larger, but they are all based on the “Not so Big House” concept proposed by Ms. Susanka.  The designs have only rooms you need and use on a regular basis – very few have formal living rooms and a few don’t have formal dining rooms.  The plans on my website for purchase were built Green- recycled waste, recycled lumber materials, advanced framing techniques, low-e glazing on windows, high wall & attic insulation (R-26 & R-50 respectively), high efficiency mechanical equipment & appliances, and the use of materials with low embodied energy numbers.  So, you don’t have to build a contemporary, Ecotecture style home to be Green.  However, it is very hard to produce a neutral carbon footprint and reduce the amount of materials involved in the construction.  The ’transitional’ homes I propose would be somewhat more contemporary in style but introduce some of the Ecotecture elements I have described on earlier posts – earth insulation, some living roofs, PV & wind power generation, and an emphasis on using recycled materials and materials with a low embodied energy.  This transitional home would have sustainable elements and perhaps obtain a neutral carbon footprint, but the elements wouldn’t be integrated into the architecture.  They would be visible and appear to be Greenband-aids or additive to the architecture.  My ‘sustainable’ home proposal is true Ecotecture – blend the ’house’ with the renewable energy elements, the natural surroundings and make the home feel like it is contiguous with nature.  You can neither ’camoflague’ the home nor make it invisible.  The home needs to be a home – the old saying form follows function.  The design or appearance (form) should appear to be a dwelling that is a sustainable dwelling (function).  My vision for these homes is a spectacular blend of all the elements I have discussed in my blog posts:

Use materials that do not require large amounts of energy to produce – materials with low embodied energy numbers (EE) Photovoltaic Panels (Solar Panels, PV’s) being used to shade and control weather (awnings, pergolas, shed roofs, etc.) and produce electricity Wind turbines used as architectural elements and boldly displayed Living roofs that both insulate and provide a raised garden with spectacular views Using the earth to insulate large portions of the home rooms & garages that do not require fenestration can be buried and graded to be part of the landscape bring earth insulation to the bottom of wall fenestration & plant flower gardens so it feels like European flower boxes current construction places your landscaping 3′-4′ below your window and therefore unseen from the interior Installation of geothermal heat pumps that use the earth’s heat deep below the surface to heat and cool the dwelling Apply daylighting and passive solar techniques when feasible and economical Use low energy consuming appliances & mechanical equipment that can be run off the electricity generated on-site  Install LED lamps for electrical lighting and smart control systems to reduce energy consumption Use gray water systems that recycle sink & shower water to be used in toilets Install rain barrels and large cisterns to store water for landscaping irrigation Make the architecture appear to be an element of the earth – the dwelling and nature produce a symbiotic relationship (the dwelling resides upon the earth and interacts in such a way that it enhances the survival of the planet) The architecture is awe inspiring – it is beautiful, new, intriguing, an engineering masterpiece and ultimately inspiring for others to construct the same style home

I believe Ecotecture, like modernism, prarie style, colonial, organic architecture, etc., will eventually become a noted architectural style.  It will be the first style, however, whose form will be driven by the function to be a sustainable steward of the earth.

Using Dirt to Create Green Architecture

Earth Sheltered Home

Earth Berm Sketch

There are a lot of Green insulation materials available today.  The best Green materials are recycled materials such as cellulose & denim.  However, these materials require energy to recycle the materials, energy to produce the insulation, energy to transport the insulation and finally, energy to install the materials.  Interestingly, mankind has grown accustom to using these materials as the only form of dwelling insulation.  Why not use a material that already exists on site and costs nothing to manufacture – earth (dirt).  Earth is a natural insulator - it has an R-value of .33 per inch when dry.  When compared to fiberglass insulation, it takes 36″ of earth to equal the R-vaule of a wall composed of 3″ of fiberglass and 1/2″ plywood siding (R-value = 11.25).  This is not mind boggling on its own – however, add the two together and you get an R-value of 22.5!  Ecotecture and Green ideas should involve the use of earth as an insulator.  When coupled with recycled forms of insulation, it can greatly enhance heat loss through walls and the roof.  We should be using dirt below the windows, bury non-living space rooms & the garage, and install living roofs that can be used as exterior living spaces.  When earth is used in this manner, architecture becomes ecotecture.

Fallingwater – Green before Green was Cool

 

Fallingwater's Famous Exterior

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is his most memorable work.  Designed in 1934, it has inspired countless architects since its inception.  Fallingwater blended architecture with the natural ecosystem in a way that had never been seen.  The concept was Green in its interaction with the ecosystem, but the elements used in the construction were not ‘sustainable’.  Although the building is a style to emulate in Ecotecture, the continued interaction with the environment must be advanced.  The design must incorporate earth as an insulator (living roofs and walls without windows), PV and wind power generation, advanced construction techniques and the use of sustainable construction materials.  In closing, Fallingwater can be used as a guide for sustainable design in its interaction with the natural ecosystem and its overall design, but the introduction of new Green technology must be infused into the architecture.  It must become Ecotecture to truly reach the next level of sustainablity.

What is Ecotecture?
May 20th, 2009

What is Ecotecture?

Ecotecture Inspired Building

Ecotecture is the combination of the words ecology (defined as the relationship between living organisms and their environment) and architecture (defined as the art and science of building).  Ecotecture can be used interchangeably with ’ecological design’ and ‘sustainable design’.  The essence of the architectural movement for me, as a designer, is to create beautiful, artistic homes that fully integrates the current Green technology.  It is not an additive style (where the sustainable or Green elements look ‘added’), but rather a style where the Green elements are blended seamlessly into the ‘whole’ of the dwelling.  The dwelling design appears to revolve around the Green elements – they appear to be necessary to the design.  A good analogy is anatomy – the parts that make up the human body are organized and function together.  If you were to ‘add’ to the body – a third arm, a second nose – it appears awkward and abnormal.  My goal in creating Ecotecture Studios is to blend the architecture and the Green elements into one harmonious entity.  Elements of the earth, the ecosystem, the architecture and sustainable elements (wind power, solar power, water conservation, etc.) are blended into one ‘organism’.  When these elements are combined through the design process, rather than added, they produce a breathtaking human habitation system that meshes flawlessly with the natural ecosystem.