As architects, our goal is to create buildings that are good for their inhabitants, neighborhood (setting), biome, and the climate at large. We see this as a continuing search to build more in harmony with Nature. Every project is an opportunity to advance our understanding of technique and artistry, always striving to integrate performance and aesthetics, where form and function are entwined as a single expression. And what is that expression? This is a continuously evolving search as well, playing out differently in various projects. Here are some current ideas and themes:
- Beauty is an important and difficult to define quality. With our residential clients, it often has to do with memory and past experiences, and very much to do with the setting, whether urban or rural: a sense of relevance, of deeply situating a project in its place, is critical. The other big beauty factor is creating a kinship with Nature, from indoor-outdoor connections, to organic ornament, to the integration of growing things in and around the building. We’d argue that the basis of beauty is “Life is Good:” the more our work promotes vitality in us and our surroundings (and expresses or celebrates that vitality), the more beautiful it is. This is the essence of Regenerative Architecture, which is our aim.
- Total Carbon: when we began our Passive House work in 2010, our focus was primarily on operational energy—what it takes to run a building once it’s built. Since then, our awareness of the immediate need to reduce carbon emissions makes it ever clearer that the energy we use to build and renovate must be low as well—we can’t solve an energy problem by using a bunch of energy! For this reason, plant-based products (wood structure, wood fiber, hemp, wool, and cellulose insulation, etc.) are best, as carbon-sequestering or carbon-neutral materials, while concrete, metals, glass, and petroleum-based plastics are worse (although low-carbon concrete is becoming available). And this topic this brings us to…
- Retrofits are key! The energy already tied up in existing buildings is significant, and should be kept. The ideal scenario for existing buildings is to make them more lovable with design updates, make them more energy efficient (which equals more comfortable and healthy), and decarbonize them, making them part of a clean-energy future. We’re doing this at various levels of intensity on different projects; some, like this and this were gut renovations, so taking the envelope all the way to Phius performance was not a big stretch; others, like this, used more targeted retrofit insulation along with HVAC and appliance upgrades to go all-electric.
- New buildings can be low-carbon: by making a new building primarily plant-based as described above, it’s possible to make buildings carbon neutral or negative. In fact we would argue it’s essential to do so, so that we absorb, not create emissions. We’re using carbon accounting with the BEAM tool to track our performance.
In our next series of posts, we will be highlighting retrofit projects in construction where we’re creating houses for the 21st century in homes that were built from 1905 to 1953. We’re remaking the layouts and spatial experiences to align with modern expectations, and we’re reducing energy consumption by 70-100% from where they were. We’ll also feature a low-carbon new house in construction. Stay tuned!