Jun 25, 2009

Will Green-Built Homes of the Future Solve Our Energy Problems, What Will They Look Like? It Appears That Most Are Destined to be Very Unusual, While Some Look… Downright Traditional

What will the energy-efficient house of the future look like? The Wall Street Journal recently ran an extensive article which speculates about this very subject, much of which is repeated below. While it is an excellent piece, some of the ideas discussed in the article as possibilities ran to the absurd, note some of the examples.
imageFuturistic homes may have gardens on their walls or ponds stocked with fish for dinner. They might mimic trees, turning sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen. Or perhaps they will be more like chameleons, changing color to suit the weather and healing itself when damaged.
Those are a handful of the possibilities that emerged from an exercise in futurism, in which the Wall Street Journal asked four architects to each design an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable house without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living. This mission, of course, ignores many of the responsibilities typically borne by architects.
They didn’t want to design anything impossible or unlikely, thus limiting what would likely have been more extreme design examples. Instead, the architects were asked to project technology that might be possible in the next few decades. The participating architects came up with houses that are edible and others which mimic trees. So much for eliminating the unlikely.
image A fresh look at the way homes are designed is overdue, especially when you consider the impact houses have on the environment. Buildings use tremendous amounts of energy, approximately 40% of the energy used in the country along with generating 40% of the green house gasses,according to the US Energy Department. They also cause the equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions.
That people are beginning to understand this impact goes a long way to explaining why the green building trend is exploding; even as the economy struggles and home-building is the weakest its been in generations. So, green building is trending up, but will green homes help solve the energy puzzle? The WSJ article provides a gander into the future.

Out on a Limb

home-grown"I'd love to build a house like a tree," says architect William McDonough of the Charlottesville, Virginia firm William McDonough + Partners. And that's what he set out to do here.
The surface of his house, like a leaf, contains a photosynthetic layer that captures sunlight. Unlike today's solar panels, which are often pasted above a roofline, these are woven into the fabric of the exterior. They heat water and generate electricity for the home -- and create oxygen for the atmosphere, to offset carbon produced in other areas of the home.
The appeal of ultrathin, integrated solar panels goes beyond convenience. Solar is plain ugly and off-putting to many homeowners, something McDonough calls the "potpourri of miscellany stuck on our roofs." Unseen solar arrays, especially ones that create hot water, will be a "breakthrough from aesthetic perspective, which is a huge issue," he says.
As for the rest of the design, McDonough envisions a sleek, curved roof with generous eaves to provide shade, which lowers the heat load in summer, thereby reducing the need for energy-hogging air conditioning. The roof also insulates and provides an outdoor garden. More details are contained in the WSJ article.

The Reptile House

connecting-people-natureIf the previous house is a tree, this one is a lizard, whose skin is among its most important features for survival. Cook + Fox's house has a "biomorphic" skin that reacts to the weather, turning dark in the bright sun to insulate the house from heat and turning clear on dark days to absorb as much light and heat as possible.
The façade also captures rain and condensation to fill the home’s water needs much like a desert-dwelling lizard rolls drops of dew from its nose to its mouth. The house of the future will look toward nature's way of solving problems as much as it looks to technology, a concept called biomimicry. "You need to view a house as a surface area for life, as opposed to a thing to be power-washed," he says.
What's more, toilets and washrooms are separated, serving more people with less space. Making a house that's more conducive to work is important for energy efficiency because it eliminates driving -- and thus reduces energy consumption. Refer to the WSJ article for additional details.

Meals at Home

cook-fox-houseRios Clementi Hale Studios cheekily calls their concept the "Incredible Edible House." Come on. Really? This somewhat fantastical design seems to be as much about the future of food production as architecture. The façade is slathered in a vertical garden that includes chickpeas, tomatoes, arugula and green tea. Step outside in the morning and harvest your meals. The plants both nourish the inhabitants and provide shade and cooling, absorbing heat better than a wall made of wood, brick, stucco or glass.
Los Angeles based Rios Clementi Hale has a reputation for innovative designs. Its best-known works include the angular red, ochre and green-striped campus of the California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles.
But the plants aren't the only striking feature of the design. At three stories, the edible house is also more vertical than the typical suburban home, a nod to the importance of building dense, urban-style houses in order to reduce energy use. A rooftop reservoir collects water and keeps the building cool; rooftop windmills generate energy.
The house is also put together in an intriguing way: It's made of three prefabricated containers stacked on top of each other that can be moved on a trailer if the mood fits. This method exists today, but it's not used very much, since homeowners associate prefabrication with lower-end homes. But the benefits for lowering energy use are substantial. The standardized construction in prefabricated homes reduces defects that can hamper energy conservation. And it's easier to ship prefabricated parts, which means reduced fuel use for deliveries. Read more in the WSJ article.

Learning From the Past

Looking to the future isn't the only way to be innovative. The house from architect Steve Mouzon, of Mouzon Design in Miami Beach, Florida, uses tomorrow's technologies while mining ancient techniques to reduce energy use.
For instance, solar paneling built directly into the roof and façade provides electricity and hot water. But the house also employs a "breeze chimney," an architectural tool used by the ancients, as a kind of old-school air conditioning. The difference between the air pressure in the chimney and outside causes hot air to flow out of the chimney stack and cooler air to enter through windows and doors.
"It must make sense first," says Mouzon, a so-called New Urbanist architect who believes in traditional designs that emphasize pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. His house "isn't trying to do wild and wacky things with roof shapes or wall shapes but a good sensible building that is highly lovable. It is inventive where it needs to be."
Like Rios Clementi Hale, Mouzon sees the house as a source of food. He would add "melon cradles," an invention he says he thought up for this project, to allow heavy melons and other vegetables to grow vertically up the sides of his house.
Another of his innovative ideas would require Americans to do more than just feed the goldfish bowl: He would install tilapia pools in a "kitchen garden" to provide fresh fish to the homeowner. It's among the most energy-efficient ways to raise animal protein, Mouzon says.
But the most important order for Mouzon is to make the house compact. "The smaller thing you can create, the more sustainable it is." In fact, that's something that all four of our architects agree on: Americans need to learn to live in smaller spaces if we are going to make an impact on the environment. Now we know at the very least that these particular architects have no intention of fostering classical designs.

Classical, Traditional Homes Offered in the Alternative

As an alternative to these rather extreme designs, Dallas homebuilder Lexington Luxury Builders has conceived and built Lexington Park at Rice Field a new urban neighborhood of Green Built Homes in Downtown Plano Texas.
Lexington Park at Rice Field by Lexington Luxury Builders
I have a slightly different angle on the future of green building and sustainable design, and mine is decidedly simpler than any of those mentioned above. I’m going to build sustainably designed, green-built homes that look precisely like any other home in the marketplace. I think that Americans absolutely love the idea of buying energy efficient, green built homes, but they are horribly afraid of those homes looking…unusual. Or even downright funky. Green built homes don’t have to look funky or unusual. In fact, they needn’t look any different than any other home, and I believe that the green building movement will meet much wider acceptance when designers and builders reach this conclusion. This is what our green built homes look like. Visit Lexington Park at Rice Field to learn more. The Heritage Townhomes at Lexington Park are now available for purchase from $249,000 and for lease with rental rates ranging from $1,350 to $1,995 per month.
Scott Schaefer, CEO of Dallas homebuilder Lexington Luxury Builders is a Certified Green Building Professional
Excerpts from The Green House of the Future - WSJ.com by Alex Frangos