Sustainability

Getting Back to the Middle

We based parking requirements on absolute peak demand - so that even on Black Friday, everyone, by law, gets a parking space.  Developers were forced to buy more land, and provide worst-case scenario parking, for free, in order to build.  With more than ample parking everywhere, more people choose to drive for trips.  Traffic engineers note the roads are getting congested, and design larger, wider roads to provide capacity.

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Scaling Down Development

Scaling Down Development

There are a lot of problems with our current approach to residential development.  For something in such perpetual demand, it's amazing that the market has not been able to figure out a good way to supply it.  We need quality housing in large quantities.  Note, that adjective: quality.  As we saw in 2006, housing built with no attention to quality or sustainability of place is not truly in demand; it created a valueless bubble that then collapsed. 

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Reimagining of a Habitat For Humanity Houseplan

Reimagining of a Habitat For Humanity Houseplan

This project is a great example of how a few simple customizations to any structure can add value, and that value is amplified when we avoid using the bulldozer as an 'easy' out to our housing needs.  The most sustainable solutions for new buildings are far and away those that involve repurposing and upcycling our existing stock of housing, and even our stock-plan builder home neighborhoods could become more interesting places if housing was allowed to evolve and grow in as unique a way as its inhabitants.

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Architecture in 2047

The American Institute of Architects challenged us to think about how the architect's practice will look in 30 years.  I was inspired to respond by thinking of recent advances in design technology as the infancy of the every tools of the future architect, and I was inspired a little bit by the upcoming release of Blade Runner 2049.

Architecture’s current trajectory will continue to release projects from the silo of the office desktop, and the silo of the architect's brain. Virtual and enhanced reality will pull meetings from board rooms and into infinite occupiable versions, the project constructed and deconstructed many times before breaking ground. Time between iterations will become faster and faster. Hive communication in the Cloud will allow a continuous exchange to more thoroughly describe ideas. Expertise will be shared more readily, as the design community follows the sharing economy down alternate open-model paths that have already started to reshape the way business is done. Lessons learned will more readily be accessible and applied, like a software patch to the design. The end product will be ever more precisely in line with human intention and expectation for the built environment; and the efficiencies afforded by this fine tuning will in turn reduce the burden on the planet. 

The architect’s role must evolve to harness the power of the growing current of data and computational solutions, to shape the project around central tenets and targets, and to communicate the implications of numerous decisions - to be a guiding force and a fixed point in a swarm of forces and numbers.  This role as a guiding force will make the architect of the future an indispensable figure for any size construction project.

Economic forces will attempt to drive projects to serve a narrow purpose, however, it will also be the architect’s responsibility to respond with technology and data to show the undeniability of maintaining sustainability, responsibility and urban connectivity for a tenable world that can continue to grow and thrive at the rates we expect. Undermining these forces will be a continuous battle, but one that the architect can be especially equipped to orchestrate a stand against.
 

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Modern Camp: Sustainable Systems

Camping, in its simplest form, is all about self sufficiency.  Its about getting back to, and relying on, nature, and using your own skills to harness it.  The modern take on camping can be far removed from the humble Boy Scout pup tent, but the goals should remain the same.  A modern camp should harness nature, help in every way possible to preserve that nature that provides for it, and allow for its inhabitants to reconnect with nature.  Here, we take advantage of what nature provides in abundance to make the Modern Camp a responsible answer to its challenging environment.

1. WATER

At the Modern Camp, a smooth metal or tile roof is preferrable to collect the water, and storing the water underneath the deck structure keeps it cool and protected behind the gabion wall and pool structure.

Though water is plentiful in Louisiana, it is still a resource to be controlled and utilized thoughtfully and carefully.  Rainwaters can inundate both natural and man-made drainage systems and cause backup riverine flooding.  Rainwater is also a natural resource as potable water with fewer contamination and taste issues, reducing the desire for treated bottled  water. Rainwater collection is common practice in drier climates with unreliable precipitation, but we certainly see limited dry spells in South Louisiana as well.  The water can also serve irrigation systems, to ensure your thirsty tropical plants don't burn up during a dry month or two.

These sorts of reservoirs will fill up quickly in our climate, however.  The Aggies over at Texas A&M have a nifty Excel calculator to determine what your system needs might be.  Once their retention abilities are maximized, it's important to avoid dumping the stormwater directly back into city or parish stormwater infrastructure, if any is present.  

You can even incorporate condensation from your AC system.  According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a central AC for an entire home can collect 5 to 20 gallons of condensate water per day, equating to more than 300 gallons per month in the summer! 

2. HEAT REMOVAL AND POWER

Key to a sustainable and resilient home able to be used in a disaster are efficient mechanical and electrical systems that take advantage of natural resources.  These can often be pricey, but Residential Energy Credits can be taken to be reimbursed for many of these systems that make the most sense.  All of the systems below are currently eligible for 30% reimbursement, including install, from the Federal government (find out more here).

Geothermal Heat Pump - Using the earth, or large bodies of water, to help get rid of the large heat loads in Louisiana homes makes sense, and especially so with access to a large cycling body of water.  Geothermal systems essentially replace the exterior condenser unit with a long tube that circulates water through either the earth or a body of water to dissipate heat in summer and absorb heat in the winter.  On top of that, it eliminates the exterior equipment that is most vulnerable to the elements.  Geothermal systems are eligible for tax credits as energy-efficient residential equipment, which I talk about a bit more below.

Photovoltaics - Solar energy is already deployed on many rooftops across Louisiana, and the technology is rapidly improving.  Recent presentations by Tesla indicate that options will become more attractive, too, in the coming years.  We envision a smooth PV tile that will also aid with potable water collection by not collecting as much dirt with fewer nooks and crannies.  With promises of a 22% efficiency (compare to ~10% now), and improvements in battery storage capacity, the loud, very heavy, fossil-fuel guzzling generators will no longer be needed to keep a livable structure during a grid outage.

Google's Project Sunroof is an attempt to analyze and quantify all the roofs in America for their potential for solar panel installation.  The numbers they come up with in terms of savings should probably be vetted with your local installer, but it's a good benchmarking tool for making a decision, and interesting to fly around the city and see the potential for solar.  It would be great if they could detect via their satellite view those surfaces with panels already installed so that we could see how a city is doing at optimizing its potential for solar harvesting.

FEDERAL TAX CREDITS

Not deployed here but also available are credits for solar water heating, small wind energy production assemblies and fuel cell technology.  You can learn more about these credits from the IRS by learning about Form 5695.  Louisiana's own solar credit has expired, but power providers like Entergy and Cleco still have some incentives available at the local level.

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