In 2015, the DC Living Building Challenge Collaborative sponsored the Affordable Living Design Competition (ALDC). Over 20 teams from the DC area and beyond worked to design a small community (10-15 units) of single family dwellings capable of meeting the Imperatives of the Living Building Challenge without resorting to currently allowed Exceptions under that rating system.
There are many different visions for regeneratively designed communities of various sizes & densities.
Arcologies, a fusion of Architecture and Ecology, were envisioned by Paolo Soleri in the 1960s and 70s as completely integrated megastructures, small cities in a single building of mammoth proportions. Living, working, shopping, agriculture, power generation, water purification, waste management and transportation were all woven together in a fully three-dimensional marvel of engineering and architecture. Everything was recycled, nothing went to waste. Passive solar heating and natural cooling strategies were often intrinsic to the overall form of the arcologies (apses to capture the warmth of the sun & ventilation cores hundreds of feet high).
“Sustainability” has been all the rage for years now. In fact, it has almost become passé. The term has become so ubiquitous that most people don’t even notice it anymore. Unless a product goes out of its way to advertise the fact that it is radioactive and should be kept in a lead box at all times, it is almost a given that its manufacturer will claim it is ‘green’. In fact, there is a virtually inexhaustible array of arguments one can use to claim that anything is green. Natural Gas is ‘green’ because it is better than Coal. Coal is ‘green’ because it isn’t as dirty as it was in, say, 1890. PVC is ‘green’ because it can (hypothetically) be recycled, despite the fact that almost nobody actually does recycle it. This advertising strategy is commonly known as ‘greenwashing’; I presume that there is a whole chapter on it in most introductory marketing textbooks.
Regnerative Design and Permaculture are a blend of art and science. When beginning the regenerative design for a community, the design team is often encouraged to create a vision statement in the form of a story, tracing the origins of the site, its evolution and ultimately what it CAN be.
In a previous post, we looked at site analysis. In this post, we’ll wax more philosophic, historic and poetic (if I can manage that – writing poetry was never my thing, I prefer to put my poetic instincts into the design).
History of the Place
Before settlement by Europeans, this land was probably mostly forested. It is the high-ground of Washington DC and therefore unlikely to have been part of the river or marsh ecosystems. Up until the late 1800’s, this area was farmland, and it grew only slowly during the first decades of the 20th century. Only since around the time of the second World War has the neighborhood really take shape, and it has a rich cultural heritage including strong Jewish and African American communities. The project site is at the edge of the neighborhood, where it quickly transitions to multifamily housing and then commercial development. Houses here are set further back from the street, which is, in turn, wider than typical for the neighborhood. As a result, the street feels a little like an orphan, detached from the rest of the community. One of the client’s hopes for the new site design is that it will serve as an inspiration for other residents of the neighborhood. Creating a local network (perhaps even a small cooperative) of amateur gardeners could help bring the street’s residents closer together.
Regenerative design, and indeed the best architectural designs in general, spring from a deep understanding of the site and a sense of place. In a previous post, we talked about the Regenerative City House site location, the clients and their goals for the project. Here, we’ll talk about site analysis. You can use a similar process to analyze your own site.
It is common practice to analyze a site to determine the best building location and orientation based on views, proximity to the road, parking, local zoning, soil conditions (ground water and bearing capacity) and so on.
It is also not unusual to map existing vegetation in order to avoid unnecessary site preparation and to preserve specimen trees (those that inspire poetic outbursts).
For a large part of the 20th century, that was all the site analysis you needed; mechanical heating and cooling and electric lighting took care of the rest. Landscaping was intended to serve the building (generally as decoration); designers rarely asked themselves how the building could improve the on-site ecology.
In regenerative design (which is an extension of sustainable design), site analysis is more comprehensive. The goals here include taking advantage of natural light, air and water flows, and to promote cooperation between the building and landscape (rather than the landscape* serving the building alone). Lyle (ref.1), Yang (ref.2) and Mollison (ref.3) each include some great thoughts on comprehensive site analysis.
* In the context of regenerative design, the term “landscape” should be interpreted not merely as decorative trees and bushes, lawns and follies, but as a healthy functioning ecosystem supporting wildlife as well as the human community.
In this project, we are going to document the design process for a Single Family detached dwelling located in NW Washington DC. What is different about this project is the client’s interest in regenerative design. As 0ur website explains, the intent of regenerative building design is to make interventions that actually improve the environmental quality of the site, not just buildings that are ‘less bad’ for the environment.