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.
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.