Category Archives: sustainability

everywhere, everywhere containers

A friend of mine sent this article post to me the other day.  I’m telling you, container homes and offices are EVERYWHERE.  You can’t escape them, they are here to stay.  These images are not projects that are just in random overseas countries – they are in our own back yard and it’s AWESOME!  Enjoy.

The Daily Green

Anyone who wants to learn more about containers, container homes or building with them – let me know!


dMass via jetsongreen

this blew me away at 630 am.  Just AWESOME!  Mad kudos to Howard J. Brown, founder of dMass.


history and modernity

My thesis in college studied how modern and historic architecture could and should fit in the same neighborhood context.  But we so seldom see contemporary or modern architecture butted up beside a historic monument outside of cities like NYC or Chicago or Prague.

Why is that?  Is there a general fear within planning departments to blend the new with the old?  Is it a lack of vision or imagination that perpetuates the repetition of styles that have no real historical significance in our modern times?  Some might wonder why I’m asking these questions (even though they are questions I’ve asked before) and it’s because I’m seeing a good bit of talk lately on the issue of Urban Planning in cities around the country.  Most of these discussions center around land use planning and infrastructure, but along with that will go the types of buildings that are constructed and what they look like.  In other words, the style of our cities is as much important as how our cities are arranged.  Compare two cities like Atlanta and Savannah, both in Georgia.  Atlanta, being a modern metropolis with an expanding urban core and dedicated public transit has a very fast paced and modern quality of life that is reflected in the architecture.  On the other hand, Savannah, being steeped in it’s history and it’s historic identity has a much slower, easy quality of life and even new construction is forced into a “historical mold” that tells us nothing about the modern times we live in today.  Two cities directly impacted by not just planning and land use, but also impacted by the architectural styles present.

What would happen if we married the modern and the historic?  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Historic Preservation (in it’s true form of preservation not forced architectural copy), but I am also a modern architectural designer.  It’s important that our generations’ architectural record reflect modern technologies, modern styles and modern materials.  Otherwise we leave no clear architectural expression of our own for future generations.  Currently I see us in a “Architectural Dark Ages”, where the majority of the construction I see going up (in my own little corner of the world) is, for lack of a better phrase, CRAP.  It’s a copy of one or two or even 10 different architectural styles that hold some kind of significance in history, and these buildings try to use these styles to relate in some way to their surroundings when all they’re really doing is insulting every architect who came before them trying to leave a mark of their time and place in history.

Ok, that was a really long sentence, please forgive my rant.  But haven’t you ever driven/strolled/walked/run though a neighborhood or city and wondered “what in the hell were they thinking?”  It happens to me quite often (occupational hazard).  Like right now, I’m sitting in a starbucks (i know I know, I’m not shopping local….but hey, I like the coffee damn it), in a strip infill building in Riverside that has NO meaningful architectural expression….none, nada, zip, zero, zilch….and what’s worse is across the street is a residential development….oh please don’t make me describe it.  Let’s just say it ain’t winning any awards, and, like a good serial killer, is not terribly memorable in appearance.

But these are the types of developments that are railroaded through planning and development.  Why?  Because they don’t challenge any conventions, they are specifically non-descript, could fit in any neighborhood in any city in America and give absolutely no consideration to pedestrians or the greater betterment of their surroundings.  I’m thinking we can do better, don’t you?  As architects, developers, land owners and potential homeowners, we can do much better for our cities.  Demand a higher level of design, a higher quality of life and a higher quality of architecture and design will follow.


monday bloody monday

so not having a whole lot of inspiration to write today (and having a half dozen other projects to work on) I thought I’d post some more videos garnered from youtube.com on shipping container/alternative homes.  Enjoy.

This guy is insane!  Looks like he’s using all 40′ containers which would put his footprint at roughly 56′ square….not exactly gonna fit on your typical residential lot, but when finished I’m sure will look really cool.

Most realtors will tell you that to sell a house you need location location location…to live in a shipping container you need storage storage storage.  I think this does it.  14 sq meters.  Whoa.


how to live small with a family

My wife will kill me for writing this one, but here it goes:

There’s a huge movement sweeping across the country known as “the tiny house movement” or “micro living”, or whatever else you want to call it.  Basically, people are moving away from large expensive homes in favor of smaller more economical and ecological homesteads.  In order to do this, obviously, some sacrifices need to be made, but one thing  that I’ve come to notice that is a little unsettling (and in my opinion would slow down the trend) is that a good portion of the “case studies” for smaller living are of either single people or couples with no children.

[editor’s note: this is simply my observation thus far.  anyone out there with children living in a home smaller than 1000 sf, please comment with photos of your home.]

When I design a “small” home, I always design with my family in mind: husband, wife, two kids (three on the weekends).  My wife will say that our current home (coming in at 1200 sf) is no where near enough, but then our home wasn’t designed or built for 21st century living [we own a 1918 Craftsman Bungalow currently in various states of renovation].  Our home was built before the automobile was widely used, before television, before central heat and air (for residences).  Life was much different 92 years ago.  Changes are obviously in the works to maximize the use of our 1200 sf, but that’s a story for another time.  Even with such a modest home, we waste a great deal of space simply because of the nature of how it was designed – segregated spaces and separate functions.

The logistics of housing 4 or 5 people may seem like a daunting task and you may think that this would muscle out the idea of “micro” living, but you would be wrong.  It’s all in the way you perceive things and how imaginative you can get with how spaces function.

For instance, do you really need a dedicated living room, dining room and kitchen?  Probably not.  Even for a family of 4, providing a generous kitchen with seating at an island is sufficient for every day use and reduces the overall square footage needed for each function.  Living spaces can also be reduced in size by the careful and thoughtful placement/use of built-ins.  With the advent of wireless technology, flat screen tv’s and compact discs, virtually all of your media needs can be stored in a very small amount of space.  A dedicated media built-in need only be about 12″-18″ deep, depending on the type of equipment you have, and can be designed to have multiple functions such as entertaining, reading, romper room – basically any public function.

Through careful design and efficient use of space, as well as taking a cold hard look at what is really necessary for residential living, a family of 4 could comfortably live in a home of no more than 800-1000 sf.  Think NYC/London hyper-urban living in the suburbs.

Oh, how glorious it would be to build a sub urban neighborhood with a density closer to an urban center, but still supplying green spaces, access to mass transit and easy connections to necessary services like shopping, groceries, schools, hospitals and leisure all without sacrificing privacy.

Reading this post and my other post, why a custom residence is better, will hopefully make you think twice next time you drive through some big box sub urban neighborhood to drop $200k+ on a house that has 1000 sf that you really don’t need.  And then go find an architect or designer who is passionate about his profession and wants to design a home for you that fits you and won’t waste space or your money.  There’s a better alternative, you just have to look for it.


some container porn videos for you

seeing as this is a holiday week, here are some container porn videos found on youtube.com.  The third video, I think is the most amazing.  A 3000 sf home built out of shipping containers for around $175k – wood frame construction cost would have been around $400k.  That is one serious endorsement for modular/container construction.  Enjoy.


oh no…not again – part II

Last time I talked about the loathsome return of the McMansion and how a new generation of homeowners and home buyers are moving away from the “traditional home” to something that is more sustainable, has a distinct modern architectural style and is suited to a different style of life than our parents and grandparents were used to.  But what does that look like?  As I’ve talked about before, if the “traditional home” is no more, what replaces it?  In order to answer that, first we have to look at what the traditional home is, break it down into its component parts and identify how our modern ideal has changed.

stock floor plan from random floor plan website

Above is your typical home plan that you can find in any suburban neighborhood in America.  Already you can see that the layout is very segregated and compartmentalized.  Immediately entering the home you’ve got a traditional foyer and a formal dining room.  The “great room”, otherwise known as a living room or family room, all of which are completely cut off and separate from the kitchen and breakfast area.  To the left, the bedrooms, including master, are reached via a small opening and hallway (not unlike a cave entrance).  You could almost draw lines and color code the disparate functions of the home without any colors bleeding together.  I don’t know about you, but this is NOT how I want to live in my largest investment – my home.

So what is the alternative?  What do we offer the next generation of homeowners that addresses this new lifestyle of efficiency, sustainability and open interaction?  First how about just tearing down a few walls?  I know what you’re thinking – I’m a GENIUS!

The Charleston - Sketched floor plans

So we tear down some walls, we blur the barriers between disparate functional spaces and suddenly, with just a little imagination and a lot of architectural education (i.e. numerous sleepless nights, countless gallons of dark roast coffee, more than a few packages of caffeine pills and a propensity for wearing black) we start to think about the “traditional home” as something other than the “traditional home”.

The Row House - single family 3/2

The two above floor plans were created by thinking about how people use a home.  And I mean really use a home not what people tell you in those horrific focus group meetings that developers use to generate ideas for floor plans and elevation layouts.  I’m speaking from dark and terrifying experience here.  Conducting one of those meetings is tantamount to asking a cat how to better design a carrying cage to be more comfortable….it’s still a cage for carrying animals – nothing special and certainly not enjoyable for the cat.

Returning to the topic at hand – if the traditional home is no more than what replaces it is a generation of designers and architects that design for the client – not a sudo-cleint, but a real flesh and blood person/end user – and the way that client lives.  In doing so we first have the opportunity to create something that will have a lasting impact on the lives of an entire family and secondly we will actually be providing the service for which we were made – creating good architecture.  Because at the end of the day, creating efficient, sustainable homes is at the core of good architecture.  Architecture has always been meant to have as little impact on it’s surroundings as possible, to be a part of it’s landscape rather than intrude upon it.  Returning to the basic tenants of architecture and architectural design is the future of not just the home, but the future of the profession itself.


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