5 Lessons from Southern Vernacular Houses

Our ancestors built buildings in response to the environment, and so should we continue to design & build our architecture, articulated in such a way so as to respond to the environment in which it is intended to be built.  

This is also an opportunity to point out the inherent problem with purchasing a “stock plan” home design.  Many of these plans are intended to achieve a certain “look” or “style” of architecture, but they are seldom well thought through, so as to respond to environmental conditions.  Particularly, since they are “stock” plans which are intended to be sold as generic, reproducible designs, they are not specifically designed for a given lot, site condition, micro / macro environment, etc., and therefore they most often will not address the issues of solar orientation, wind flow across a site, etc., conditions which can be so vital to the success of a homes efficiency performance.  

My point here is this.  As most of us are on a budget, we do need to keep money in mind, but consider this. You may spend less money up for a “stock plan” design, but this decision may end up costing you more over the life of your occupancy of the home, on things such as utility costs and maintenance, dealing with a home that was not designed with a particular site, or solar orientation, in mind.  On the flip side of this coin, you will usually find, with a well-designed home, one which responds to a given site with appropriate materiality and proper solar orientation, you may spend more up front for the custom design, but you will end up saving money on utility costs over the duration of the life of the home.  

All points to consider before you move forward in planning your next home design project.

This is a re-post of a good list of reasons why some of our traditionally “southern” architecture (homes in particular) looks the way it does (from Frederick + Frederick Architects). Click the link below to see the list.

5 Lessons from Southern Vernacular Houses — Frederick + Frederick Architects.

Seattles Bullitt Center Will Be the Greenest and Most Sustainable Commercial Building in the World | Ecocentric | TIME.com

Seattles Bullitt Center Will Be the Greenest and Most Sustainable Commercial Building in the World | Ecocentric | TIME.com.

SIP House by FOAA and North | GBlog

Here’s an interesting example of a regional modern inspired getaway.  The exterior is wrapped in an “asphalt membrane”. The reusability as it relates to this type of a petroleum based product is probably not very good, from a green perspective, but as a material study, this is a relevant approach, as the material will probably weather nicely for years to come.

The all black exterior palette juxtaposed to the brightly colored interior spaces, presents an artistic expression to the traditional form that otherwise could have been banal in this landscape.  The raised foundation gets major points with respect to keeping the land as closed to virgin as possible.  Well done!  Check out the link below to see / read more…

SIP House by FOAA and North | GBlog.

Sustainable Regional Architecture

In our technology driven society today, we are constantly bombarded with various forms of media, whether it be social, news, advertising, etc. Our world has become so much larger (or smaller, depending on how you look at it) with relation to the time before the internet.

For architecture, and our built environment, in general, this allows us to build with an endless network of building products is at our disposal.  As designers, it is our responsibility to cull through this information and set standards for our individual practices as to what’s really important and relevant for our clients.  They are looking to us for guidance, as we are seen as experts in the field of building.  It is our responsibility, then, to use our influence in a positive light, to recommend products and materials that are socially and environmentally responsible for the life-cycle of the material. (Lifecycle building is the design of building materials, components, information systems, and management practices to create buildings that facilitate and anticipate future changes to and eventual adaptation or dismantling for recovery of all systems, components, and materials. http://www.lifecyclebuilding.org/). Material recyclability plays an important role in the life-cycle of a material, as an example.

Palmyra House

Palmyra House - Mumbai, India

Locally sourced building materials and products is another tried and true method to building responsibly, as transportation costs & fuel consumption can sometimes be a big factor in the selection of a material, with regard to total cost.  Local building practices can sometimes stray from the traditional ideals of regional building, so perhaps historic building precedents can be a good source to examine construction materials, methods, techniques, etc., with regard to local sourcing. Here’s a good example of a project in Mumbai that takes advantage of local site materials on inhabit.com’s website.  I understand locally sourced projects are not always feasible, or easily accomplished.  In the United States, local sourcing becomes increasingly more difficult due to bureaucratic building construction regulation’s effects on standardizing materials.

Aillet House, ca. 1830 - Louisiana

Don’t misunderstand me, though.  I am not opposed to using building technology and advanced building materials. As a designer, I feel we must, however, use these new and innovative materials for the right reasons, asking “How will this material better the project?” or “Is this material the best choice for this application?”.  In my experience, the most successful projects are those that marry a host of materials and technologies, old and new, complimenting each other throughout the project. So much more than those projects that are pigeon-holed into the boundaries of a certain “material palette”, these “gumbo projects” can exude greater character, leading to a much more successful composition and, as a result, a satisfied client!

Ames Cottage - San Francisco, CA (Boor Bridges Architects)