Sustainable Architecture

Designing and Building are not disparate acts; they are compliments to a whole, and are best achieved as a continually evolving process.

I developed that sentiment in architecture school. Frustrated by the educational palette I was offered, I dropped out and largely eschewed the built environment for 6 years until I picked up the 3 book set on Earthships by Michael Reynolds. I began a journey of learning what it means to design, build, live, and engage sustainably.

I’d found natural building, ecological design, and creative engagement. Together,  they offered an alternative way of interacting with the world.

The definition of Natural Building:

“Use materials you have locally available in abundance in a manner that is energy efficient for your climate.” Sigi Koko, Down to Earth Design

Makes sense, right? The problem is that the  design and construction industries don’t work that way. At the time, human-scale sustainable architecture was being practiced primarily at the fringes – largely in pockets of counter-culture and intentional community.

My quest to immerse myself in sustainable architecture inspired first travel throughout North America in search of alternatives to a mainstream existence, and eventually a family move to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. There I raised a family and literally helped shape and grow an Ecovillage, all the while learning, loving, playing and doing in an immersive and collaborative environment.

20 years later, I am still immersed in the evolutionary process of creating sustainable architecture.

I’ve finally given up on having “my profession” figured out. I’ve been deepening my knowledge and understanding for over 20 years, and something crucial I’ve learned is that architecture, despite all appearances, is not static. The buildings live and breathe, can get sick and die, can be brought back from the brink, and given an new life. The needs of buildings change, their uses change, and the climate and culture that surrounds and fills them changes. Buildings offer us shelter and invite our collaborative engagement. I have learned to embrace that I’m in industry of evolutionary process, at the human-scale. In 5 years time, what I know to be true now will be refined further, honed, and altered by experience, greater understanding, and the collaborations with other sustainability seekers.

What’s around the bend will be a game-changer.

These days, the industry is starting to look at the carbon impact of the built environment. As an industry, we’ve solidly been in the high-performance transition for a decade, and one unintended consequence is that we’ve burned a LOT of carbon to do it. We can’t afford to keep doing that, and we need new strategies for improving our existing structures and building new structures that actually have a positive carbon impact for the world.

Basically, as an industry, we need to power up for the post-carbon society that we are headed toward, one way or the other.

And wouldn’t you know… Natural building is the key.