I watched this video of the Jellyfish House by architects Lisa Iwamoto and Craig Scott, and needless to say, I was kind of blown away. It’s quite compelling to watch, but at the same level, it’s complicated. I can’t say I understand everything that’s going on but I like it. Jellyfish are responsive to the environment around them, so like jellyfish, one concept with this house is that water is filtered and harvested through the actual structure of the home. The structure uses UV light filtration, which could come down in price in the future, and titanium dioxide, which is now used for self-cleaning glass in tall skyscrapers. This concept prototype for the future of sustainable living was designed (hypothetically) for Treasure Island, a decommissioned military base in San Francisco Bay with toxic top soil.
I’m excited about this post. When it comes to surface materials, there’s a lot out there, and I’ve blogged about a few companies that have good products. Concrete countertops appear on house flipping-type shows every now and then, so I thought it was time we all got to know VitraStone. VitraStone products are made from 70-85% recycled content (post consumer & post industrial) such as recycled glass and fly ash blended with a proprietary mix of ceramic cement. Products in the VitraStone line up include vessel sinks, sink tops, countertop systems, back splash, floor tiles, wall cladding, and furniture and accessories. VitraStone is strong, too. Scratch and chip resistant. Freeze/thaw cycle resistant. Mold resistant. VitraStone products come in a variety of colors (as you will see below) for interior and exterior applications. No off-gassing here.
Couple cool things about VitraStone: (1) you may get LEED credits for using these materials, and (2) VitraStone offers free design services to create 3-dimensional layouts for client approvals (or they’ll work directly with architectural specifications). Matter of fact, the green building store here in Salt Lake City carries VitraStone, so maybe I can push the old landlord into a green kitchen renovation? Any thoughts …
This green home was built in 2003, so it’s not anything new in particular, but I wanted to share some of the green concepts the homeowners worked through during process of building it. First, the owners, Brandy LeMae + Joseph Vigil, purchased an odd-shaped lot near a well-traveled road for $157k. It was rather cheap, with some lots in Boulder costing nearly $400k, so the design would have to solve the noise and space problem. Second, they wanted a green home on a budget. In the end, they were able to build the Hickory House for about $91 psf. There’s an excellent article from Dwell about their process, but I’m going to explain a little below.
The owners raved about structural insulated panels, or SIPs, which went up quickly, were cut to size, allowed for minimal waste, and helped to defray the costs of the project. They also used Forbo natural linoleum countertops, radiant heating in the concrete floors, and denim by-product cotton insulation. LeMae + Vigil tried to keep the design simple — the more complicated the design is, the less money there is to go towards green things (check out VaST’s 3 Design Strategies to Build Green + Save Money). Vigil also designed a foot-wide concrete-block wall stuffed with foam insulation for the west side of the house. By doing this, he was able to block out noise from the road and provide shading for the home. They finished up with some interior design straight from IKEA and were happy with the final product. Looks great from this angle. More images below.
The implications of this research are unbelievable. Seriously. I’ve written about the ten common problems associated with sprawl previously, but this story opens up the discussion again. Angkor Wat is the home of a magnificent temple in Cambodia and was the center to one of the largest cities in the pre-industrialized world. Recently, NASA used ground-sensing radar to study the extent of the city and found that it took up approximately 400 square miles. In comparison, Phoenix sprawls across about 500 square miles, not including the suburbs. The research revealed a complex network of canals, 1,000 man-made ponds, and roughly 70 long-lost temples. The canals carried and distributed water towards the temple and through the south of Angkor. Interestingly, the study also revealed evidence of breaches in dykes and areas where they attempted to fix the canals.
What’s most interesting is the idea that Angkor’s increasingly intricate and complex system of canals might have been too expensive and difficult to maintain. So, there was an elaborate infrastructure that might have run into disrepair … which possibly contributed to the downfall of Angkor? This is very interesting research. Apply that to our situation and query whether the issues we have with the levees in New Orleans or the bridge in Minnesota parallel the situation in Angkor. Do we have an infrastructure, fueled by sprawl and fractional planning, that is too expensive to maintain?
Although it’s not all that attractive looking from these images, it’s the greenest building in Billings, Montana, and one of a select few buildings certified "Platinum" under the LEED-NC (new construction) certification system. Using technology such as solar panels and composting toilets, it offices the Northern Plains Resource Council and consumes about 21% of the energy and 41% of the water of a similarly sized building. Financially, the building cost about $140 psf, which is about $35 psf cheaper than if the older building had been demolished and a new one put in its place.
In all honesty, there are only three other buildings in Montana that have green certifications from the USGBC. BUT, this building, known as Home on the Range, has created a gathering place for local architects, students, and the public. Now, there are 18 LEED projects in the registration phase in Montana. That’s incredible. We’re really getting some serious momentum behind this thing, that’s for sure.
And that’s pretty incredible. It can be used for personal, business, or industrial applications. The Power Pod arrives on a single flatbed truck and sets up in a day. But what’s so special about it? Well, it can outfitted with rooftop solar, the butterfly roof collects water for use in radiant floor heating, and the highly insulated walls (SIP R-28) keep the temperature just right. Plus, there’s also the typical energy-efficient lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and building performance monitoring system. Keeping track of things helps to optimize efficiency. And with the sculptural steel pier foundation, setup should be pretty quick, too.
Can you feel the modern, green prefab-type options increasing? Almost out of control? Well, competition is good and this company is based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It’s not really practical to be shipping homes all the way across the country, so there’s going to be lots of options in places that demand this type of construction. The working prototype, as you will see below, looks pretty good, too. Via Treehugger.