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There's a New Prefab in Town: Michelle Kaufmann Designs + mkSolaire

Mksolaire If you haven’t noticed, there’s a new prefab in town.  But if you’ve been following the modern prefab movement, you’ll recognize this newest installment comes from an experienced architect:  Michelle Kaufann Designs.  MKD is behind the glidehouse and sunset breezehouse prefabs that have become the talk in modern + sustainable building circles.  But these aren’t just prefab concepts or designs.  Recently, MKD finished building the first U.S. factory dedicated to sustainable, modular custom homes (www.mkConstructs.com).  This Washington (state) factory is wholly-owned by MKD and will serve California, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. 

Solaire_interior The mkSolaire is an open, loft-like home designed for healthy, green living in the urban context.  The architecturally designed roof and windows allow a perfect mixture of air and light to enter the home.  Initial design to completion lead time is roughly 8-14 months, which varies depending on a variety of factors specific to your design and location.  Some of the things that will be available include solar panel roofing, geothermal system, wind generator system, hybrid system, icynene insulation, bamboo or reclaimed wood flooring, recycled paper countertops, recycled glass countertops, on-demand water heaters, water-saving dual-flush toilets, non-toxic paints, and formaldehyde-free cabinetry, etc. 

Solaire_roofSolaire_18  Solaire_17

Because the mkSolaire is built from a modular system, there are endless possibilities as far as layouts and floorplans.  The website has 5+ floorplan options, but it looks like those can be further customized.  And if you’re really interested in taking the plunge, MKD has tried to take the sting out of prefab costing by explaining how it all works.  This stuff isn’t cheap:  factory costs ($150-175 square foot), transportation + installation ($3,000 – $8,000 per module), site costs (depends on location), and miscellaneous costs (permit fees, architectural and engineering fees, sales tax for some states, appliance costs, add-on costs, etc.).  That said, homes do come with high-end Kohler  and Hansgrohe fixtures, Anderson windows + doors, and slate-tile flooring.

I could go on and on, so feel free to visit their site and see if this looks like something you’re interested in.  As far as modern + green custom architectural design is concerned, this is about as good an option as they come.  Source via Linton + Yahoo Finance

Skyscraper Sunday: SOM, Green Skycraper Firm of the Year

Jinao_tower_nanjing_1There’s just no stopping Skidmore, Owings + Merrill.  They are the (as nominated by Jetson Green) Green Skyscraper Firm of the Year.  I blogged about them in regards to the zero energy Pearl River Tower, which absolutely blows me away.  Have you seen the thing?  I also blogged about them on 9/11 because they designed the green Freedom Tower, which is going to be an architectural beacon of freedom and innovation for decades in the future.  When it comes to sustainability and architectural excellence in skyscapers, SOM is the number one firm.  That’s hands down. 

SOM has an enormous portfolio of work in China and they are working on over 15 skyscraper projects there right now.  Interestingly, it’s easier to be innovative in China because the climate lends itself to such behavior.  Firms in the US are reluctant to take on commercial/security risk.  They don’t want to tick off neighbors or trade unions either.  China on the other hand wants to push the envelope.  They have cheap materials and a desire to build green structures.  They are a command economy, so there’s not much public outcry, even if the building is outlandish.  Plus, global recognition helps their situation.  I get heaps of search queries on my blog everyday for a post I did on the Pearl River Tower–that’s global recognition.   

Nanjing_jinling_hotel_1 Nanjing_greenland Shenzhen_avic_plaza

I’ve included some pictures of buildings that SOM has designed for construction in China.  There’s too much to say about each, but one thing should be noted, however:  these buildings are all going to be done in 2007-2008.  There’s a quick turnaround time in China–they have the attitude to get things done.  Notice the delay for buildings like this in the United States and query whether that has anything to do with (in comparison) innovation, politics, determination, or drive.

Nanjing Greenland will have irregularly-spaced slots for green space that "march vertically up the facade."  Jinao Tower will be built with less steel than a traditional skyscraper.  It will be built around a diagonal grid bracing system (similar to the one used for Hearst Tower of New York).  Jinao Tower also features a double-skinned surface for solar shading and insulation.  Each SOM buildling is chock full of innovation. 

Extra Links:
SOM Company Site
Not Innovative?  SOM’s Skyscraper Projects in China Tell a Different Story [Architectural Record]

Green Renovation 101: Herd Theory Approach

Aia_study_popular_feature_graph_2 You’re thinking about selling your house within the next year and want to make some changes to add legitimate value to the place.  You really want to differentiate your home from other similar homes within a mile (or so), but you don’t know how to do it.  Plus, analysts are talking about how the market is overvalued and house prices may drop–the temperature is rising with the increasing tension in house prices, interest rates, and hold-out buyers.  Well, there’s a report out called "High Energy Costs Inspire New Features in Homes," prepared by American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA.  I think this is an excellent source of information. 

Efficiency gains can be found in low-tech or high-tech renovations.  With concerns over high energy prices, one of the most popular renovations, according to the study, was to place extra insulation in the attic.  A cooler roof + attic lessens the burden on your air conditioner in the home.  Also, some other features that declined in popularity were larger hallways/increased circulation and upscale entryways.  These features add space (and energy requirements) to the home but they don’t add any usable space.  If I were building a new house, these statistics would be really important to the design of my house, especially if I were considering selling the place at anytime in the distant future. 

Aia_study_popular_products_1 The study also pointed out home products that are gaining in popularity.  As you can see, the most popular products were those that manage energy consumption and have low maintenance.  The "energy efficient" category includes items such as triple glazed windows.  Notice the popularity of the tankless water heater and water saving devices.  Lots of cities are feeling the crunch of water shortages…it’s nice not to be tied to "hog"-style use of water and electricity.

Look at this study as a trend barometer that lays out what people most demand and will soon come to be expected in future houses.  If you want to replace the water heater and happen to have some extra cash, get the tankless–they have tax incentives for those things and it’s not that bad of an investment.  Homebuilders will catch on to these trends and moving forward, all houses will come standard with energy-efficient features. 

Application:
If you want to sell, get on board and bring your home up to par with features that people want.  It’ll make the broker’s job that much easier.

Extra Links:
Remodeling: Going "Green" May Not Save Green [Residential Architect]
More Home Markets "extremely" Overvalued [CNNMoney.com]

Sustainability is Good Business: Obstacles to Green Building Progress

Usgbc_guiding_principles_1 Going green doesn’t mean you’ve turned into a hippy or gone granola, it means you’ve taken a pro-active step to create an efficient, economic, healthy work or home environment.  If you haven’t noticed, there is a nascent (i.e., in terms of popularity), accelerating movement in design + construction towards making buildings sustainable.  It’s likely that 10-20 years from now, the term "green building" will be anachronistic.  All buildings will be "smart" and independent.  But for now, only a small percentage of buildings are heading in this direction and there are a few stubborn reasons to explain why.  In this post, I’m going to talk about sustainable buildings in the context of commercial endeavors, but the principles apply equally to residential.

The fact is, sustainable buildings are better performers: LOWER operating costs, BETTER sales, + HIGHER productivity.  Case studies abound to support this assertion, but the real question is why aren’t businesses flocking to adopt sustainable design principles in their buildings (old + new)?  In a Globe St. article by Brenna Walraven, it was suggested that there are two main obstacles to green building proliferation: 

  1. Energy-efficiency Capital Myth – the myth is that the only way to improve building efficiency is through substantial, significant investments.  My write-up on Adobe’s green building disproves this myth.
  2. Lack of Awareness – this is self-explanatory, but one should consider the impetus to being unlearned on green building, especially for those professionals who make it their line of work to design, construct, + create high-caliber buildings.  Is it political?  Too treehugger-esque?  My response to last-adopters:  sustainable building is to building as Japanese manufacturing is to manufacturing. 

Beddington_zero_energybedzed Buildings that are resource efficient will cost LESS, not more.  Why?  You are using less.  Big changes can be made with slight operational adjustments, and huge capital investments aren’t always required to obtain the greatest benefits for a certain project (new + old).  Further, if you have an architect, property manager, or developer that says it will be too expensive to go the sustainable route, walk the other way and hire someone else.  That group hasn’t been doing their industry homework.  There is a huge paradigm shift in this industry.  If you don’t pay attention, you’ll be like Ford, trying to figure out what makes Toyota so good.  Source via Globe St.

[September] Architectural Record House of the Month: Newport Beach – Heinfeld Residence

House_front_1 Architectural Record always seems to find some of the best modern + green residences in the country:  this month’s spotlight is on Dan + Katherine Heinfeld’s home designed by architectural firm LPA, Inc., in Newport Beach, California.  LPA has a strong commitment to incorporating green concepts in their designs; they’re one of the earliest firms to get involved with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program.  Mr. Heinfeld is the president of LPA, so designing his own home included the added tension of getting it right, to prove to clients that green design can be modern + luxurious. 

Green Features:
House_print The house really does include a slew of sustainable features…it’s built with a Glu-lam and composite beam structure that comprises two stories, four bedrooms, and four bathrooms.  Three sides of the house wrap around a courtyard/pool-area.  The pocket glass and screen doors open up to the solar-heated pool area (Suntrek).  The entire house was designed for efficient natural lighting, including a mostly windowless eastern orientation, an extended roof overhang on the southwestern side, an insulated, translucent skylight in the main room (Kalwall Skylight), and mechanical sunshades in every room (Lutron). 

Pool_house Kitchen Living_room

The house is powered almost completely by the 5.3 KW building integrated photovoltaics (Solar Integrated Technologies).  Also, the carpet tiles (Interface FLOR) and floor (Terrazzo) are both made with recycled content.  Of course, the paint is non-VOC, Eco-shield paint (Dunn Edwards).  LPA even provided the Xeriscaped landscaping.  Really, the Heinfelds didn’t hold anything back when putting this green + modern masterpiece together. 

Extra Links:
House of the Month Article and Project Specs [Architectural Record]
LPA, Inc. Website
Cristian Costea Photos

Skyscraper Sunday: Green Landmark Building For Sale (30 St Mary Axe)

Swiss_re_tower_london_2 Call it what you want:  "Gherkin," "The Cigar," "The Towering Innuendo," "30 St Mary Axe," or "Swiss Re Tower;" it looks like the insurance company, Swiss Re, has retained an agent to sell the place.  The 40-story building is one of the most recognizable shapes in London’s financial district.  Wanna guess the price?  600 million pounds ($1.1 billion dollars).  Now, I don’t know real estate values in London, but even for New York or San Francisco office building real estate, I think that’s a high price.  It’s worth it. 

30 St. Mary Axe:
London_swiss_re_tower_long The building was designed by Norman Foster (also architect of WTC 200 Greenwich – the "four diamonds" building) and completed in 2004.  It received the 2004 RIBA Stirling Price for Architecture and was nominated for a Bentley Award of Excellence.  It was the first skyscraper to be built in The City for 25 years and stands tall at 590 feet.  Known for its cylindrical facade and phallic shape, the building is even more revered for its state-of-the-art design features. 

State-of-the-Art Design:
Advanced parametric modeling was used to reduce wind loads + turbulence and maximize natural light + ventilation exposure.  Comparatively speaking, 30 St Mary Axe consumes 50% less energy than a traditional large office building.  The building design allows for natural ventilation (a feature that can be used about 40% of the year). 

Swiss_re_wind_model Swiss_re_color_wind_model Swiss_re_model

Interesting Fact: 
Swiss_re_dome There’s only one piece of curved glass in 30 St Mary Axe…guess where?  The lens at the pinnacle of the structure.  One could go on and on about the various technologies used in this building, but my post would get too long.  For those interested, I’ve attached a list of some sources with more information. 

Extra Links:
30 St Mary Axe [Official Website]
Modeling the Swiss Re Tower [ArchitectureWeek]
London’s ‘Gherkin’ for Sale [Yahoo]
30 St Mary Axe – Norman Foster [GreatBuildings]

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