LiveWork: The Eco-Development of the Future

According to the latest McGraw Hill Report, green home construction is on the upswing—it’s projected to receive a five-fold boost by 2016. However, there is debate as to how green these homes are. Surely, it’s more sustainable to buy an existing home and add green features to it (after recycling or reusing the items and materials replaced, of course). Additionally, many home developers are building these so-called sustainable homes and neighborhoods in suburban areas, much to the ire of many environmentalists—how green can it be if the owner still has to drive their vehicle everywhere?

Just when I was feeling a bit bummed about sustainable home building, I read this article in Fast Company, which profiles the LiveWork project, a sustainable housing plan out of Athens, Georgia that is the brainchild of two architectural students, Eric Laine and Suzanne Steelman. Taking into account the environment, economics and social factors, LiveWork consists of three single-family units that feature living spaces above commercial space. The family that lives on the second floor can choose to open their own business, lease the space to another business or let the Homeowner Association lease it to another business. With unemployment still high and many people foregoing the job hunt in favor of starting their own businesses, this is the ideal option. Additionally, since the business is so close to home, families with children may be able to save on childcare expenses as well as have the opportunity to use the time they would have spend commuting (an average of 30 minutes each way) with their kids instead.

LiveWork is intended to encourage sustainable living. The net-zero design is made of steel, which can be recycled, reclaimed or disassembled and used in another project. Additionally, it’s insulated with sheep’s wool, a material that features an R-value of a whopping 34.5! That’s a super tightly insulated home. Water is collected on the roof and stored underground for non-potable use, and a green screen encourages passive solar. Energy is derived from 95 photovoltaic panels, and is shared by all residents as well as sold back to the grid. Since the building is occupied, either by residents or businesses, 24-hours a day, energy is more efficiently used.

This is a great idea that really plays off traditional planning models. When the majority of people lived in cities, it wasn’t unusual for people to live above businesses, specifically their business. It makes sense and is a far easier commute than having to trudge along in traffic with thousands of other disgruntled and tired commuters who are sucking down coffee, McMuffins and Powerbars. I think as more people, especially the younger generation (who are essentially economically screwed, but also overflowing with confidence, bless their little hearts), reclaiming urban areas and looking to escape the monotony of the cubicle farm, the LiveWork concept will become a desirable solution and means of maintaining a sustainable economic and environmental existence without having to sacrifice relationships.

What We Can Learn from a Small German Village

To all the doubters who say that green technologies and ideas don’t create jobs, take a look at Feldheim, Germany, a rural village completely powered by renewable energy. The small village of 145 people has no unemployment; many of the residents work in the renewable sector, in the biogas plant or the wind and solar parks. It’s easy to dismiss this little tid-bit as an anomaly of a small town, but it’s hard to deny that the growth in the renewable energy sector translates to more jobs within this sector.

 

From beer to sustainable farming

Elsewhere in Germany, Frisch vom Dach, or Fresh from the Roof, is soliciting investors for an innovative aquaponic farm project for the roof of the Old Malthouse in Berlin. Beer and sustainable farming—I think I’m in love. Fish will live in the vats that once housed dry barley, while plants will grow in a greenhouse on the roof. While fish waste fertilizes the growing plants, the plants purify the water. In addition to growing fresh produce, fish will also grow and thrive. The harvest is intended for sale to a shop on-site as well as to local retailers. The first harvest is set for 2013.

 

Germany is making good on its promise to generate at least one-third of its power from wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy by 2020, and generate up to 80% of its power from these sources by 2050. In exchange for essentially funding R&D on renewable energy, homeowners that have installed solar panels and the like can sell the power they generate back to the grid. Because the country sees renewable energy and green technology as the future, they’re willing to set the bar for green investment, despite critics.

 

The U.S. should take a page from the Germans—we’re reaching a point where we have to either shit or get off the pot, and basically get onboard with the growth of the future renewable sector as that’s where the jobs are and will be in the future. Adopting green building and technology is not a partisan issue—it’s a logical solution for our changing times.

Finally, A Town for Bikers!

I’m a very lucky bike commuter—my little California beach town is full of 3-foot bike lanes on all of the major roads. The only hairy part of my commute is merging with traffic when the bike lane ends before the freeway on-ramp. Most bike commuters aren’t so lucky and have to deal with narrow streets, rude drivers and random idiocy.

 

Artist rendering of Bicycle City

However, a town in South Carolina is looking to change things and become a bike-only community (although cars are allowed to park on the outskirts of town). Bicycle City LLC has selected Gaston, South Carolina as the first car-free community. In addition to encouraging cycling and walking, all homes will be build in compliance with LEED standards and rely on clean energy. The community is located near the Three Rivers Greenway, an existing bike trail, and is close to Columbia, an established bicycle-friendly city. Situated between the mountains and the ocean, this Bicycle City boasts a myriad of amenities to its future residents.

 

Artist rendering of Bicycle City

Green features:

  • Multi-surface trails for walking, hiking and biking (oh my!)
  • Green homes
  • Recreational opportunities around the local lake
  • Access to a local organic market

 

Currently, only trail work is underway, but interested parties can reserve a home site in the community.

A Hobbit House in Wales

 

Throw in a hobbit house, like the sustainable one built in Wales, and consider me sold. Built by Simon Dale, the house was built with the environment in mind, touting straw bales for insulation, reclaimed and locally-sourced materials, natural ventilation, solar panels, gravity-fed water, compost toilet and a rainwater catchment system. Plus it took 1000-1500 man hours and £3,000 (about US$4,650). According to his website, Dale built the home for his family in order to live the life they wanted to lead, without the burdens of a mortgage payment or rent. He also did it to meet the challenges of sustainable land use issues and energy consumption. Armed with tools, motivation and a little help from his friends, he completed the home in four months. Since this project was a success, he’s in the process of building a home within an eco-village in Wales that is part of the Lammas Project.

Rendering of the Hobbit House

 

Rendering of Hobbit House

Fasten Your Helmets: London’s Velodrome Receives Green Honors for Sustainable Features

The Velodrome

As London gets ready to host the Olympics this summer, one of its newest buildings is receiving accolades for its green features. The Velodrome, which will host track cycling events, was recognized by RIBA, received the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award and listed on CNN’s list of The Greenest Buildings of 2011. Designed by Hopkins Architects, the 6,000 seat Velodrome is one of the most sustainable buildings in the Olympic Park, and will be open for the local cycling community to enjoy once the Games are over. Not only is it the greenest, but it’s one of the few venues constructed that was completed to budget.

Rendering of the inside of the Velodrome

 

Sustainable features include:

  • Siberian pine track and cladding from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood
  • Natural ventilation reduces need for air conditioning, while keeping the track level of the facility comfortable for competitors
  • Maximized use of natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting

Oh, plus it’s touted as one of the fastest tracks in the world. Green and speedy—not too shabby.

The Velodrome is designed with cyclists in mind and intended to position London the cycling capital of the world, featuring a one mile road cycle circuit , BMX track and a mountain bike course (Now if only they could make navigation around the country a bit easier, says the American). VeloPark, as it will be known, will provide a safe place for cyclists of all types to train, improve their skills and have fun. In addition to a sustainable cycling facility, London also touts a innovative bike rental program with nearly 6,000 bikes available for hire.

Although Mayor Boris Johnson has tried to incite a cycling revolution over the last few years, change takes time. Like many cities, traffic in London is hell and owning a car in the UK is expensive. The Mayor seeks to dramatically increase the number of people who commute in London by bicycle. While the jury is out on the program’s success so far, we can agree on the physical, psychological and time benefits of cycling–in short, it keeps you thin, sane and will get you most places quicker than that 2000 pound depreciating hunk of plastic and metal you’re driving around.

Where's your helmet, Boris?

As a cyclist, I’m stoked that the Velodrome is green and a bitchen place to bike. Perhaps I’ll schlep my Giant over to the UK on my next visit and give the one mile road cycle circuit a whirl…assuming I’ve mastered clipless pedals by then, but that’s another story.