Archive for the Category ◊ Architecture ◊

• Sunday, March 24th, 2013

ValhallaThis local inspiration combines some excellent ideas. Hopefully, there is synergy in the combination and their vision can be achieved.

However, the Valhalla “movement” appears high on marketing, youth, style and organic weed. When I contacted them to offer my services to help teach them Aquaponics  (something people in the U.S. are paying me to do), I received a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks. We got that covered.”

So much for the “come join the movement” hype.

Every generation believes that it holds the answers to our societal ills and that they are uniquely modern and equipped with new technology to solve our pressing environmental and social problems. This is one of the benefits of youth.

Ideas spring with great life force when we are young. But ideas are a dime a dozen, we eventually learn. And execution is what separates the dreamers from the real sustainable builders of the future who are able to create replicable  models to be used by others.

I hope their enthusiasm and idealism can carry the day, but history tells a different story about communes, outside of the Kibutz model in Israel which was born out war and the need to defend land.

The 1960′s communes taught us that the real world of life is socially complex and needs more than just the fantasy of new technology creating a better life without conflict or injustice. Further, it has to be rooted in the here and and now rather than built on the hopes of a new tomorrow.

Our lives will be transformed, I firmly believe, on the existing infrastructure and built environment of today. The world does not need to be re-built, but rather retro-fitted to our new ideas and values that reflect cooperation and sustainability.

To create a new way of living and a new world does not call for breaking away from the existing world. Quite the opposite, it requires a deepening involvement with the world as it is, no matter how flawed. Because if they succeed, they have transformed the lives of only the people who manage to move and live there. What about the millions of other people who are stuck in the old cities, stuck in the old buildings, stuck in the old jobs? What is to come of them?

Please comment if you disagree.

Source: The Valhalla Movement

• Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

cohousing in MontrealThis is the future, especially for empty-nesters and young adults, who seek social bonds but without children in the picture.

For more information on local co-housing opportunities, see: CoHabitat Montreal. They are looking to build a 40 unit cohousing facility.

Source: Yes! Magazine

The yearning to live in community is not a new one. Human beings evolved sharing common space, resources, and neighborly support, not only for physical survival but also for a sense of belonging and togetherness. 

But modern society values autonomy, often at the cost of the social connection offered by traditional communities. Cohousing, an idea that originated in Denmark in the 1960s, has been increasingly filling the gap. Each household in cohousing has an individual residence but takes part in the design process, consensus-based decision-making, shared meals, and socializing…

…“The common space is a key feature of cohousing, where people eat together,” says cohousing advocate Neil Planchon, one of the original members who helped get Swan’s Market off the ground. While each unit has its own kitchen, residents share three meals a week, with rotating cooks and opt-in attendance. Planchon points out the importance of setting up a good system of organizing communal meals and activities.

“We have a really good structure to support the sign-up system. The cooks post the menu four days ahead of time, and closing for sign-up is two days before. We’ve also got a good system with the money—a meal ends up being between three and four bucks per person.”

Opportunities to pool labor and resources present themselves in every aspect of cohousing. For example, the community decided they wanted shared laundry facilities, so nobody has a washer or dryer in their home. “We save a lot of space, time, and money that way,” says Planchon. They also built a guest bedroom as a sweat equity project and decided to only have two hot water tanks for the whole community, one for the heating system and the other for hot water. “It’s a radical concept,” Planchon smiles. “Even the architect said, ‘Are you guys crazy?’ But it honored the whole concept of sustainability, of having more space in our homes and reducing natural gas consumption. And it’s working just fine.”

• Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Montreal needs an EcoDistrict, or 5.

EcoDistrictsSource: Huffington Post

Leaders from Austin, Bellingham, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Guadalajara (Mexico), Mountain View, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Vancouver gathered in Portland, Ore. for the first-ever EcoDistricts Institute, a meeting where they examined neighborhood-scale development projects in each of their cities.

The leaders at the institute are developing what are called EcoDistricts, which are also known as “green neighborhoods” or “green districts.” EcoDistricts integrate green buildings and smart infrastructure (energy, water, waste, recycling, transportation, etc.) with community action and civic entrepreneurism. EcoDistricts can be established within brownfield redevelopment areas, campuses or existing neighborhoods.

For the participants in the institute — which was funded by generous grants from the Blackstone Ranch Institute and Ecoworks Foundation — being on the forefront of a new era of urban innovation isn’t enough. They want to go faster, and that’s why they came to Portland. Each had an interesting story to tell:

  • Austin is redeveloping a former industrial parcel on the southwest edge of downtown into a mixed-use neighborhood with affordable (dense) housing, a new central library, improved transit and preservation of a historic art deco power plant.
  • Bellingham is designing a new waterfront neighborhood on the site of an old paper mill.
  • Boston’s newly-minted “Boston Innovation District” is looking to reinvent itself as a center of advanced manufacturing and knowledge companies mixed with community amenities and housing.
  • Charlotte’s South End EcoDistrict is an emerging mixed-use neighborhood filled with innovative small businesses and housing in repurposed industrial buildings.
  • In Cleveland — a tale of two neighborhoods. On the west side, a tired inner-city neighborhood is in the need of new energy and investment, while on the east side, a new urban agriculture innovation zone is slated for farm incubation and related enterprises.
  • Guadalajara’s residents of the Vallarta Sur neighborhood rejected a proposed elevated highway that would split their neighborhood, and instead are transforming their railroad right of way into a “civic park” that will spur revitalization and the creation of a digital business center.
  • Mountain View — a Silicon Valley community endowed with a vibrant downtown and progressive technology companies — is poised to lead the way in sustainable corporate campus development that supports local businesses and a need for new housing.
  • Philadelphia’s South of South Neighborhood is an existing mixed-income, seeing new growth due to its proximity to the center city.
  • San Francisco’s Central Corridor area is advantageously positioned for dense growth, new transit, district infrastructure and high-tech industry.
  • The University of British Columbia is redeveloping a portion of its abundant land holdings to create new mixed-use neighborhoods. The newest hub is Acadia, planned to accommodate dense housing, amenities, shops and services.

Ten cities, ten stories. The reason for these projects in North America — and dozens more like around the world — is more apparent than ever: Municipal and business leaders must find effective ways to repurpose neighborhoods to take advantage of the growing trends in urbanization (millions of people coming to a city near you in the coming decade) and the changing economy that places a premium on knowledge and innovation. According to leading economists like Joe Cortright and organizations such as Preservation Green Lab and ArtPlace, the cities that focus on rehabilitating and building vibrant, green and diverse neighborhoods have the best chance of thriving in the future.

• Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Spring of SustainabilityUpdate 3/29/12: The series has been disappointing so far, but I’ll stick with it for a few more days.

This is a FREE online series of events you may want to consider. These events can inspire you to live a greener, healthier, more spacious life and transform any frustration you may feel about the state of our planet.

It’s called the Spring of Sustainability, and it features more than 100 pioneers of sustainability – Jane Goodall, Ed Begley Jr., Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Vandana Shiva, John Robbins, Hazel Henderson, to name a few – who will share the most cutting-edge insights and tools for creating a sustainable and thriving world.

Learn more at this link:

This 3-month series of virtual and live events starts on March 26th. Each weekday, you’ll have the chance to listen in and learn from an inspiring sustainability leader via your phone line or computer, or access the replays at a time more convenient for you.

The Spring of Sustainability is the season for you to:

  • Transform fear and frustration into hope and actions you can contribute directly to creating a sustainable world for all beings
  • Learn fun, inspiring ways you can engage your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers in creating a healthy and sustainable community
  • Discover why new systems rooted in justice and sustainability principles are the only viable solution for our planet
  • Network and collaborate with other passionate people and organizations on sustainable initiatives – and help create a thriving planet
  • Get the latest cutting-edge insights into green building, green business, green living, renewable energy sources, wildlife preservation and climate change
  • Understand the role of culture and social will in creating a paradigm shift in economic, political, and social systems that are destroying the planet
Research Credit: John Lumiere-Wins
• Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Geodesic GreenhouseWouldn’t it be great to extend the growing season from 3 months to 10 or 11 months? What if there were a way to garden year-round OUTSIDE without building an expensive greenhouse?

There is a way and the answer is lying in the middle of the St. Laurence river: the Buckminister Fuller designed Biosphere.  The structure of the dome mimics the Platonic solids and sacred geometry found throughout nature, including our bodies.

The geodesic dome is an amazing design because it is very strong and yet light. It needs no permanent foundation and thus could be easily moved to another site, if required.

Source: Growing Spaces

While winter winds & snow sweep the length and breadth of the ranch at Hummingbird Living School, inside the dome it’s a cozy 65º and rising as the morning sun shines into the translucent geodesic greenhouse.

Our 42-foot dome was erected in four days, but that was only the beginning.  It’s an ongoing community effort to set up the water tank, build the loft and haul many wheelbarrows of rich soil into the structure for the beds.  And we love it all! The peripheral ring of beds is complete and already home to tender sprouting plants.”

Resource Links:


• Friday, December 02nd, 2011

While we all enjoy new technology such as solar panels and geothermal heat pumps, the easiest thing any homeowner can do to use less energy and be more sustainable is insulate. And then insulate some more!

Source: Mother Nature NetworkAbondance Apartments

I went to visit one of North America’s first “net zero” multi-unit residential dwellings – a three-story apartment building in the east end of Montreal that generates all the energy it needs over the course of a year. The development is called “Abondance,” and it’s the product of a young, ambitious architect named Christopher Sweetnam-Holmes…

…Sweetnam-Holmes’ Abondance development is an elegant example of how sustainability reorders priorities in ways that are hard to see from within the confines of our current paradigm. It’s not a conventional Montreal apartment block with solar panels on the roof; it’s a thorough rethinking of the conventions of the conventional apartment building top to bottom, often using the same materials and processes but in much different ways.

Sweetnam-Holmes gave me a tour of the project the other day – first the three-unit Phase 1 building, in which he lives, then the still-under-construction 17-unit apartment block next door. Abondance stands in a working-class neighborhood just south of downtown Montreal. I was following the beacon of the site’ s address on Google Maps on my iPhone, and the building was so inconspicuous I walked right by it. If I was further back from it, I might’ve spied the silhouette of the solar array on the roof, but otherwise it was a brick low-rise seamlessly integrated into the rest of the block.

The really radical thing about Abondance is not the solar PV and hot-water heaters, not the geothermal heat pumps in the basement that warm and cool it or the wireless master kill switch at the door of each unit that lets you turn off all the lights and everything sucking juice on “sleep” mode in one poke as you leave. No, what’s radical about Abondance is how little energy it needs – something like 23 percent of the Montreal average – and how it reduced its required load.

The main answer: insulation. Lots of it. More than double the norm, including exterior layers of spray-foam insulation to avoid heat loss at the wooden studs. Abondance isn’t an energy-generating marvel so much as an obsessive experiment in R-value and what they call “tightness” in the building trade. Abondance takes in heat very well, and it traps it zealously. It’s ridiculously well-insulated box masquerading as a cleantech showcase.

• Thursday, December 01st, 2011

suburban office parkIf there were no suburban office “parks” then there would be less incentive to live in the suburbs and less incentive to drive EVERYWHERE. There would be more incentive to live in urban, energy efficient communities where daily interaction with people and a sense of community was common.

Source: NY Times

IN an era of concern about climate change, residential suburbs are the focus of a new round of critiques, as low-density developments use more energy, water and other resources. But so far there’s been little discussion of that other archetype of sprawl, the suburban office.

Rethinking sprawl might begin much more effectively with these business enclaves. They cover vast areas and are occupied by a few powerful entities, corporations, which at some point will begin spending their ample reserves to upgrade, expand or replace their facilities…

suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.

These workplaces embody a new form of segregation, where civic space connecting work to the shops, housing, recreation and transportation that cities used to provide is entirely absent. Corporations have cut themselves off from participation in a larger public realm.

Rethinking pastoral capitalism is integral to creating a connected, compact metropolitan landscape that tackles rather than sidesteps a post-peak-oil future. This requires three interrelated strategies. State and federal governments should stop paying for new highway extensions that essentially subsidize the conversion of agricultural land for development, including corporate offices. Existing infrastructure needs maintenance and renewal, not expansion.

• Wednesday, November 30th, 2011


Research Credit: Cryptogon

• Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Grow House, Pt. St. CharlesThis is a success story of Montreal innovation leading the world!

Source: Montreal Gazette

Located close to work or public transit, on narrow streets not yet planned for car traffic, in areas with high enough density of population to foster thriving, busy commercial streets nearby, Montreal’s original narrow houses are living examples of sustainable city living.

Friedman has spent much of his career espousing skinny spaces as an antidote to the three-car, suburban dream house. He grew up in a narrow house in Israel and now lives in a narrow house in Notre Dame de Grâce. In the early 1990s, he and his colleague Witold Rybczynski developed the Grow Home, a small, inexpensive and energy-efficient narrow-front house that won international acclaim and myriad awards for its efficient use of space. Builders from Pointe aux Trembles to the Czech Republic and Mexico built houses based on the Grow Homes design.

Despite the accolades, Friedman’s 14-foot-wide, 1,500-square-foot houses were seen as an oddity back then. But fast-forward 20 years and thin is in. Narrow homes aren’t just a product of necessity meant to fit a tight budget or a sliver of land. For a long time, only people who couldn’t afford bigger houses lived in small ones. But that’s changing. Growing numbers of homebuyers seek smaller houses that better fit the changing demographics of smaller families, single-parent households and aging couples. Around the globe, homes are cropping up in the tightest of spaces as a new generation of space-savvy architects finds bold and creative ways to redefine “cozy.”

“Urban planners talk about the importance of density in building vibrant, healthy neighbourhoods. And they are constantly looking for ways of halting sprawl. Well, right here in these old Montreal neighbourhoods are to be found some tried and true century-old solutions,” Friedman explained as he took a visitor on a guided tour through Verdun and the Point. In Pointe aux Trembles, more than 10,000 narrow homes, based on his original Grow Home design and built in 1991, have matured into a leafy, livable community where ivy grows up the sides of houses and kids skateboard through the streets.

• Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

When an architect builds sustainable housing in North America, she is faced with bureaucratic rules and regulations. When she takes the same technology to other countries, she is welcomed with gratitude.

This touching documentary traces the work of sustainable architect extraordinaire, Michael Reynolds… best of all, it has a happy ending!

Source: Garbage Warrior web site

Garbage WarriorImagine a home that heats itself, that provides its own water, that grows its own food. Imagine that it needs no expensive technology, that it recycles its own waste, that it has its own power source.

And now imagine that it can be built anywhere, by anyone, out of the things society throws away. Thirty years ago, architect Michael Reynolds imagined just such a home – then set out to build it.

A visionary in the classic American mode, Reynolds has been fighting ever since to bring his concept to the public. He believes that in an age of ecological instability and impending natural disaster, his buildings can – and will – change the way we live.

Shot over three years in the USA, India and Mexico, Garbage Warrior is a feature-length documentary film telling the epic story of maverick architect Michael Reynolds, his crew of renegade house builders from New Mexico, and their fight to introduce radically different ways of living.

A snapshot of contemporary geo-politics and an inspirational tale of triumph over bureaucracy, Garbage Warrior is above all an intimate portrait of an extraordinary individual and his dream of changing the world.

Watch the trailer: