Living Small: Sustainable Architecture

The three-dimensional design class at the private high school began the semester with the regular curriculum...creating wire sculpture to explore line,  and hand-building clay masks in order to gain an understanding of ceramics, shape, and various cultures.  In my final year there I decided to tackle building for the largest portion of the semester.
I felt that it was critical to help students who are going to be living and having their families in the new century come to terms with sustainability in a rapidly changing world.

These drawings were the result of some of the teams' first explorations using Google Sketchup

A growing awareness of environmental issues is promoting change in architecture and all other aspects of the design world.   Our mission was to work in teams to learn about how to reduce energy consumption and promote sustainable methods and products in the construction of a house with a footprint of under 1,000 square feet.  Students learned how using the sun to heat, and having excellent indoor air quality is beneficial to occupants.  They also discovered how using land and natural resources responsibly would insure that something would be available to others in years to come.

Fortunately many of the students had visited The National Building Museum the previous year to see the exhibition, The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design, and some had visited the National Mall to see the Solar Decathlon in previous years.  By the way, the EPA competition is in it's fourth iteration and twenty teams from around the world have houses open to the public until Monday, October 18. I believe that Team California won the competition this time around!

Beginning with measuring our carbon footprints and listening to a TED Talk with architect William McDonough in order to help create awareness, students had to research products and issues associated with sustainability, and also research and write about a "green" architect.  We had a virtual field trip to Dubai to see the building boom of architectural fantasies and pleasure domes in this oil-rich culture.  The students developed a sophisticated vocabulary and understanding of many of the dimensions of sustainable building practices while also questioning greenwashing products and rhetoric.

I brought in a lot of Dwell magazines, and books such as: The Big Book of Small House Designs; Christina del Valle's Compact Houses; 500 Ideas for Small Spaces; and Lester Walker's A Little House of My Own as well as architectural and design product samples and brochures to familiarize them with the bewildering array of issues. We learned about the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification System.  We learned a lot about the need for stewardship as well as the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Only then did the real work begin for the students.  Now that they knew why they were designing houses with a small footprint, and having decided how they would like to plan out their less than 1,000 square feet, we all had to come to terms with a computer aided design program.

This team incorporated a green roof as well!
Google Sketchup is amazing.  There are excellent tutorials available to help get you on your feet and building the house of your dreams, and then situating anywhere in the world.  Not only can you design the exterior of the building but you can also design the interiors, furnish them and then move throughout the rooms!  Teams of students taught themselves how to use the program and together they designed houses.  Despite slow computers, a teacher with no technological ability, and team logistics all of the students were successful in becoming architects of their dreams.

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