Friday, September 27, 2013

Naturally Entertained

I recently spent a few days with my family vacationing on a National Seashore. Our cabins were the only structures around. There were no roads, no huge beach houses stacked on top of each other, and no tacky beach shops. It was just the sand and the sea. We brought a few things to pass the time: books, cards, a few beach toys, (and sure, we did take our phones). We found ourselves not needing any of that. The natural beauty of the place was enough to keep us “entertained”. Between swimming in the ocean, looking for shells, and just sitting on the beach taking in our surroundings, there was no need for anything else. Initially I was afraid we had not brought enough to keep the kids entertained, but they too kept very busy and had a great time.

Its amazing how we can be “entertained” by so little, how sensory pleasing the natural environment can be, and even kids recognize this in their own way. Even with all of available forms of entertainment these days, sometimes it’s the simple things that can grasp our attention and leave a lasting impression. There are just some places and experiences that will never be able to be replicated or manufactured. These beautiful places are one of the many reasons why building and living sustainably is important to me. Obviously through the process of building we will consume resources. That is why we strive to tread as lightly as possible when we build. Also we have the science to build smarter and more efficiently, both during construction and for the life of the home. So a new building that is constructed using the proper techniques and systems will conserve resources now and through the future, be better for the environment, and save the owners money over the lifetime of the home.

I realize that we all can’t afford to build new energy efficient homes, walk to work, or drive a Tesla, but we can all take steps no matter how small to make a difference. The benefits of taking these steps will be felt, not only by us, but for the generations to follow. Protecting beautiful natural places, whether across the ocean or in our backyard is something we must do for now and the future. And the next time you are at the beach, or in the mountains, or just in your backyard take a moment and be “entertained” by your surroundings.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pocket Neighborhoods - Stronger Communities

Not long ago I attended an inspiring lecture by Architect Ross Chapin who is widely known for his work regarding pocket neighborhoods. He’s made a career from providing meaningful, close-knit communities for people that seek a common interest in what they call home. Ross Chapin’s pocket neighborhood designs are typically clustered groups of houses centered around “shared” spaces such as gardens and courtyards with pedestrian streets and paths that link the development together. The emphasis of these designs is to bring “community” and connectivity to neighbors.

There is a surreal simplicity to the village like design. The images he shared conveyed cozy neighborhoods with vibrant landscapes. Low fences disappear into lush gardens and meandering walkways reveal an inviting chair on the porch of a bungalow. One consistent and pleasing theme that resonated throughout each planned development was to create a neighborhood inside a neighborhood that all people share and call home.

These are the type of design principles that can strengthen the existing fabric of our local communities, especially in predetermined neighborhoods. Some of our local neighborhoods have community gardens, dog parks, playgrounds and even farmers’ markets. Chapin would say these are ideal communal places around which to focus our residential planning. This kind of development ideology can certainly help to better our neighborhoods, which in turn strengthens our communities. These strategies should be part of our local zoning. Get involved with your local officials to discuss creating small intimate neighborhoods. Begin this conversation and subsequently communities will emerge.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Best Project Results

Early one morning a few weeks ago, I drove to one of our projects that was nearing completion. While we had a hot summer, this particular morning was delightfully cool and refreshing. We had built a considerable addition and performed thorough renovation to this 1874 home and our clients had recently moved in. Approaching the rural setting, I began to see subtle changes. Our job site sign and marketing box were gone and a new mailbox was installed. Turning into the driveway, I first noticed final gravel had been applied and fresh grass was growing from a centered strip. I then realized the monster steel storage container had been removed. I drove the length of the drive and delightfully the dumpster and porta-potty were gone too. No building materials in the yard, no piles of soil or mulch. Everywhere I looked I just saw a spring like setting of tall oaks and freshly planted everything. And of course the house looked beautiful. Everything was complete and the bright new paint beckoned you to stop and admire the results. On the wrap around porch I spotted our client and her young toddler lounging in a porch swing. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Well ok, it did. My first thought was, "this is why we do this".  I mean we don't often see the way our clients live in their homes. But if you wanted to see a best use of one of our projects, this was it. I asked if I could take a photo and was granted permission. As I sat down on the deck, I joked that they must be happy we were down to a couple of punch list items and she would be rid of us. Sweetly and sentimentally she suggested that in fact they might miss us a bit. I knew we were going to miss this home and their family. We grow attached to our clients. This was a fun project and somewhat surprising for the folks who toured it during the recent green home builders tour. BuildSense is well known for our modern designs. Yet every so often we get to restore life to a grand old home and prepare it for the next hundred years and the next generations of occupants. I think I will keep my eye on this one.
A peaceful morning on the porch swing for our client and their toddler. Real satisfaction comes when we know our clients truly enjoy their homes.