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WHAT IS GREEN ARCHITECTURE ANYWAY?

This past weekend, we were at the Living Green Expo at the MN State Fairgrounds. At the show, there were workshops (from How to Choose a Greener Car to Backyard Chickens & Livestock), a large exhibit floor (about 300 booths), and exhibits (cars powered by cooking oil and electricity) devoted to green topics. All in all, a wide range of great information on numerous topics.

Nevertheless, this year I was struck by some of the exhibitors, including Segway, Walmart, Chipotle, and even Whole Foods. All these companies no doubt have legitimate claims to green-ness, but I’ve always thought of the Living Green Expo as more regional; a little gritty, grassroots powered, CSA-grown, and definitely bike-powered.

This got me thinking about architecture and building. When we began designing and building homes for clients in 1995, we didn’t talk much about material reuse and energy efficiency. It wasn’t the buzz, we did it because it made sense. Now, all manner of architects and builders are embracing green as a “growth sector.” Seems like there isn’t a firm out there without an indoor-air-quality or recycled-content-materials expert.

So, in the new green marketplace, what makes LOCUS different? I think it’s our deep knowledge of construction, our length of experience in green building, and our commitment to a comprehensive approach. Green building is more than using Paperstone counters and milk paint.

Paul and I went through some past projects and wrote down a quick list of things we’ve done in our practice. Items preceded by * we’ve integrated into projects we designed AND built; items preceded by ** we’ve integrated into our own homes (which we also designed and built). I’ll admit we haven’t found all the answers, but we’ll continue to look for them through research and ingenuity.

Site
**Composting
*Design to reprogram existing building – to limit project expansion
**Infill urban houses
**Low impact landscaping, using native species or limited irrigation
*Permeable paving (parking lot/patio)
Prairie restoration
**Rainwater collection
**Reuse of existing structure and/or working within existing footprint
**Sorting of construction waste onsite – reusing materials
Use of removed site trees in construction

Durability
**Long life-span concrete floor (& thermal mass)
**Long life-span dry-stack-concrete-block structure
**Long life-span steel siding & roofing (Energy-Star cool roofing)
**Ventilated siding
**Wood panel interiors (in lieu of drywall)

Energy
**Air-to-air heat exchangers
*Efficient lighting (Florescent, LED, use of dimmers, etc.)
Geothermal heating/cooling
Green roofs
Masonry Heater
*Passive solar heating with thermal mass storage
Photovoltaic roof panels
**Radiant floor heating
Solar hot-water heat/domestic hot water
**Solar sun shading
*Specifying Energy-Star appliances
Tankless water heaters
*Thermo-convective stack ventilation
Wind turbine

Insulation
**Continuous ThermaCal envelope
*Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction
*Overbuild roof to achieve continuous insulation
Recycled denim cotton insulation
SIPs construction
Straw bale construction
Super-insulation using spray-foam (Icynene, Bio-based)

Air Quality
*Low VOC paints & finishes
Radon testing & power-vented mitigation

Materials
Bamboo T&G flooring, walls & panels
*Black locust (local hardwood “weed tree”)
**Concrete counters and sinks
**FSC lumber and finish woods
*Natural linoleum
*Paperstone
Recycled plastic decking
**Salvage/reuse of kitchen cabinets (for a kitchen, not a garage)
**Salvage/reuse of large timber (as is, and for millwork & cabinetry)
**Salvage/reuse of slate chalkboards
*Salvage/reuse of structural steel members
**Salvage/reuse of windows & doors
**Salvage/reuse of wood flooring/exterior decking
**Salvage/reuse of wood framing
Steel stud framing
*Wheatboard cabinetry

Lighting
**Daylighting
**Florescent and CFL lighting
LED lighting

Local Economies
*Collaboration with local artists
*Collaboration with local cabinet makers/millworkers

Community
Biloxi Katrina-relief park structure with U of M students
Blog about sustainable and green issues

Designed Red Square – a green office building to give small businesses the opportunity of real estate ownership
**Developed nowHaus – a green urban home
LOCUS staff regularly commute by bicycle (well, April – November)
**Support of Minneapolis/St. Paul Home Tour
**Open houses and tours of projects
Training of architects/carpenters to design and/or build green

Research & Analysis
Designed a modular affordable green house – SNUGhouse
Developed tool to analyze space use, in order to minimize space
Diverted billboard waste from landfill, using it as a moisture barrier
Solar powered & heated hot tub (completely off grid)

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