Quality Infill Development: Begins in the Past

Quality Infill Development: Begins in the Past

Last week kicked off a broad sweep through some ideas for conservation-based development. Quality infill development can certainly conserve resources. It can also break the cycle of disinvestment and build back the vibrancy and strength that was lost when the heartstrings of our towns were stretched out in all directions.

The heart of a Green Heart Town is its historic district, and quality infill construction is a primary tool for keeping them healthy and strong. The Main Street district and surrounding historic neighborhoods were once the seat of all town life, the best place to buy and trade for good and services and interact with others from the area. After a time of disinvestment in historic downtowns from the 1960s-90s, these places are again becoming full of vibrant new potential.

Conservation-Based Development is a Return to the Land

Conservation-Based Development is a Return to the Land

Appreciating conservation-based development is to understand that we exist within something larger. Like a log being split, most development has torn us from our relationship with the land. Our natural environment not only provides the context for life, it is our largest and most important resource. 

For long-time, we lived close to the land and developed a regionally-specific architecture that was built in sympathy to the surroundings. We created commercial centers called towns and cities, and others chose to live on large plots to farm. As Americans became 2 car households, got central air-conditioning, the color TV, and personal computers we have become uncoupled, or split, away from real living on this planet.

The Equation for Strong Places You Love

The Equation for Strong Places You Love

Want a simple equation to make the places you love stronger? Do you want to better understand your place in the world and leave it better for the next generation? Maybe you are interested in a more sustainable built environment, including green architecture, sustainable planning and historic preservation. If so, then I began this blog for you. 

I tend to think of our natural environment as both a gift and a resource. It gives us everything we need. Unfortunately, modern culture appears to be causing more negative impacts than positive. Do you see this too? What if we could work to lighten our environmental footprints while also strengthening our communities? This may be possible with a simple shift in thinking.

Eureka for George in Seinfeld Episode 181

Eureka for George in Seinfeld Episode 181

Could George Costanza’s alter ego, Art Vandelay, have invented the LED light? Jerry Seinfeld added a lot of street-cred to the architecture profession when he decided that his best friend George had always wanted to become an architect, but never made the leap. 

Comedians like Jerry are astute observers of reality and the particular quirks carried by our culture. He’s right too! In social settings, when I meet new people and tell them I am an architect, the responses range from, “I always wanted to be an architect”, to “my uncle is an architect”, to “have you ever watched Seinfeld?” Yes, the circle is complete.

 

"Friendly" Robots and the New Vernacular

"Friendly" Robots and the New Vernacular

My air-conditioner is killing me! Modern technologies like the car, color TV, air conditioning and the Internet have been creeping up over us slowly since the 1950's. They have been slowly killing the Earth, homogenizing our beautiful, regionally-specific design styles, and breaking up our communities. It's Creeping Death! (music reference).

New technologies (e.g. the IPad) have taken away the American traditions of walking to the corner store, watching the kids play in the street, and visiting with neighbors from porch to porch. These slices of American life used to bring us together, but modern technology seems to be pulling us all apart. All our computers and robots are making us soft.

Maryland reACT House Celebrates the 7 Generation Principle

Maryland reACT House Celebrates the 7 Generation Principle

In my tour of the 2017 Solar Decathlon, Team Maryland was my favorite. Their project called reACT (ie. Resilient Adaptive Climate Technology) proved to me that a sustainable future needs to merge indigenous/cultural traditions along with modern technology. This is not just about energy either. Even though the architecture and engineering were exceptional in this design, the incorporation of cultural traditions gave the house much more impact than the rest of the entries at the Solar Decathlon. 

During my tour of reACT, I spoke with some of the team and learned about the Native American philosophy called the "7th Generation Principle". This simply means that we should think about our future descendants 7 generations from now (or about 140 years) and honor them by leaving the world better.

 

A Historic Home Addition Starts on Bully Strong Foundation

A Historic Home Addition Starts on Bully Strong Foundation

Regarding architecture, the Tillotson family's saying is "Don't build it for looks, build it bully for stout." This comes from T.L. Tillotson, my wife's grandfather. Even though I never met him, I have a great deal of respect for him. 

The Mesta Park historic renovation is moving ahead. Rain caused some delays, but the foundation was finally poured. Over the last few weeks, I have gathered some photos on-site, and I wanted to share an update before the work progressed too far.

High-Performance Homes in the Mile-High City of Denver

High-Performance Homes in the Mile-High City of Denver

The Solar Decathlon is a competition where college teams combine beauty and technology to build high-performance houses powered by the sun. Held every other year, this international competition is the place where we become collectively smarter about high-performance solar homes - thanks to the best and brightest college students from around the world. 

At the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, I first got the itch for sustainable, high-performance design. I was taught that architecture should be a machine for living in balance with nature, and a marriage between ecology and technology.

Although the Solar Decathlon began while I was in college, it was usually held in far-away Washington D.C. and it was just too far away to attend. This year the U.S. Department of Energy moved the Solar Decathlon in Denver, Colorado for the first time. I mentioned it once to my wife while feeding our toddler twins, and she must have seen something in my eye when I said that I would love to go and see the event. She later surprised me with airplane tickets and my heart leaped at the chance to go. 

Refreshing Main Street America with Patrice Frey (Podcast)

Refreshing Main Street America with Patrice Frey (Podcast)

This week at Green Heart Town Patrice Frey, President and CEO of Main Street America, joins us for the second half of our recent interview. Last week we discussed her background in sustainability and green historic preservation.  In the following interview, we will discuss Patrice’s transition to leading the National Main Street Center, updating the brand for over 1,600 neighborhoods and communities nationwide, and “refreshing” the time-tested Four Point Approach.

Several weeks ago, we covered how “Main Street is the Time-Tested Basis for Green Heart Towns”, but at the conclusion of the post, I wanted to know more about what was happening with the program.

Green Historic Preservation with Patrice Frey (Podcast)

Green Historic Preservation with Patrice Frey (Podcast)

This week at Green Heart Town we have a very special guest. We interview Patrice Frey, President and CEO of Main Street America about her background in sustainability and her role in the movement of green historic preservation. 

In recent years, there has been a growing undercurrent of people who appreciate historic buildings as both culturally significant and inherently sustainable resources. Living in a Green Heart Town requires understanding the deep value your historic properties offer. Through my work with the Oklahoma Main Street Program, I have been fortunate to follow this ray of truth and learn from sustainability champions like Patrice. 

How to Document for Historic Preservation Review & Top Down Renovation

How to Document for Historic Preservation Review & Top Down Renovation

Last time we shared the list of work items included in the Scope of Work for the application for Certificate of Authority (CA). After leaving from our initial meetings with the City’s Historic Preservation (HP) staff and Code Enforcement inspector, we had a plan. Since the deadline to submit for that month’s HP Commission meeting was very close at hand, we submitted a partially completed application. Thank you for the nice trick HP staff! We were ready to get the ball rolling.

Simple HP Review, Survival & Certificate of Appropriateness

Simple HP Review, Survival & Certificate of Appropriateness

Completing the historic preservation review process and earning your first certificate of appropriateness may sound a little tedious but it doesn't have to be. Taking the right approach, the process can be straightforward and instructive while providing a neat lesson on your community’s traditional building methods. Earning a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for the Mesta Park project involved a learning curve but we were rewarded with a distilled understanding of the process - one that should ring true in any community.

Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community

Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community

American culture has rejected sustainable community development for too long. Even though many of us want make our community stronger, the historic heart of our towns are often weak and perforated - due to the sins of our fathers. Some of us are guilty too! Like a dead whale launched to the beach by a tidal wave, many of our communities' best properties lie broken, abandoned, and steadily decaying. How did things get this way? 

Through my work as the staff architect for the Oklahoma Main Street Program, I have come to find resonance inside the bowels of the past. Often far from revitalized, our historic downtowns broadcast your town’s self-concept - just like a neon sign. 

The Primitive Hut to the High-Performance Modern Retreat

The Primitive Hut to the High-Performance Modern Retreat

I grew up with camping as an integral part of life - from staying at deer camp to many trips through Scouting as long as 30 days out. There have been too many overnights to count, including more than a few spent sleeping in high places.  Being up in the mountains above tree-line, or on the side of a sheer cliff face is often called a bivouac (or “bivy”) by climbers. Although far from comfort, these places award a magic that cannot be found in more civilized places. You only bring the absolute necessities, which allows time to think, reflect, and live in the moment.

Worst on the Block: Historic District & Dilapidated Structure 101

Worst on the Block: Historic District & Dilapidated Structure 101

Last week began a series on renovating the worst house on the block in Oklahoma City's historic Mesta Park neighborhood. Once the property was purchased, the new owners and I met to conduct a damage assessment and form a game plan. Delayed maintenance, inappropriate materials/retrofits, and apathy are three plagues upon under-appreciated historic properties, and this one suffered from all three! 

But, what the home lacked in physical condition it made up for in location. This neighborhood and its surrounding walk-shed are becoming more revitalized and vibrant by the day. At the center of the neighborhood lies Pearle Mesta Park. You can see this common green space and the the well-maintained children's play equipment from the front porch. Score!

In the Aftermath of Neglect: A Creative Historic Home Renovation

In the Aftermath of Neglect: A Creative Historic Home Renovation

When some close friends bought the worst home on the block in an up-and-coming historic district, they called me. They are a wonderful young couple that has made their business breathing new life into older, often neglected homes. Even though they had remodeled dozens of other properties before, this historic home renovation was going to be their toughest one yet.

“Larry we are thinking of buying a 1926 residence in Mesta Park. It has loads of potential, but man, it’s rough!”

The Big Day: Facilitating a Successful Design Charrette

The Big Day: Facilitating a Successful Design Charrette

Over the past two posts we have taken a new angle on design charrettes (fast-paced design workshops). First, we looked at the split paradigm between public and private realms, and how this sets a course for gathering project stakeholders. Then, we looked at gathering a team and took a deep-dive into the home, neighborhood, and downtown realms - even looking at the funky "in-between zones" where ideas can become really interesting. Now, let's wrap this rodeo and outline how to facilitate your own design charrette. 

Vision and Teamwork for Successful Design Charrettes

Vision and Teamwork for Successful Design Charrettes

After a short hiatus for a summer break, we are back. We recently began a discussion on design charrettes and now it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Design charrettes are a rapid, solution-seeking workshop that is typically facilitated, but I believe that any family household or community-minded group can come together as a team and work through the same steps to improve their home, neighborhood, or downtown. Even though the underlying process is similar for charrettes in each one of these realms, as the shift from private to public realms advances, complexity and number of participants involved will vary. 

Catching Up With Life on a Golden Summer Trip

Catching Up With Life on a Golden Summer Trip

Last week my family and I left town, and have been staying in a vacation rental by owner (VRBO) in town of Golden, Colorado. So, this week I thought I could give you a (reading) vacation too. I want to share some pictures of the magic we are finding in and around Golden. It is such a vibrant place!

Next week we will continue exploring how to implement “Design Charrettes” in your home, neighborhood, and downtown. The idea for this topic has grown on me, and I need the time to put some new thoughts together.   

From my family to your's, we wish you a wonderful summer!

Design Charrette: Workshops for Strong & Vibrant Communities

Design Charrette: Workshops for Strong & Vibrant Communities

Have you began shifting your point of view? Last week we adopted a big picture view of community sustainability, and considered how each one of us can affect the realms with which we are connected. I like to imagine each one of us as a needle and thread, creating a quilt with others in the community. 

Our home, neighborhood, and downtown are the three realms in which we are already fundamentally invested. Unlocking any distracting or preconceived notions about these places, while making sustainable progress, can be accomplished with the aid of an interactive design workshop called a charrette.