Walla Walla 2020 Sustainable Building
- Define sustainable
- Explore “sustainable” design for residential buildings
- Compare non-traditional building materials with traditional wood-frame houses
After discovering the multitude of non-traditional building materials, I narrowed the last objective down to a comparison of straw bale construction vs. traditional construction.
Definition of Sustainable
1) Sustainable resource use: consumption of a resource at a slower (or equal)
rate than that resource is renewed, or a resource that has potential to be used
in such a manner
2) Sustainable design: the increase or optimization of resource efficiency caused by innovative structural design and incorporation of the landscape and environment into the system, often rendering mechanical devices unnecessary
Starting with such a broad topic as sustainability, I decided to narrow it down to residential design for the most part. Much of the design principles can be used with larger buildings as well, but I believe that sustainable design requires implementation at the individual level: housing. Therefore, most of my efforts have gone into researching methods of building energy-efficient and environment-friendly houses. I also wanted these methods to be affordable to as many people as possible, not just the upper-middle class. If sustainable design is to work, everyone has to be able to implement it.
As a research project, the work was not steady. I experienced periods of rapid development in resources and raw material, but these were often followed by periods of stagnation in which I accomplished nothing for a week or two. This is largely due to the requirements of other classes and, occasionally, lack of motivation (I can always do it later…). Another difficulty I encountered in attempting to do research is the lack of a computer in my room. This prevents me from conducting casual internet research, depriving me of a very useful and effective method of research. Also, my research seemed to go in no particular direction, and this lack of organization has impeded the compilation of tangible results.
Aside from these difficulties, the project proceeded fairly smoothly. I was lucky to attend a lecture on sustainable design at the commencement of my internship. From there, I received a list of resources on the subject and I met several locals working on sustainability projects in the area. I still need to investigate the majority of the resources I have found, which I plan to do over spring break. Establishing a list of reliable resources (which I obtained from John Echlin’s lecture) is probably the most important and difficult step in any research project, so I believe the most difficult part of my work is done. All that is left to do is sift through all of the information and compile it into a tangible report.
After sifting through the information, I have found much of it to be interesting but not very useful. Many of the books on the list I received from John Echlin are not available in the library, and the ones that are available do not provided me with specific materials to search for in or nearby the community of Walla Walla. Also, while many of the websites have excellent ideas on how to design sustainable buildings and what sorts of materials to use (straw bales, earth, etc.), they left me no closer to locating these materials than before. However, one excellent site (www.greenbuilder.com) contains an awesome book (the Sustainable Living Sourcebook) translated into html format. This book contains loads of information and comparisons of material cost and efficiency, as well as regulatory considerations and design implementations.
As the semester draws to a close, I realize that I have not been focused enough in the goals of this research. I attempted to not only define sustainability and apply this to resources and design, but to locate these sorts of resources in the local community and survey the realm of innovative green architecture. All of these topics are broad and each could potentially be an internship in and of itself. In the future, I would suggest that the intern focus solely on one of these subjects. Especially pertaining to sustainable design, I would recommend that, should the student be so inclined, he/she should design a house, in the process learning about the principles of green design and how to implement these into a construct of their own design. I think that this would be most beneficial and would fain do it myself but for the lack of time remaining me. Also, in talking with Amy Molitor, I realize that somehow I got off track during the semester and, instead of creating a map of sustainable resources and opportunities in the community, I’ve researched sustainable design instead. Communication is important, and my lack of regular check-ins seems to have led me astray. Fortunately, what I researched the whole semester is similar in spirit and will do just as well. Perhaps a future intern will create the map intended as the product of this semester.
After receiving the internship assignment, I met with Amy Molitor and discussed what my objectives should be. We decided that establishing a general base of resources and knowledge on sustainability was of primary importance, to be used as a framework for future work in this area. She gave me the names of several people to talk to here at Whitman, as well as an excellent website (www.realgoods.com). From there, I poked around a little more but didn’t find much.
On February 4, John Echlin gave a lecture on sustainable design that was very helpful. He gave me a list of resources to explore on the subject. After the lecture, I stayed and explained my objectives to several locals (Kevin Scribner and a guy named John) who were working on some sustainability projects in the local community. Kevin also gave me the name of a local builder who was in the process of building a “sustainable design” house. Unfortunately, Kevin did not know his number or e-mail, so I kept in touch with him. On February 25, I finally received the number of Dirk Nelson (the builder).
On February 27, I contacted Dirk and set up a time to go visit the construction site. On March 1, I went out to the site and met with Dirk. In addition to lots of information about the house and actually getting to see a “sustainable” house in construction, I received permission from Dirk to go out to the site whenever I would like throughout the course of the semester so long as I give him a call first. Since the house is just beginning construction, this should prove to be a fruitful endeavor, allowing me to view from start to finish the process of sustainable design.
Over Spring Break, I skimmed through several books from the library, all of which were interesting but not readily applicable to my project. There are great design ideas for green building and the book Natural Capitalism contains fantastic solutions to today’s problems. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in making the world more environmentally friendly and benefiting from doing so at the same time (this should apply to everybody).
After Spring Break, the majority of my time was taken up with trying to sort through the information I had to find useful bits, as well as contacting Joe Pertrello to try and find out about local sources of building supplies. I decided to put together the information on sustainable design with the information on sustainable resources in order to provide a sort of template for people to follow should they be interested in building “sustainably.” I compared various costs, benefits, problems, regulatory issues, etc. of different materials and architectural designs and compiled the results in charts for ease of comparison. This should facilitate the decision-making process when selecting what sort of house to build.
Amy Molitor, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Echlin, SERA Architects: 503-445-7377, www.serapdx.com, email@example.com
Key Internet Resources