Thursday, January 15, 2009

nothing "eco" about this "estate"

Rendering of the Eco-Estate @ Briggs Chaney. Photo courtesy of Showcase Architects.

Before the economy disappeared (or perhaps because of it) there's been a lot of discussion of "green" building techniques, especially here in East County. Both the proposed White Oak Recreation Center and Burtonsville Town Square shopping center are gunning for some certification on the LEED rating system, which measures how environmentally sustainable a building is. For instance, Burtonsville Town Square will use geothermal heat pumps, which carry warm air from four hundred feet below ground to the surface, instead of using an electric or gas-powered furnace.

If you've driven down Briggs Chaney Road in Cloverly recently, you've probably seen the "Eco-Estate," a new home being designed and built by Showcase Architects as a laboratory for environmentally-friendly building techniques. It is also ugly, with the massing of a warehouse, the charm of a strip mall and failing even to do the faux-Colonial thing that every other McMansion in East County does in a cheap attempt at paying homage to this region's architectural heritage.

Model of the Eco-Estate @ Briggs Chaney. Photo courtesy of Showcase Architects.

But my beef with the Eco-Estate has less to do with its looks than the idea that building a super-sized house with a three-car garage on an acre-plus lot in an edge-suburban area miles from schools, workplaces and [most] shopping (it's a thirteen-minute walk to the Safeway in Cloverly, says Google Maps) is "green" because you used Energy Saver appliances. There are many notable environmentally-friendly features - the same heat pumps planned for Burtonsville Town Square, for instance - but one that could have saved the most energy was ignored completely.

We haven't talked enough about "green" planning - reducing energy use by making it easier to get around without a car, and reducing impacts on the natural environment by building in existing communities. The Downtown Silver Spring revitalization is a good example of this or, on a smaller scale, the twenty-year-old Wyndcrest development in Ashton. Neither of these projects could get a LEED rating, but they've been noted for their eco-friendliness by making it easy to walk to schools, shops and transit. In Wyndcrest, homes are sited on small lots, using up less land in a community still dominated by farms and forests.

Wyndcrest in Ashton. Photo courtesy of Rodgers Consulting.

The real "Eco-Estate" would be located closer-in, near Metro, maybe in one of the neighborhoods around Downtown Silver Spring or Wheaton where you won't need a three-car garage because the occupants won't need three cars. Or it could still be in Cloverly, but next to the town center, allowing a real village to form while not disturbing the semi-rural areas around it. The house would also be much smaller, reducing energy use solely because you have fewer rooms to heat.

If we're going to make this house an example of "green" design, it should show every single way that a family could reduce their impact on the planet. (It would also be nice if the architects actually put some architecture on this house as well, because as it currently stands, the most environmentally-friendly way to improve the Eco-Estate would be to put it out of its misery.)

8 comments:

Thomas Hardman said...

Thanks, Dan, that's outright hideous, even as an example of "form follows function". What function does that form intend to have? Other than promoting an association between "hideous" and "energy-efficient"?

Geothermal, depending on the application and siting, is horribly inefficient, using far more energy for non-explosive boring than it will save over the lifetime of the facility. Non-explosive boring through 400 feet of basalt uses enough resources to build and fuel probably a few dozen units of that hideous house.

There's a so-called "tiny house movement" which is one of those things that would be useful and appropriate for probably the vast majority of the sort of people who traditionally live in Takoma Park, dual-income-no-kids or spinsters, etc. The whole house is meant to have perhaps 500 square feet, and to have most of that mostly open to the environment in those parts of the year where weather permits. Properly sited, it gets solar gains in the winter through the deciduous trees, gets solar shading from the leaves of the same trees in the warm season, and excellent insulation for all seasons combines with a small volume of air to cool or heat. Solar thermal collection gets stored below the house in a radiative mass of drainable/pumpable water in gravel, during the hot months the water gets drained and the gravel gets dehydrated (if desired) by the air-conditioning.

That hideous house you cite looks as if it was designed to actually be a small apartment building. For any other purpose, it's ridiculously large to be remotely considered earth-friendly.

jen said...

Totally agree with you about green planning. I'm sure you are familiar with the resistance here in Takoma Park to a planned condo development near the metro -- a bit surprising considering the town is supposedly full of environmentalists. They don't want to lose a small urban park -- but it's better than building on forest out in... in... (um, where do we have forests in Montgomery County any more?)

Dan Reed said...

Of course Takoma Parkies support the preservation of forests in exurban places they refuse to visit (too many Wal-Marts, you see, it offends their delicate sensibilities) . . . but big condo developers all use sweatshop labor, which is totally not kosher. I mean, watching a bunch of Cambodian seven-year-olds struggle to work a bulldozer is not as cute as it sounds.

But to be totally serious: yes, JUTP did write about the controversy over proposed development at the Takoma Metro in 2007.

Thomas Hardman said...

I vote that we should have 7-year-old Cambodian refugees bulldoze Takoma Park and then deliver 8000 tons of dryer lint and organic glue to the Tacky Park People so that they can combine it with recycled beverage containers as structural members.

When we're all done, Takoma Park will be the best transit-served community in the State living exclusively in 100-percent Recycled Material Yurts.

Hey, it works for Tibetans, so why not in Takoma Park? And think of all of the Yak dung that can be avoided by going 100-percent Earth Friendly Recyclable.

Not that any of them would make much use of it, exceptionally smelly Old Hippies can make use of "Ike" Leggett's proposed Infrastructure Stimulus investments in Public Showers at the Metrorail stations.

Hey, I read it at Silver Spring Penguin, it's got to be true!

Bob said...

Indeed if I was not educated by locaL CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS ABOUT THE ECO-ESTATE PROJECT i ALSO WOULD BE PERPLEXED ABOUT ITS DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT. AS I UNDERSTAND THE GOAL IS TO ACTUALLY PRESERVE THE AREAS NATURAL HABITAT AND LEAST IMPACT LAND FILL. SO A S I WAS TOLD INSTEAD OF TEARING DOWN AN EXISTING STRUCTURE THE FOLKS AT SHOWCASE RCHITECTS ACTUALLY PRESERVED IT BY RECYCLING AND REUSING ALL ITS COMPONENTS. IN ADDITION TO THAT THEY HAVE USED A GEOTHERMAL SYSTEM USING THE EARTHS NATURAL TEMP TO REDUCE IMPACT ON FOSSIL FUEL,SOLAR POWER, STRUCTUALLY INSULATED PANELS (THEREFORE LESS WASTE AND DEBRIS FROM TRADITIONAL STICK BUILT CONSTRUCTION), MOST ENERGY EFFICIENT WINDOWS AND DOORS, RECYCLING OF ROCK CRUSHING IT INTO AGGREGATE TO CREATE A NEW DRUIVE WAY AND RECYCLING ROOFING MATERIAL, USING A LIFETIME SHINGLE (CONTRIBUTED BY CERTAIN TEED CORPORATION), JOIST SYSTEMS (CONTRIBUTED BY WEYHAUSER CORP.), AND OF COURSE ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES. KUDOS TO THE FOLKS AT SHOWCASE. THE NEIGHBORS ALL SEEM TO BE HAPPY AND EVEN THE CIVIC SOCIETY AND ASSOCIATION!!

THIS PROJECT HAS IS USING TECHNIQUES OTHER THAN JUST "ENERGY STAR RATED APPLIANCESD "GREEN" THAT OTHERS ARE WHO ARE UNWILLING, UNEDUCATED OR NOT INFOMED T

Dan Reed said...

Bob -

I don't think you have to shout to make yourself heard.

The issue isn't the home's energy-efficient features - in fact, that's definitely something to be commended. It's just an ugly, ugly house - overscaled, trying way too hard to be symmetrical (at no real benefit, either), out of context with the traditional houses that line Briggs Chaney Road, awkward massing (literally, the three-dimensional form of the house) . . . you don't have to look like crap to be green. In terms of design, this house is a terrible example of green building. Showcase could have done much, much better.

Ira said...

After reading some comments posted of the ECO-Estate project, as a Design professional, community activist and teacher I felt a need to do my own investigation before passing judgement.

Upon visiting the area I found the set back of the residence appropriate making it more appropriate for a larger residence from the main road. It seems to have a design flow that follows Frank Lloyd Wrights Organic Architecture with its symetry and design. Certainly the design is not consistent with other designs of the Briggs Chaney Rd area however what exactly is the "traditional" home in that area? There clearly is no historical value to any structure in that proximity and most other properties as you turn off New Hampshire Ave are dilapitated. And unless the town of Mayberry is what you are seeking then change is vital to revitilization of an area.

The architectural beauty in terms of form and design is different but then again what should it be? I hope I may be able to see the interiors at some point.

If indeed all the components of sustainable design and value engineering are achieved, I feel the architects and owners have done a good job. In fact it seems that something better has come to an area that in the over 35 years I have been a county resident has been ignored.

Buzz said...

Where's the beauty in it..?? Not trying to slam it..
Check out the www.jlamodern.com - there can be beauty and heart in a "green" home...