Towards Sustainable Architecture

New Urban Guild 2009 Miami summit

   Forty members and allies of the New Urban Guild met at the DPZ Guest House yesterday to formulate a new proposal for sustainable American architecture. The proposal has two foundations:

   We need new house plan types that will be the American homes of the Post-McMansion Era. These new types should be smaller and smarter by an order of magnitude. Small enough, in fact, that they can be built now, without jumbo mortgages and all of the other encumbrances of our heretofore bloated housing market, so that developers can get back to work. These plan types will be inherently more sustainable.

   But we also need to put architecture back to work in the interest of sustainability. Pasted-on historical styles that rely on HVAC equipment to do all the work should be just as untenable as glass houses. We will hold a series of regional design charrettes where we develop the most sustainable architecture of each region... where we can compellingly say "these are the best ways of building here." This architecture will be obviously green, but in a common-sense, self-evident way.

   The principles that will guide this work are contained in the following document:

Towards Sustainable Architecture

   Sustainability is a function of both the building and the community in which it is built.

The Community

Those who build or renovate have the right to expect the following things of the places in which they are building or renovating:

*    Transportation choices (including walking) are available for its occupants.

*    Daily needs are within walking distance.

*    They are convivial and secure.

*    They are diverse enough so that residents diverse in age, income, and family formulation may find a dwelling.

*    They have open space.

*    They re-use storm water and other resources appropriate to the location.

*    They contain common facilities to process agricultural produce, and a market for its sale.

The Building

Food and Water

*    Dwellings should provide places for food production appropriate to how urban or rural their site is.

*    Dwellings should have adequate area for food processing and storage.

*    Lots should provide places for tool storage, as appropriate to how urban or rural their site is.

*    Buildings should be prepared to catch and use rainwater for re-use for most domestic uses.


*    Buildings should have a frontage that engages the passerby.

*    Parking for each dwelling should have an electrical connection for battery-powered vehicles, and should include a bike rack.


*    Building function, configuration and disposition on the lot should be appropriate to how urban or rural it is .

*    Building plans should be functional, comfortable and flexible.

*    Buildings should acknowledge their regional heritage and develop the vernacular knowhow.

*    Buildings should be designed together with their lots, landscaping and appurtenances.

*    Plant materials should be appropriate to the region.


*    Buildings should be built of materials that are durable and may be patched or repaired when they are damaged or worn, not necessarily replaced.

*    Buildings materials should be detailed and assembled in a proven manner.

*    Building shell materials should be chosen for longevity and life-cycle cost-effectiveness.


*    Dwellings should include a potential workplace on the property.

*    Buildings should be designed to grow in any direction.

*    Ancillary structures are encouraged for dwellings, workplaces, and dwelling services.

*    Buildings should be designed with simple structural layouts and massing in order to be adaptable.

*    Buildings should be adaptable to the needs of their occupants as they age in place.


*    Dwellings should be no larger than necessary to be livable, and to maximize economic and functional efficiency.

*    Dwelling plans should be designed to respond to a specific orientation while not undermining their support of the public realm.

*    Buildings should provide adequate and convenient recycling facilities.

*    Buildings should be designed to reduce energy consumption by passive techniques that include building configuration, cross-ventilation, daylighting, and solar gain (windows) or shading devices (including deciduous trees.)

*    Building insulation and appliances should be as efficient as feasible.

*    Buildings should be technically prepared for the installation of photovoltaic panels and/or wind generators as appropriate.

*    Dwellings should include a laundry-drying area invisible from street frontages.

*    Buildings materials should contain the least embodied energy feasible as a result of both processing and transportation.

*    Materials that require greater processing, such as plastics, papers, and metals, may still be used if they are recycled.

* Buildings should use recycled components and materials to the extent feasible.

*    Buildings should be designed to minimize construction waste, which should be recycled whenever possible.

*    Grading should be minimized.

   Buildings should be detailed so that they can be built well utilizing readily available skill sets.

~ The Members of the New Urban Guild


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2020