SmartDwelling I - Sideyard Sail

   SmartDwelling I, published recently by the Wall Street Journal in their Green House of the Future article has a number of innovations that aren’t so much inventions as they are re-purposing things we’ve known about for a very long time. Green Walls are one such pattern; the Laundry Eave is another.

   SmartDwelling I was designed for the Gulf Coast, where there is a nautical heritage, as the early towns and cities were all built with a direct dependence on commerce across the Gulf. So when I started looking for a way to catch breezes coming down the street and redirect a portion of the breeze through the sideyard, a sail was an obvious choice.

   The Sideyard Sail can be furled in a storm, of course, in order to protect the sail cloth... and also to avoid sending high storm winds through your side yard. It works by pivoting a boom out over the frontage garden. If there is no frontage garden, then the front garden wall should be made tall enough (this one is) so that the boom is above head height. But that’s OK... that simply assures a private side garden.

   Incidentally, the original Sideyard Sail was envisioned for Schooner Bay, a wonderful new town in the Bahamas, on the eastern shore of Abaco. It will be a working fishing village. It has organic farms on its western border, so that you can look out over the fields and over the waters from which much of your food comes. Because of this, Schooner Bay will be one of the first new Nourishable Places to be built in recent times. Schooner Bay will also build upon all other foundations of the Original Green, making it one of the first Original Green places to be built in our time.

   The first Original Green place to be designed was Sky, located in the Florida panhandle. It is now in the development approvals process, and should be under construction shortly. Sky is a veritable laboratory of Original Green ideas, breaking new ground in too many ways to count. See the Sky Method (it’s a big file; give it a few to download) for a highly organic and sequential land development method invented for Sky. It promises to bypass the normal development brain damage of millions of dollars of infrastructure investment up front before you can sell a single lot... brain damage that is actually almost impossible since the Meltdown, because banks have basically quit loaning money for new development.

~ Steve Mouzon

Built to Last Video

Built to Last video opening screen

   Most Original Green blog posts are new material, but occasionally, I’ll post a link or copy text from elsewhere if it’s important enough. This one is. Built to Last is two minutes and fifty-five seconds of the most incisive critique of sprawl I may have ever seen in video (it’s on YouTube,) side-by-side with the antidote to sprawl: New Urbanism.

   John Norquist, President and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, said “Built to Last made me laugh out loud.” The film has been picked up in news stories all over, and has also been named the winner of the CNU’s 2009 Video Contest. It will be featured in the opening plenary of CNU17 in Denver in a few weeks. Have a look!

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Sunday, May 31, 2009 - 10:47 PM

Michael Rouchell

From the title "Built to Last" I thought the video would be more about modern building construction.  I have witnessed examples of modern architecture that didn't out live the architect that designed it.

Monday, June 1, 2009 - 05:34 PM

Steve Mouzon

   Crazy, isn't it, Michael? When I was in architecture school, our building tech professor told us to "make your buildings last at least as long as the mortgage, otherwise your clients will be really pissed off if the building starts coming apart before they're finished paying for it."

   What an absurd standard! But that's exactly how we've been building recently.

Denver - Valley Forge for the New Urbanism

tunnels through three rock mountains, all in a line, near Buena Vista, Colorado

   I firmly believe that Denver will be remembered as the Valley Forge of the New Urbanism... The darkest hour. Our numbers sharply depleted. The few who are there characterized as “the crazy ones.”

   The entire construction industry is in shambles, as we all know. Conventional construction began to suffer right after the sub-prime crisis in 2007, but in every place I worked, New Urbanist developments were still clicking along after everything else in those particular markets had shut down. But when the Meltdown occurred last fall and you could no longer get financing, then that shut everything down, including the New Urbanism, because if you can’t borrow, you can’t build. Today, even the New Urbanist architects and planners are laying off employees down to the bare bones. In other words, these are really dark times.

   There’s no question that there will be far fewer attendees at the Congress this year. And few of the private-sector New Urbanists who are going can actually afford to go... they’re going based on hope rather than good business sense. I’ll be one of the attendees who fit in that category. But here’s why the hope might be fulfilled beyond any of today’s reasonable expectations:

   The New Urbanism has been working for three decades to build a set of ideas perfectly suited to lead us out of this mess, as I detailed in New Urbanism and the Meltdown. And the conventional development system that has stood in the way of the New Urbanism from the beginning is largely being swept away as we watch. So this darkest hour is precisely the thing that had to happen in order to pave the way for the coming victory... the triumph of far better and more sustainable ways of building our future.

   So if you want to join the crazy ones in Denver, then do this: come prepared. For what? I’m not entirely sure, because I don’t believe this will be like any Congress that has ever been held until now. The urgency and darkness of the situation won’t permit it. Rather than a proper gathering of polite professionals, this one is more likely to devolve into a veritable swap-fest of ideas and techniques... something more akin (at least in the corridors by day and in the pubs by night) to a black-market wisdom exchange.

   Come prepared by bringing your best new stuff, and bring it in forms that are easy to distribute to anyone who’s interested. Even if you haven’t completely worked everything out, bring your best... and someone else just might close the loop for you over dinner late one night.

   One more thing... a funny thing often happens at the darkest hour. Those who have banded together to face it often develop a dynamic between them that can’t be achieved any other way. Twenty or thirty years later, all you’ll need to say are “Denver. 2009. I was there.” No other words will be necessary.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 10:22 AM


Agreed! You sound like a trend setter in the greenest of ways. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 04:45 PM

John Norquist


Thanks for encouraging people to join the rendezvous at CNU Denver. Seeing friends and fellow new urbanists can boost spirits and recharge the intellect at a time when the real estate market is bottoming out but seems about to revive in a much more urbanist form. The program is rich in content and registration is picking up. We won't break records this year, but we're surging towards attendance almost in line with recent years. I think CNU 17 will be more like Yorktown than Valley Forge, but either way,Steve, you'll be in on the revolution.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 11:32 AM

Steve Mouzon

John,that's really great news on the attendance numbers! I still completely believe that there will be a wider bandwidth of idea exchange than we've ever seen before, and that a dynamic will result that is unique. I've posted this to my facebook page, too, so they'll come and read what you have to say here.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 03:21 AM


My parents were part of the golden age of planning when it seemed government would implement comprehensive solutions. Real-estate developers later ignored them or sneered at them. 

But ironically those developers implemented urbanist ideas in their condos and developments, advertised as the benefits of city living. Seems buyers inherently like to picture themselves strolling to the local market, meeting the elderly neighbor who coos over the children, who play with the neighbor kids.

Creating liveable communities is not just about building things. Often recessions are when governments and businessmen are willing to try something new. Although people don't know what's missing, they also know it when they see it - and they want it. The ability to transform someplace into a desirable place to be will always be needed, although you may have to articulate their desire.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 04:01 PM

Steve Mouzon

Izzy, I believe you're right about cities being more willing to try something different in tough times. During boom years, nobody has time to think. Times like these, however, are a great opportunity for reflection and reappraisal.

SmartDwelling I - Laundry Eave

Laundry Eave of SmartDwelling I shelters clothes pulley below  

   SmartDwelling I, published recently by the Wall Street Journal in their Green House of the Future article has a number of innovations that aren’t so much inventions as they are re-purposing things we’ve known about for a very long time. Green Walls are one such pattern; the Laundry Eave is another.

   If you don’t want to pay to electric-dry your clothes, then there are currently two common choices. The European method is to hang them on pulley-driven clothes lines over the street. Neighbors therefore know if it’s boxers or briefs, and that seems like a little too much information.

   The American method is to put up a couple posts with frames on top in the back yard, and string the clotheslines between them. Problem is, as any kid knows who has spent any reasonable amount of time playing in such a back yard, running into such a clothesline while going for a fly ball or a pass can nearly take your head off, because they’ll catch you under your chin, holding your head in place while the rest of your body goes flying underneath. This is such a common phenomenon that it spawned a term in American football: “Getting clotheslined” means getting tackled by a defender who holds his arm out at neck level, just like the clothesline... leaving you to crash bone-jarringly flat of your back a moment later.

   The Laundry Eave solves both of these problems. It uses the pulley, like in Europe, so that you can hang clothes out of any window on any floor of the building. But it is placed on the back or side of the building so your undies aren’t hanging out over the street.

   The last element is a very deep bracketed eave that hangs over the entire clothesline, so that a shower that comes up while the clothes are drying don’t soak them all over again.

   Why might you want to air-dry rather than electric-dry your clothes? The energy savings are obvious. And if you’re brave enough to commit to doing it all the time, then you don’t even need to buy a dryer. That also saves on electrical costs... at the very least, you don’t need the circuit, the wire, and the outlet. But because a clothes dryer is a big electrical load, eliminating the dryer just might make the difference in being able to go down to a smaller service. One other thing on electrical service... if you make your own electricity with photovoltaic panels, then eliminating the dryer may save a really nice chunk of change by requiring fewer photovoltaic panels. And finally, three more reasons that everyone can enjoy... air-dried clothes usually smell fresher than electric-dried ones, they’re not full of static electricity, and the clothes actually last longer!

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Monday, January 18, 2010 - 06:14 AM


It's quite interesting when i read your post.


Friday, January 22, 2010 - 11:01 AM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks, Jemkuri! I'm starting to show Laundry Eaves on new home designs that I do. None have been built yet, but when they are, I'll post photos.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 08:36 PM


This is a great idea, to put clothes under the eaves, protected from rain... I can only think of one consideration.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 06:48 AM

Steve Mouzon

LOL, Izzy!! I hadn't thought of that! But since the only two places that pigeons could sit would be on the two middle braces, we could probably put those spiky things there that deter birds. The eave shelters the clothes from pigeon poo from airborne birds.

SmartDwelling I - Green Walls

green walls espalier fruit trees on top half, and train vining vegetables up lattice of bottom half

   SmartDwelling I, published recently by the Wall Street Journal in their Green House of the Future article has a number of innovations that aren’t so much inventions as they are re-purposing things we’ve known about for a very long time. Green Walls are one such pattern. The idea is really simple: take all building or garden walls within easy harvesting reach (say, up to 8’ tall) and plant them. The Green Walls to the left in the image above are planted against a masonry garden wall, while the Green Wall to the right is planted against the garage. And no, all those green boxes aren’t finely-clipped hedges... that’s just the closest I could get with Sketchup. This is a normal raised-bed vegetable garden.

   How do you plant a Green Wall? Well, we eat fruits and a few vegetables that grow on perennial plants like fruit trees, while most vegetables grow annually: you plant them in the spring and they die in the frosts of the fall. Because annuals like fruit trees grow for many years, they can typically grow taller than annuals like onions or rhubarb. Many vegetables will never make it to the top of the wall, so the top should be reserved for perennials.

   There’s an ancient art known as espaliering where fruit trees are trained tight against a wall. They never get anywhere near as large as they would growing in the wild, but they produce an amazing amount of fruit for such a tiny footprint. The tops of Green Walls are composed primarily of espaliered fruit trees.

   See the lighter green below the espaliered fruit arches? That area is reserved for vegetables. Vining ones (such as beans and peas) work best. It’s not shown here because it would be largely hidden, but the area below the arch has a lattice built of pruned branches (gotta recycle, you know?) attached to the wall. Vegetables growing in this area would vine up the lattice.

   Some vining vegetables don’t work so well... until now... because their fruit is so heavy. Several types of melons fit this description. No problem... SmartDwelling I envisions Melon Cradles which would be hung from the lattice when fruit sets on in the springtime, carrying their weight as they grow.

   There’s a lot more to Green Walls, some of which you can read here. As you will see, they actually weren’t my idea, but rather, Julie Sanford’s. And the principles, of course, have gone back thousands of years... we’re just applying them in a certain way. You’ll also note that I was calling them Wall Gardens at the time... might even go back to that term. What do you think? Wall Gardens? Green Walls? Which is a more descriptive and more enticing term?

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - 12:34 PM

Andrew Malone

"Wall Gardens" seems far more descriptive.  I really like the idea and would be interested in trying it in my Brooklyn back yard next season.  I already have built planter boxes and have been planning to plant climbing vegetables in some areas, but climbing melons and squash is a very interesting idea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 10:33 AM

Steve Mouzon

Andrew, when you do your Wall Garden, please send photos... whenever someone grows something that's both edible and beautiful, we all need to see it. Thanks in advance!

SmartDwelling I - Windows & Shutters

SmartDwelling I casement windows and adjustable shutters can catch breezes from several directions

   SmartDwelling I has the distinction of being the only one of the four houses published recently by the Wall Street Journal in their Green House of the Future article that could be built today. Or at least 98% of what was shown can currently be built. One of the few exceptions are the windows and shutters. That might be about to change.

   Casement windows are easier to make airtight than double-hung windows because the sash squeezes the weatherstripping tight to the frame when the window closes instead of sliding along the surface of the weatherstripping like double-hung sashes must do. But casements have a problem: If you’re in a region like the Gulf Coast (for which SmartDwelling I was designed) which is frequented by hurricanes, then you really need to be able to close solid shutters over your windows to protect them from the storm. But how do you close the shutters once the window is closed? Southern European casements solve this problem by opening the casements inward rather than outward, but inward-opening casements almost always leak in a blowing rainstorm. This might be tolerable in the milder climate of southern Europe, but not on the Gulf Coast. Until now, the only choice was to close the shutters from outside the house... perched on a ladder for most windows. That’s why shuttered casements are almost non-existent there.

   Until now, that is. One of the major epiphanies of SmartDwelling I occurred when I asked myself “if you can crank the casement sashes open and closed, why not crank the shutters, too?” Presto... we now have the superior weathertightness of a casement with the protection of a shutter that can be operated from indoors. But that’s not all. Notice how a casement on a crank can be opened to any position you like and left there? Well, now you can do the same thing with a shutter. As a result, you can aim the sash & shutter at the prevailing breezes, channeling air into the room. And if you open them slightly wider, where they don’t exactly line up like the ones shown above, then it literally creates a funnel shape to transform a small breath of air into a more noticeable breeze.

   “That’s great,” you might say, “but why are you telling me this if I can’t buy windows like that today?” Because now we’re talking to a window manufacturer that’s strongly considering making them! I won’t reveal who it is until they’re committed to the project, but I’m really excited that this could happen quickly. As a result of this encouraging turn of events, I’m working to get the remainder of the futuristic components of SmartDwelling I on the assembly line, too. More later…

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Friday, May 22, 2009 - 11:49 AM

Lloyd Alter

I acknowledge that you get a better seal on a casement window, but I always thought double-hungs were best because you could "tune" them for maximum ventilation and convection by adjusting the top and bottom openings.

Friday, May 22, 2009 - 05:43 PM

Michael Rouchell

I like the idea that the windows and the shutters can be by the same source.  single source = single responsibility.  I also like that the window and shutter by a single source can be tested as a system.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 06:54 PM

Steve Mouzon

   Lloyd, you have a point about double-hungs working well for ventilation on a still day... warm air goes out at the top, and cool air comes in at the bottom. An open casement does the same thing, but a double-hung doesn't have to be fully open to produce the same result. Actually, a double-hung is never fully open... it can't open more than 50%. So if a shower came up, then the double-hung wouldn't allow as much rain. But you definitely get more air in through a casement, especially with shutters like this.

   Michael, I hadn't thought of the testing angle on the window/shutter system... that's a great idea! What this means is that you really could use a wind-rated but not impact-rated window in a hurricane zone because the shutter takes the impact. That could save a good bit of money, unless the crank system is extremely expensive.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 07:35 PM

Michael Rouchell

Steve,  I don't think that the crank mechanism would necessarily need to be anything unusual since you wouldn't likely be operating the windows during a hurricane.  The shutters should have some kind of surface bolt at the top and bottom, or some kind of latch that can withstand the forces of the wind.  The shutter hinge connection must also be properly engineered, and if it is a component of the window, then you don't have two different manufacturers (shutter and window) blaming each other if a component fails.  That's why I think the windows and shutters should be from a single source and manufacturer.

Monday, November 9, 2009 - 07:26 PM

Robert Sharp


An additional advantage of the cranked open adjustable shutter is that it would be a very effective way to block east and west sun and still allow air flow.  And crankable shutter helps solve the insect screen problem.  I think that the retractable (roll-up) screen would be best for this application, so that you could have a completely tunable system for air flow, shading, and insect repelling.  In our climate we have many days early in the Spring and late in the Fall when the bugs are all gone, but the weather is nice and you want to completely open the window and not look at an unnecessary insect screen.

Down the Unlovable Carbon Stair-Steps

carbon chart illustrating performance of unlovable non-LEED buildings, unlovable LEED buildings, lovable non-LEED buildings and lovable LEED buildings over 200 years

   It is better to keep an historic building than to demolish it and build a LEED building in its place. Sounds preposterous? Read on...

   Lovable Buildings are the first essential building-block of sustainable buildings. Here’s why: If it can’t be loved, it won’t last. The chart above shows the stunning repercussions. It charts total energy usage, including both the energy of operation and the total embodied energy of new construction (energy to construct plus embodied energy of the materials.)

   The yellow line is an historic building no modifications. Because it has been there for a long time, it has demonstrated its lovability. The green line is an historic building renovated to LEED standards. I used this press release from the USGBC to chart the difference between LEED and non-LEED, which indicates that the average LEED building (all ratings) saves 25% to 30% per year in energy versus non-LEED buildings. All lines go down... energy used is negative, energy generated is positive. Not even today’s LEED platinum buildings generate as much energy as they use.

   The three bottom lines have stair-steps, which is where the buildings are demolished and rebuilt periodically because they are unlovable. This chart shows the unlovable buildings being demolished every forty years. Wal-Marts, as we all know, are lucky to last half that long. And think of all the ranch houses that never saw their fortieth birthday. I used for energy to demolish and reconstruct, assuming demolition of “medium construction” (steel frame,) and rebuilding an office building.

   As you can see, LEED buildings that are unlovable are always worse off than unmodified historic buildings. Buildings must perform twice as well as the average LEED building (the “unlovable LEED x 2” line) to be equal to unmodified (but well-maintained, of course) historic buildings. And the green line, which is an historic building modified to perform 25% better, far outstrips them all.

   I blogged several weeks ago about the conflict between the preservationists and LEED. There have been several excellent comments on that post... take a look at it, too. But the bottom line is that lovability matters in a big way. And in such a big way, as you can see above, that our best technological solutions can’t dig us out of the energy hole created by unlovability.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 10:50 AM


Shouldn't there be a stairstep at the beginning of the historic LEED chart, to indicate the energy put into converting it?  In general, though, I agere with you very strongly on this point -- it seems obvious that reuse is always lower-impact than new construction.  Add in the fact that new construction is often in suburban sprawl that you have to walk to as well...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 10:37 AM

Steve Mouzon

Actually, you're right... I need to go back and fix the chart. There would be a slight down-tick at the beginning, as you've noted. Thanks for picking that up!

Monday, September 21, 2009 - 08:52 PM


Traditional architecture just needs to have more design competitions where the jury isn't stacked with modernists.  Case and point...Chain of Eco Homes for Greensburg, Kansas. (the town was destroyed by EF5 tornado)..see the link

There are some good traditional looking homes that are appropriate for Kansas, but they probably don't stand a chance.

David Brussat and the Capitol Cove Article

historic building in Providence, Rhode Island

   David Brussat has an excellent article in today’s Providence Journal on a new condo? apartment? dorm? project in Providence called Capitol Cove. And no, the image above isn’t Capitol Cove. Rather, that’s the sort of building that makes up much of the fabric of Providence, which is why the citizens of Providence should be really upset about Capitol Cove.

   Capitol Cove, it seems, was originally designed to be more consistent with the character of the city. Brussat indicates that “it looked pleasant in a traditional brick-and-gables sort of way...” But he reports that “Modernists on the design-review panel urged the developer’s architects... to replace some of its traditional features with a contemporary look.” Most of the article describes the economic repercussions of the final regrettable design. Brussat wonders aloud what discount potential purchasers will ask due to the ugliness of the building.

   But the crosshairs of the questions could just as easily be turned toward the sustainability repercussions of unlovable design instead of the economic ones. Because buildings that cannot be loved will not last. How many decades can a building escape the wrecking ball when potential renters or purchasers are asking for ugliness discounts?

   Sustainable buildings must first of all be lovable, because their carbon footprints are meaningless when their parts are being carted off to the landfill. Linking lovability to sustainability (as the Original Green has done since the beginning) is important, but that’s only the first step.

   Here’s the dilemma: If we do nothing but sniff at the ugliness and carp about the inferior taste of the architects or the review board, then we’re powerless to prevent more unlovable and therefore unsustainable buildings in the future. Why? Because so long as lovability is an issue of taste, fashion, or style, then there can be no real authority... everything devolves into “I have better taste than you...” “No, you don’t...” “Yes, I do...” “No, you don’t...” Endlessly.

   So we really must get beyond the temporary whims of fashion and the passing vagaries of style, if we want true sustainability. If its appeal doesn’t last longer than the fashion cycle, how can it possibly be sustainable? But how do we do that?

   I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I know: We must begin to identify and catalogue the things that humans are hard-wired to love, and then figure out why they react that way. Because if we can get into the inner workings of that hard-wiring, then we have a much higher likelihood of learning to build timelessly again.

   I could list the items I’m aware of, but I’d rather have a conversation... what do you think? Which patterns should be on the lovability list? Thanks in advance for leaving your comments!

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Friday, May 15, 2009 - 06:20 PM

Michael Rouchell

The story about the design-review panel picking apart the design struck a nerve with me.  

As I see it, traditional urban design has not been taught in the architecture schools since the onslaught of Modernism, and the resulting ugly buildings that began to replace old historic buildings resulted in the creation of the Historic preservation Act to protect extant historic old buildings, and the establishment of architectural review boards to review proposed new construction within historic districts.  The problem is is that the design-review panelists are not trained in traditional urban design either so you have a design-review panelist who is not traditionally trained telling an architect who also is not traditionally trained how to properly design buildings that fit into traditional urban contexts.  

I believe that the real intent of the desing review panelist is to steer the design towards something that they are more familiar with.  I always wonder how the great architects of the past -- not just trained architects, but ordinary carpenters of the time -- were able to create such great looking buildings, and yet they never had to have their projects picked apart by a design-review panel.  

As an architect, how do you promote your design work?  Do you produce a brochure with color photos with a post script at the bottom that indicates that the final result is not what you had intended and is the result of a design-review panel gone wild?

Monday, May 25, 2009 - 09:02 AM

David Brussat

Steve, Michael - In Providence, the several bodies that hold specific design-review authority over new construction in the city and its downtown are obtuse not because they are filled with architects whose education deadens their sensitivity to what fits into streetscapes of historical character. They know very well what fits and what does not fit. They believe, however, that for Providence to be the creative city it has touted itself as being for two decades at least, that its new buildings must somehow appear to contradict what they consider the staid and uncreative buildings of the past - not the recent past but the more distant past. To approve a building that fits into Providence's historic streetscapes would not so much go against their education (though if they are architects it would), but against their idea of what is hip. Be they architects, lawyers, developers or bankers or tradespeople, they consider themselves hip, and they want the city to be remade in their image. Comfort and aesthetic pleasure for the public at large is not key. To be edgy is the key. It has been the powerful new buzz word lo these many years, and they bow down to it as if it were a sort of god.

     But yes, there are modern architects on all of these panels - the Capital Center Design Review Committee, the Downcity Design Review Commission, even the Providence Historical District Commission. I do not believe they hold a majority on any, but they talk the talk better than the others. These members do, I believe, favor "edgy" design not for being all they know because of flaws in their education. It is largely because they want to steer work to their friends in the business, and in turn have work steered toward their firms. I don't believe that this is just a Providence thing. And it is not so much unethical as human all too human. Nor, as I say, is it the only motive. They are people who love their city just as much as I do, but they believe that its future must be "edgy" in order to have the best hope of prosperity. They just don't think that more traditional buildings, more buildings that fit into the traditional streetscape (which in Providence remains extensive, both downtown and in the neighborhoods) is the answer. If anything, I fear that my own writing has only hardened their attitude. They merely believe that to attract outsiders, the city needs to be seen as "creative," and their idea of creativity is limited.

     I find that I may have talked myself into the idea that the key is indeed the miseducation of the architect! 

     Green is only now beginning to scratch the surface in Providence, but it is a gizmo green. I have argued repeatedly in my columns that old buildings that are loved because they are beautiful are the most sustainable buildings, and that new buildings of like character will be more likely to build commitment - the idea at the center of Original Green - but it's like spitting into the wind. Prince Charles in his recent speech made the identical point. He is probably spitting in the wind, too. So, Steve, I do earnestly hope that you and others of like belief are already beginning to turn the conversation on green in a more intelligent, genuinely sustainable direction.

     - David Brussat

     PS - Please let me know if you would like me to send you some past columns that hit these particular notes, such as one a couple of years ago when the annual convention of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission was about green architecture. You'd think they, at least, would be marinaded in good sense on this issue, and others, but, boy, did they have a lot to learn!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 07:00 PM

Steve Mouzon

   Michael, the over-reaching design review panel isn't the problem in most places I've ever worked. Rather, the reason that many great designs never reach the brochure is because we have no living traditions to elevate the work of the tradespeople, IMO.

   David, by all means, please post the articles you mentioned! I read your column frequently, but don't know if I saw the ones in question. As for turning the conversation, I'm of the opinion that persuasiveness isn't as important as the way we frame the debate. Gizmo Green only wins so long as someone has blinders on. If we're able to frame sustainability as wide as it really is, then the Original Green clearly makes much more sense.

Prince Charles at the RIBA

country lane in the Cornwall countryside of England

   I have never before posted anything that was entirely from another source, but this is so important that I’m making an exception. The following is the text of Prince Charles’ speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects yesterday evening. Clearly, he is describing characteristics of the Original Green, but in terms much more gracious and eloquent than I have ever been able to muster... which leads to another point: The Original Green is not a proprietary idea that belongs to anyone, but rather, a great truth of natural sustainability that people can come at from multiple directions. Nobody can own the Original Green... the most we can hope for is to be able to discern its principles and workings, and to apply them in the places and buildings we build.


   12th May 2009

   Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I suspect the only reason I find myself here today is because your President, Sunand Prasad, who was a student of Keith Critchlow who founded my School of Traditional Arts, invited me. I felt I should oblige him. I daresay he may be regretting his invitation by now… as if the media are to be believed – it is a wonder to find this hall seemingly fully occupied!

But it is, after all, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ 175th anniversary – on which I can only offer you my sincere congratulations – and it does seem that a tradition is emerging whereby I am asked to join you in celebrating a significant anniversary every 25 years. In another 25 years I shall very likely have shuffled off this mortal coil and so those of you who do worry about my inconvenient interferences won’t have to do so any more – unless, of course, they prove to be hereditary!

   Now there is something I’ve been itching to say about the last time I addressed your Institute, in 1984; and that is that I am sorry if I somehow left the faintest impression that I wished to kick-start some kind of “style war” between Classicists and Modernists; or that I somehow wanted to drag the world back to the eighteenth century. All I asked for was room to be given to traditional approaches to architecture and urbanism, so I am most gratified to see that, since then, the R.I.B.A. itself has initiated a Group for traditional practitioners.

   To my mind, that earlier speech also addressed a much more fundamental division than that between Classicism and Modernism: namely the one between “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to architecture. Today, I’m sorry to say, there still remains a gulf between those obsessed by forms (and Classicists can be as guilty of this as Modernists, Post-Modernists, or Post-Post-Modernists), and those who believe that communities have a role to play in design and planning.

   For millennia before the arrival of the modern architect, human intervention in the environment often managed to be beautiful, irrespective of stylistic concerns, because the “deep structure” of those interventions was consonant with a natural order, and therefore generated an organic, Nature-like order in the built world. And this is not just ancient history: as I recently pointed out in another context, there is still an echo of this sort of intervention to be found in so-called “slum cities”, such as Dharavi in Mumbai, where the work of Joachim Arputham and the Slum Dwellers’ Federation, whom I met there in 2006, has so well demonstrated the power of community action.

   I hope we can avoid any such misunderstanding this evening of what I have to say – and to be helpful I propose to speak of “organic” rather than Classical or Traditional architecture. I know that the term “organic architecture” acquired a certain specific meaning in the twentieth century (as I was reminded only a few days ago when I visited Erich Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm on the hills near Potsdam), but perhaps it is time to recover its older meaning and use it to describe traditional architecture that emerges from a particular environment or community – an architecture bound to place not to time. In this way we might defuse the too-easy accusation that such an approach is “old-fashioned”, or not sufficiently attuned to the zeitgeist.

   This term “organic architecture” might also serve to distinguish what I am talking about from the “mechanical”, or even “genetically-modified”, architecture of the Modernist experiment – about which I will have more to say shortly…

   Geoffrey Scott, writing as the First World War broke out, was most eloquent about the way in which buildings can mirror our selves: “the centre of Classical architecture”, he wrote, “is the human body… the whole of architecture is, in fact, unconsciously invested by us with human movements and human moods … We transcribe architecture in terms of ourselves.” In this sense, and above all in today’s world, it is surely worth reminding ourselves that Nature herself is a living organism; Man is a living organism, each of us a microcosm of the whole – mind, body and spirit. Because of this, what we refer to as “Tradition”, and the architecture that flows from it, is a symbolic reflection of the order, proportion and harmony found within Nature and ourselves.

   There are equivalents to this in non-Western traditions also. In traditional Islamic architecture geometry is understood in ways both quantitative and qualitative, the combination of the two reflecting the complex order of Nature: its quantitative dimension regulated the broad form and construction of a building; its qualitative Nature established the more discrete proportions of architectural form. In this way the relationship between the architect and the surrounding world was one based more on reverence than arrogance; and both quantity and quality were each given their due attention.

   Clearly, many people “out there” who aren’t architects, planners, developers or road engineers think about these matters rather differently from the professional mindset. When you provide them with an alternative vision based on the qualities represented by a living tradition, and with the quantitative element playing a more subservient role, people tend to vote with their feet. But the trouble is that nine times out of 10 they are never allowed an alternative, and they are all forced instead to become part of an ongoing experiment.

   So I wonder if it might be possible to construct a series of seminars held jointly by this Institute and my Foundation for the Built Environment to explore whether we could ever come up with a more integrated way of looking at our alarmingly threatened world; one which is informed by traditional practice, and by traditional attitudes to the natural world?

   After all, Nature, traditionally understood, is far, far more than a simple source-book of forms. One of the most important series of books of recent times, in my view – Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order – is both a compendium of living patterns seen in Nature, absorbed over millennia into human traditions of building, and a brave search for the underlying principles that give rise to these patterns everywhere we look. It reveals, as well as anything can, why we can often recognize Nature, and our own reflection more readily in a classical column, or in a humble farm building well-constructed, than in some glitzy new waveform warehouse. There have been architectural form languages and pattern languages practised over millennia that nourished humanity, and sustained human society, just as much as did our spoken languages.

   But, still, we cannot entirely blame architects who think that mere imitations of Nature are sufficient: it is one of the legacies of the long Modernist experiment that we find ourselves so cut off from the real pulse of the natural world. To quote from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s foreword to its recent exhibition on Modernism: “Modernists … believed in technology as the key means to achieve social improvement, and in the machine as a symbol of that aspiration.” In many ways this emphasis on technology has brought us “social improvement”, and many significant benefits, but the side-effects caused by quite unnecessarily losing our balance and discarding and denigrating every other element apart from the technological are now becoming more and more apparent.

   Perhaps we ought not to forget that Modernism was an urban movement. It did not arise in rural areas and I very much doubt that it could have done so. For Modernism largely rejected the influence of Nature on design. It preferred abstract thinking to contact with the patterns and organic ordering of Nature. Indeed, the exploiting of abstract concepts soon became the hallmark of Modernist architecture. The problem for us today is that this approach now lies at the heart of our perception of the world.

   In so many areas, the only serious goals seem to be greater efficiency, inducing ever more economic growth, and increasing profits. Not to achieve these goals is to be marked down as a failure. The trouble is, these goals were only ever going to be possible if the apparent clutter and inefficiency of traditional thinking was swept away. It was only ever going to be possible if the bio-diversity in Nature was reduced to a much more manageable mono-culture. And it was only ever going to be possible if the inner world of humanity – our intuition, our instinct – was ignored, or over-ridden.

   Instead, we conform more readily to the limited and linear process of the machine. Such is our conditioned way of thinking along purely empirical, rational lines that we now seem prepared to test the world around us to destruction simply to attain the required “evidence base” to prove that that is what we are indeed doing. And then, of course, it is all too late for the Sorcerer's Apprentice to summon back the Master to cast the necessary spell to restore harmony and balance.

   Nature, I would argue, reveals the universal essence of creation. Our present preoccupation with the individual ego, and desire to be distinctive, rather than “original” in its truest sense, are only the more visible signs of our rejection of Nature. In addition, there is our addiction to mechanical rather than joined-up, integrative thinking, and our instrumental relationship with the natural world. In the world as it is now, there seems to be an awful lot more arrogance than reverence; a great deal more of the ego than humility; and a surfeit of abstracted ideology over the practical realities linked to people’s lives and the grain of their culture and identity.

   Over the past 100 years, I think we might possibly agree that the old way of doing things literally fragmented and deconstructed the world into a series of “zoned” parts, without any inter-relationship or order such as is found in Nature. The difficulty I face, however, in asking you to consider the Modernistic approach of the twentieth century as flawed, and needing to be replaced, is that, clearly, this fragmented approach has produced so many great benefits. It is, however, hard to square these benefits with all the evidence that tells us that if we continue with “business as usual” we will fail to solve, indeed we are likely to compound, the deeply complicated and serious problems that this approach has already created. I feel that our philosophical response and our spiritual response to this problem are just as important as our empirical one. Empiricism does not deal with meaning, so if we rely upon it to undo all the wreckage we have caused, it will not be enough – because it can only reveal the mechanism of things. I know, by the way, that many contemporary architects agree with this critique of the flaws in the modern movement philosophy. Just as I know that a considerable number produce some very interesting and worthy buildings. In fact, two which I have seen recently are I. M. Pei’s new museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and David Chipperfield’s remarkable restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin which I saw two weeks ago.

   And if we are to respond philosophically and spiritually, as well as empirically, architecture is uniquely placed to help us do that. This is why, faced by such a broad range of interlinked challenges, I would like to suggest that members of this Institute might consider this question of refocusing and changing our perceptions and thus help change the course of our approach.

   Let me point out that I don’t go around criticizing other people’s private artworks. I may not like some of them very much, but it is their business what they choose to put in their houses. However, as I have said before, architecture and the built environment affect us all. Architecture defines the public realm, and it should help to define us as human beings, and to symbolize the way we look at the world; it affects our psychological well-being, and it can either enhance or detract from a sense of community. As such, we are profoundly influenced by it: by the presence, or absence, of beauty and harmony. I don’t think it is too much to say that beauty and harmony lie at the heart of genuine sustainability. I believe that precisely because the built environment defines the public, or civic, realm it should express itself through the fundamental ingredients that define a genuine civilization – in other words, those civic virtues such as courtesy, consideration and good manners.

   It was when I was a teenager in the 1960’s that I became profoundly aware of the brutal destruction that was being wrought on so many of our towns and cities, let alone on our countryside, and that much of the urban realm was becoming de-personalized and defaced. The loss was immense, incalculable – an insane “Reformation” that, I believe, went too far, particularly when so much could have been restored, converted or re-used, with a bit of extra thought, rather than knocked down.

   I suspect that there are few among you here this evening who would now try to defend such things as the soulless housing estates that characterized that time. Albeit that they were pursued with the best possible motive. One of the problems that I think needs to be acknowledged is that so often we find the kinds of communities that work best cannot be built, due to the specialised and reductive nature of the modern planning process. The design standards imposed by the highway engineering profession, for instance, are particularly damaging to community as they ensure the dominance of the motor vehicle over the pedestrian, even within the neighbourhood. If I may say so, your profession could be of great help with this challenge of converting the planning and engineering professions, as surely you have noticed that the well-proportioned neighbourhoods of the Georgian and Victorian era hold their value far better than the monocultural housing estates of the past 50 years.

   Indeed, compare these current rules with those established centuries ago right here, around Portland Place, by the Howard de Walden and Portland Estates. Those rules were intended to make good neighbours of us all – in regard to heights, rhythms and materials of building – and it is because of these firm and universal rules that this Institute can today enjoy being in such an enviable headquarters building. And who, looking at the sheer exuberance and inventiveness of 66 Portland Place, could argue that such rules inhibit creativity?

   The organic/traditional approach – based on sensible “rules-of-thumb” rather than the more detached and bureaucratic way of ruling “by the book” – is a living thing, which doesn’t deserve to be called “old-fashioned”. It is better described as a process of continuous renewal – like those Japanese temples which are ever-renewed, yet remain ever themselves; or our – in my case rapidly ageing – bodies for that matter, the cells of which are continually replaced without replacing the thing that makes us uniquely us. And, as this very building testifies, Tradition has space for as much creativity as we can bring to it. The historian, F.A. Simpson – whom I remember well when I was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge and he was a very senior Fellow – once wrote that “the mind of Man can range unimaginably fast and far, while riding to the anchor of a liturgy.”

   My School of Traditional Arts, in Shoreditch, works hard to inspire its many students not just to copy the patterns of the past, but to conjure their own interpretations of traditional patterning by keeping within the overriding discipline of the grammar of its geometry. This is essential, for even wisdom can die if it is allowed to become mere mechanical repetition, devoid of love or any real understanding. Unfortunately, however, the culture of architecture schools in general still overwhelmingly encourages students to focus on the exciting and the new, at the expense of the truly “original” – which should always point to our common origins – and of evidence-based lessons of history and place. Indeed, traditional buildings and projects are still looked down on today by most teachers; too often dismissed out of hand as "pastiche" or worse. The sad truth, I feel, is that virtually all Schools of Architecture and Planning have persisted in teaching an approach which is deliberately counter-intuitive to the human spirit and to the underlying patterns of Nature herself of which, whether we like it or not, we are a microcosm. By so doing they have deliberately thrown away the book of grammar that contained, as it were, the “syntax of civic virtues.” It was because of this situation that I founded my original Institute of Architecture, to be succeeded by my Foundation for the Built Environment which is soon to launch an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism Development at Oxford. It will be an inter-disciplinary post-professional degree and, in addition to that, my Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship in Sustainable Urbanism and Architecture is entering its second year, along with an expanding Traditional Building Craft Apprenticeship Scheme.

   Since the 1960s I have gradually become convinced that the “experiment” on our towns and cities that had such a profoundly negative effect on me at that time – and not just on me, I can assure you – is only a small part of a much larger experiment that touches every aspect of our lives.

   I don’t believe I am the only one to mind about this; nor the only one to feel that the giant experiment (which has been unfolding at increasing pace over the last half-century) with our built environment, with our communities, with our identity, with our very sense of belonging, has gone too far and that it is no longer sustainable in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

   The fact that these circumstances are in some ways a natural consequence of this larger experiment – being conducted in all walks of life – needs, I think, to be recognized and stated plainly. The trouble is that very few people dare to call it into question, for the very good reason that if they do they find themselves abused and insulted, accused of being “old-fashioned,” out of touch, reactionary, anti-progress, even anti-science – as if it was some kind of unholy blasphemy to question the state of our surroundings, of our natural environment, our food security, our climate and our own human identity and meaning. Little wonder, then, that most people shy away from pointing out that the Emperor isn’t actually wearing very many clothes anymore.

   The crisis in the banking and financial sector – devastating though its consequences will be for some – has at least brought to light something of the short‑termist, unsustainable, and experimental nature of the way many professionals now operate in the world; a kind of surpassing cleverness in the devising of products and systems that no-one really understands. At a time when, believe it or not, we are hearing calls for a return to old‑fashioned, traditional banking virtues, might these calls not apply equally to the manner in which our built environment gives physical expression to the way we do business and live our lives, as essentially social beings?

   Nothing argues for a re-evaluation of our way of doing things more than the state of the planet. Some twenty years ago – shortly after I made A Vision of Britain – I made another B.B.C. film called Earth in Balance in which I interviewed the then Senator Al Gore. I don’t think many people paid much attention to that film. It’s amusing watching it now! His subsequent bestseller, Earth in the Balance, played an important part in framing the debate before the Kyoto Conference on climate change. At that time, I argued that a rebalancing of priorities from short- to long-term was needed and that short-term thinking was at the root of the environmental crisis. I may have thought that then – I am convinced of it now! Sustainability matters. Durability matters even more. And perhaps more than ever, it matters now; for surely it must be true that the twin crunches of credit and climate together have highlighted the dangers of the short-term view – “consume today and let someone else pay tomorrow for the throwaway society.”

As over 60 per cent of our carbon emissions can be attributed to the built environment, all of us who are involved with the making of place have a great responsibility. Climatologists speak, and speak urgently, of the need to flatten the curve of rising emissions – starting now.

   Not only that, but the great irony is that many of the social challenges we hoped economic growth would solve still remain deeply resistant to resolution, even after so many years of “growth”. Experience now tells us that poverty, stress, ill-health and social tensions could not have been ended by economic growth alone. At the heart of this dilemma is the issue of global urbanization, as more than sixty per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. And what kind of cities will they find themselves inhabiting? The primary response so far to this accelerating urbanization has been to view it as a short-term challenge of scale, and to respond to it by building bigger, more and faster, rather than questioning whether and to what extent such development – still based on an outmoded paradigm of planning and design – is actually sustainable, economically, socially and environmentally. Some, at least, are beginning to regard the growth of shanty-towns – a highly-visible consequence of rapid urbanization – as more than just a nuisance that needs to be cleared away, in the same way as the “slums” of our British cities were cleared in the 1960s, but as a possible clue to how we might respond better to growth in the future – from the bottom up.

   The trouble is that we seem to have become programmed to see the individual elements of a problem only in isolation – which means that, often, in curing one problem we create many more. We see this way of thinking only too clearly in those flashy new buildings where just by adding a windmill, some solar panels, or other such “bling” to a high-rise glass tower it is considered to make everything “green”. My Foundation has always been committed to finding a more integrated approach to greening building, inspired by traditional environments in which even such things as the alternate planting and paving of courtyards – encouraging the movement of air, so obviating the need for air-conditioning – and the clever placing of verandas or porticos, can make a building greener. The Foundation’s Natural House, now under construction at the Building Research Establishment’s Innovation Park, is an attempt to introduce a new model for green building that is site-built, low-carbon and easily adapted for volume building. It remains, however, recognizably a house. It doesn’t wear its “green-ness” as if it was the latest piece of haute couture; it is much more concerned with what works on the High Street in terms of good manners and courtesy.

   I must say, I find it baffling that we still consider “whole-istic” thinking to be a kind of alternative New Age therapy when, in fact, to see things in the round and take account of the impact upon the whole is the only effective way of addressing the many, seemingly intractable problems we now face, especially if we hope to solve them without compounding our troubles with yet more chaos and destruction. More and more of the world’s problems seem interconnected, so it would be wise, would it not, to consider – in architecture as much as in any other field – the wider implications of our actions rather than constantly narrowing our focus and reducing our ambitions down to the one element and its one outcome. Yet this is the way we have tended to operate ever since it became the conventional way of thinking about the world.

   It seems to me that the only way to tackle this narrowness of vision is through collaborations across disciplines and divides. Your current President has encouraged your Institute to take an active role in addressing climate change in the run up to the Copenhagen conference, and if there is a compelling reason for my own Foundation to cooperate with you in the future it surely has to be around causes such as this. I can only say that along with many others I look forward to seeing a new, binding and fair treaty to emerge from the Copenhagen conference.

   In bringing such matters to bear upon buildings and places, what is needed, it seems to me, is a three-stage approach: first, a grounding in precedent, building upon what has worked well in the past; second, an understanding of locality, the specific “D.N.A.”, if you like, of a place, incorporating local intelligence and community input; and third, the incorporation of the best of new technology.

   As an enthusiastic proponent of “Seeing is Believing,” I realized 20 years ago that I myself had an opportunity to “give room” to an alternative way of doing things. I set out to try to embody these principles in the development – undertaken by the Duchy of Cornwall, under the guidance of the master-planner, Leon Krier – of an area on the edge of the town of Dorchester. There, over recent years – and increasingly on other sites owned or part-owned by the Duchy – I have sought to follow what I regard as a golden rule: which is “to try to do to others as you would have them do to you”; in other words not to build something that I would not be willing to live in or near myself. The other day an architect friend of mine asked “How many Pritzker Prizewinners are not living in beautiful Classical Homes?”; and we all know what he was getting at. Surely architects flock in such numbers to live in these lovely old houses – many from the eighteenth century, often in the last remaining conservation areas of our towns and cities that haven’t yet been destroyed – because, deep down, they do respond to the natural patterns and rhythms I have been talking about, and feel more comfortable in such harmonious surroundings – even though, presumably, they don’t all feel the need to wear togas to do so?!

   Poundbury has challenged contemporary models for road design by introducing shared spaces, and designing for the pedestrian first, and only then the car; and it has challenged the conventional model of zoned development by pepper-potting affordable and private-market housing, and integrating workplaces and retail within a walkable neighbourhood. Thus we can enhance social and environmental value, as well as commercial. Why on earth all this should be considered “old-fashioned” and out of touch, when we took the greatest trouble to sit down and consult with the local community twenty years ago, is beyond me – for we find, so often, that communities have the best answers themselves if they can be engaged in a meaningful way. My Foundation has discovered this time and again in conducting planning exercises in places as far afield as China and Saudi Arabia. For what is tradition but the accumulated wisdom and experience of previous generations, informed by intuition and human instinct, and given shape under the unerring eye of the craftsman, whose common sense provides the organic durability we so urgently need?

   I pray that a new and developing relationship between this Institute and my Foundation for the Built Environment can enable us to work together to create the kind of organic architecture for the twenty-first century that not only reflects the intuitive needs, aspirations and cultural identity of countless communities around the world, but also the innate patterns of Nature. As Sir John Betjeman wrote with such prescience back in 1931 – “The Revolting phrase ‘The Battle of Styles,’ wherein architecture is now considered a fighting ground between old gentlemen who imitate the Parthenon and brilliant young men who create abstract designs, can only have been coined by stupid extremists of either side. There is no battle for the intelligent artist,” he wrote. “The older men gradually discard superfluities. The younger men do not ignore the necessary devices of the past. Both sides find their way slowly to the middle of the maze whose magic centre is tradition.”

   Nowadays we might, perhaps, more accurately speak of “the young men who imitate the Parthenon – or who are, at any rate, beginning to value the lessons of history once again – and the old gentlemen who create abstract designs”, but the underlying message remains the same. If we can find the right path, perhaps you would care to accompany me to the middle of the maze?!

~ His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales

Michael Pollan - In Defense of Food - and the Original Green

farm fields in the Dorset countryside in England

   I was at Michael Pollan’s Books & Books lecture last night in Coral Gables. I’ll spare you the normal raft of accolades, because if you know his work, then you know how good it is. What was striking to me last night was how closely the themes of his talk paralleled those of the Original Green. Here’s a sampling:

   He proposes “orthorexia” as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, and notes that Americans have actually become far more more unhealthy precisely at the time that our concern with nutrition has expanded. The Gizmo Green is an unsustainable obsession with artifacts (light bulbs, Priuses, etc.) reputed to confer sustainability upon us, while at the same time, our appetite for energy and material resources becomes all the more gluttonous.

   Pollan lays out “Nutritionism” as a way of looking at food through a scientific lens. It has four tenets, each with parallels to sustainability:

   1. What is important in food is the nutrients. Food is the sum of its nutrient parts. Similarly, Gizmo Green breaks sustainability down into energy-consuming equipment and resource-consuming materials, and tries to make each more efficient. Originally, sustainability was a much broader proposition than just equipment and materials. As you can see here, real sustainability is a far more comprehensive than Gizmo Green... which is only a very small part of the solution.

   2. If what matters to food is invisible (nutrients) then you need a priesthood (nutritionists) to tell you how to eat. For the first time in world history, a species (humans) needs specialists to tell them how to eat. The exact same story has occurred in architecture. Once, except for the great monumental buildings, the townspeople built the towns. And those Original Green towns were highly sustainable, often persisting for centuries or even millennia. Sustainability spread in a highly organic fashion, mimicing the processes of life. But today, we need a priesthood of “green architect” specialists to tell us how to build. Only one problem... we’re still going the wrong direction, consuming more and more energy and resources each year. This is because they’re all specialists, looking at the problem as engineering rather than holistic design.

   3. The world can be divided into “good nutrients” and “evil nutrients.” Problem is, they’re switching sides every few years. Architecture has a similarly transient story... because mainstream architecture has rejected tradition, architecture has become a series of little revolutions, heart-poundingly approaching the speed of a fashion cycle or a fad diet. Such architecture is clearly incapable of delivering sustainability because it doesn’t stay around long enough to sustain anything.

   4. The whole point of eating is health. You’re either helping or hurting your health. Similarly, the whole point of sustainability is carbon. You’re either carbon-positive or carbon-negative. Except that neither is true... these are only small parts of the picture.

   There are other parallels as well. Traditional regional cuisines varied widely, based on locally available ingredients, climate, and culture. Almost completely parallel (and as a really good analogy) traditional architecture varied widely, based on regional conditions (like available materials and craft sets,) climate, and culture.

   Food once consisted of things you grew from the ground or harvested from trees... buildings, too, were once constructed of things you dug from the ground or cut from trees. But today, the ingredients list of both our food and of our buildings have lengthened tremendously. These ingredients are often things that we can’t spell, and that often didn’t even exist when our grandparents were our age. This means that we can’t make most of the ingredients of either our food our our buildings ourselves; rather, they must be fabricated by the industrial food system or the industrial building system.

   How about safety? Originally, there were rules of thumb for cooking and eating, just as there were for building, so that the townspeople could build the town, and Mom could make dinner. But today, we need specialists to put it all together, and we have no authority to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t good enough, because they’re the experts and we’re not.

   Pollan, however, proposes to bring back the rule-of-thumb mechanism, introducing several in In Defense of Food, all plain-spoken and easy to understand, such as “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Caveat: he excludes “edible food-like substances” (think Chicken McNuggets) from his definition of food. Or try these: “Don’t eat any food that has more than five ingredients.” “Don’t eat food advertised on TV.” “Don’t eat food with ingredients you can’t spell.” or “Don’t buy your food where you buy your gas.” I concur... not only with these rules of thumb, but with the idea that rules of thumb are a powerful tool for change. After Earth Day - What’s Next? What Can I do? contains my top ten rules of thumb for achieving sustainability.

   Some of Pollan’s points, however, weren’t just parallel to the Original Green... they were actually elements of the Original Green. For example, he’s a huge advocate of local food. Any supporter of the Original Green knows that local food is the cornerstone of Nourishable Places, and that Nourishable Places are the first foundation of sustainable places... and that you can’t have sustainable buildings unless they’re build in sustainable places. So if you can’t eat food from there, you can’t sustain life there in a healthy fashion long into an uncertain future. Bottom line... Pollan’s work should be considered essential reading in any discussion on real sustainability. Check out the Nourishable Places Bookshelf in the Original Green Bookstore... most of his books are there.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - 10:48 AM


Applause applause! I was heart sick to miss his talk, so really appreciate your insightful analysis.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 - 10:22 AM

Steve Mouzon

Thanks very much!

Monday, June 15, 2009 - 10:21 PM

Brian Reeves

I too have  read "In Defense of Food" and I agree entirely that Michael Pollan's themes are part of the original green! Another book of importance that I've read recently, which I noticed is in your bookstore is Bill Mckibben's "Deep Economy". I think it is important because the theme of local economies so actively pursued throughout the book, was the livelihood that built the fantastic places of old such as Pienza, Brugge, or Stockholm which at that time were fully immersed in the original green.  Would it be pertinent to have these two authors speak at CNU 18?

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 12:35 PM

Steve Mouzon

Absolutely! Do you have any connections to get either of these authors to CNU18?

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 07:58 PM

Brian Reeves

To be honest, I don't have any connections. However I can give it a try and see what happens. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Who would be the best person to contact at CNU?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 - 03:53 PM

Steve Mouzon

Brian, that's OK... the biggest hurdle is simply finding someone with the time, commitment, and energy to pursue this sort of thing. Almost everything good that has initially been accomplished within the New Urbanism has been done by people who were self-appointed. I would suggest contacting Steve Filmanowicz ( and volunteering your efforts. Please keep us apprised as you move forward.

Thanks! ~Steve

Sunday, June 28, 2009 - 02:21 PM

Brian Reeves

Thanks Steve. I appreciate your help and I will keep you updated.

Denver CNU 17 - Original Green, Town Architect, Frontage, & Smart Homes

downtown Denver, Colorado

   You may have read earlier about the Craft session on Thursday at CNU17 in Denver. I’m participating in four other sessions as well, and I promise we’ll do our best to make them well worth your time:

   I’m doing the Original Green session on Wednesday. It will be a one-hour whirlwind tour through the latest Original Green ideas. The Original Green is a fast-developing set of principles that produce real sustainability; if you haven’t seen an Original Green presentation recently, then you’ll see a lot of new stuff that I hope you agree is useful and powerful.

   The Smart, Sustainable & Economical: Homes for the New Era session is Friday. I’ll be participating on a panel with Andrés Duany and Marianne Cusato. I’ll be presenting the New Urban Guild’s Project:SmartDwelling, including SmartDwelling I, which was recently published in the Wall Street Journal. SmartDwellings literally are game-changers. Because they’re significantly less expensive to buy and to operate, many mortgages will be approved that are not being approved for today’s bloated houses.

   Town Architects: The Newest Methods is a Saturday morning session. Jed Selby and Mike Watkins will join me to describe a new Town Architect method that is not only far more effective than older methods, but actually can play a part in restarting new living traditions. Living traditions, as you might know, are the operating systems of the Original Green. They also make the good details easy to produce for the first time in a hundred years, and make them far more affordable, too.

   Private Frontage Secrets is a Saturday afternoon session. Susan Henderson and Eric Brown will be joining me to look at a center of New Urbanist controversy. Detractors regularly attack the New Urbanism for its “cute picket fences and porches.” Supporters have long felt that getting public frontages right was an art form. It turns out that it is a science instead. We’ll look at the details of how private frontage elements work together to set the stage for strangers to get acquainted, and what it takes to turn expensive decoration into valuable outdoor rooms. These ideas literally sell houses... we’ll show you how.

   There’s no doubt that travel budgets are tight to non-existent today for most people right now, but this is stuff you really don’t want to miss. It’s clear that we’re not going to change things by continuing to do what we’ve been doing. Do differently. Come to Denver and equip yourself at CNU 17. Seriously... it’ll be worth it!

   One more thing... today is the last day for early registration rates, so save yourself some money and register now.

~ Steve Mouzon

Denver CNU17 - The Craft Session

Union Station in Denver

   The Craft Session at CNU17 in Denver sounds at first like it’s addressing an issue (craftsmanship) that has become superfluous in perilous times. But actually, the exact opposite is true. Craftsmanship achieved the way we’ve done it recently... browbeating wood-butchers and brick-throwers into doing better work (at great expense)... really IS a luxury most of us no longer have time or money for. But there’s a little-known side of the issue of craft that may very well be one of the most pressing issues of our time. That issue is the creation of new living traditions.

   Living traditions are the only known delivery vehicle of long-term sustainability... while “short-term sustainability” is a laughable oxymoron, and a primrose path we don’t need to venture down. Living traditions have been considered impossible by almost everyone in today’s post-industrial world, but a few people have been working to revive them. Prince Charles has been the most notable of these people for decades.

   Hank Dittmar of the Prince’s Foundation has put together an advanced session at CNU 17 in Denver that focuses on craft, and the underlying living traditions required to transform craft from an expensive and non-essential indulgence into the default condition characterized as “this is how we build here...” This session will look at the latest techniques, some of which foster literally life-changing events for the aforementioned wood-butchers and brick-throwers, transforming them into craftspeople who price the good stuff with “standard pricing” and the old suburban crap with “custom pricing” because they’re ashamed to build that way anymore.

   I’ll be joining Hank and Ben Bolgar to investigate principles and techniques developed over the last few months, the last few weeks, and the last few days. In short, you likely haven’t heard of these ideas yet. But they’re the most powerful tools we’ve developed to date. There’s no doubt that travel budgets are tight to non-existent today for most people right now, but this is stuff you really don’t want to miss. It’s clear that we’re not going to change things by continuing to do what we’ve been doing. Do differently. Come to Denver and equip yourself at CNU 17. Seriously... it’ll be worth it!

   One more thing... sign up by Friday to get early registration rates.

~ Steve Mouzon

The Wall Street Journal on SmartDwelling I

aerial rendering of SmartDwelling I superimposed over floor plans and diagrams of some of its features

   Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on The Green House of the Future, which featured designs by four architects: William McDonough, Rios Clemente Hale, Cook + Fox, and myself. My design, SmartDwelling I, is pictured above... the previous post and several of the next ones will focus on aspects of the house that contribute to its sustainability.

   The Journal article created a lot of buzz this week... Twitter had too many tweets to count, and the blogosphere was loaded with references, too. Green Building Advisor was one of the first to pick up the story, as was Treehugger. Jetson Green has a poll where you can vote for your favorite of the four designs... scroll down to the bottom of their article to vote. Fast Company commented on the designs, as did New West, which appreciated the focus on smaller designs. I don’t know about the other designs, but SmartDwelling I has only 1,200 square feet of conditioned space, and yet houses three beds and two baths. Its interior contains numerous space-saving innovations which I’ll cover in another post.

   The New Regionalist was very emphatic on his preference among the four designs. PlaceShakers and NewsMakers devoted their entire post on the 27th to SmartDwelling I, and the Mother Nature Network singled out SmartDwelling I for praise. The Washington Post reacted negatively to the Journal article, pointing out that our first priority must be to reshape our neighborhoods. Too bad they didn’t realize that SmartDwelling I was specifically designed for an urban lot (40’ x 100’) that is served by a rear lane or alley. In short, it works in many infill conditions, or in creating new New Urbanist neighborhoods. The Huffington Post indicated that it was one of their most-read and most-commented-upon green stories this week. Planetizen, Businessweek, CNU New England, ArchNewsNow, and a number of others also picked up the story.

   Here are some SmartDwelling I ideas that didn’t make it into the Wall Street Journal article, but which you might find useful: My design is consistent with the objectives of the New Urban Guild's Project:SmartDwelling, which will produce highly sustainable homes for the major regions of the US. Regional issues are crucial to sustainability: climate, regionally available materials and skill sets, occasional regional atmospheric (hurricanes, etc.) and geologic (earthquakes, etc.) events, and culture. Because this is the first house designed explicitly on the SmartDwelling Project principles, I'm calling it SmartDwelling I; it is designed for the Gulf Coast region. I founded the Guild nearly a decade ago; today, it consists of 65 New Urbanist architects and designers.

   SmartDwelling I includes a number of inventions, such as the double-cranking windows & shutters to channel breezes, the Breeze Chimneys and Sideyard Sail (based on the nautical heritage of the Gulf Coast,) the Green Shed, the Cool Dip, the Laundry Eave, the Curtain Columns, and a number of interior innovations. But the primary design criteria wasn't "Is it new?" but rather "Can it work?" This means that some things need to be invented to solve today's problems. Our ancestors never had to worry about generating electricity, for example. Other things, such as the shape of the roof, have been demonstrated for centuries to be the most durable. So this home is neither historical nor futuristic; rather, it is pragmatic, because it is based on things that work best in the long run.

~ Steve Mouzon

© The Guild Foundation 2013