The new American Dream: 100K(+ 20) | Starter Home

Richard J. Klarchek Information Commons
September 3, 2008, 2:58 pm
Filed under: precedents, Technology | Tags: , , ,

The Richard J. Klarchek Information Commons, located on the Loyola University Chicago campus, was completed in December of 2007.  Solomon Cordwell Buenz designed the building to optimize energy efficiency while keeping the majority of the building transparent on the east and west facing sides. A key feature of the building is its concrete ceiling panels. These panels provide a three-in-one solution that is both sustainable and energy efficient. The panels are pre-fabricated to allow for ease of construction and reduced waste. The vaulted shape of each panel provides a greater surface area for the radiant heating and cooling tubing installed within. Additionally, each vault when used with upward lighting increases the distribution of light, reducing the overall strength (and therefore energy) needed to illuminate the building.

The Giant Pool of Money
September 3, 2008, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Social / Cultural Issue | Tags: ,
“By late 2006, the average home cost nearly four times what the average family made. Historically it was between two and three times.” (Alex Blumberg,  

An episode from This American Life, in collaboration with NPR News, details the relationship of the economic downfall on Wall Street to that of the mortage crisis faced by many Americans. The Giant Pool of Money provides a grim look at how rampant credit and lending paired with bad decision has made foreclosures soar to record numbers in 2008.

Radiant Heating
September 3, 2008, 5:16 am
Filed under: Material/Building Systems | Tags: , ,

The most common radiant heating systems consist of two types: hydronic and electric. Hydronic radiant heating systems typically utilize a gas boiler to heat water and an electric pump to circulate heated water throughout the floor area.  Electric radiant heating uses electric heating elements within the floor. Electric systems are usually less expensive than a hydronic system to install and do not require the installation of a boiler. However, the overall efficiency for electric does not compare to a hydronic system  -generating heat from a power plant requires more energy than using heat directly from a liquid source.  Additionally, electric systems cannot be paired with a geothermal ground source loop. Electric systems are most efficient when used in a smaller space such as a bathroom or kitchen. (Wikipedia, Under-floor Heating) On average, a hydronic system can cost as little as $2/sq. ft. An index of radiant heating information, installation and pricing can be found at the Radiant Design Institute website. Diagrams, manuals and cad drawings can be found through Warmzone.

Dominus Estate Winery
September 3, 2008, 4:26 am
Filed under: Material/Building Systems, precedents | Tags: , ,

 Dominus Estate Winery, located in Napa Valley, was the first U.S. project built by the Swiss duo Herzog and de Meuron.  Completed in 2001, the winery is difficult to access -no visitors are allowed. The exclusivity of the winery adds to the mystery of the building itself. Composed of gabions of three different stone sizes, the winery blends easily into the surrounding landscape and sprawling vineyards. In additon to the ready availablity of stone from the nearby American Canyon, the use of gabions was derived from practical criteria -moderating the temperature changes within the valley.

Quai Branly Museum
September 2, 2008, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Material/Building Systems, precedents, Technology | Tags: , ,

The Quai Branly Museum, designed by 2008 Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel, is located near the Eifel Tower in Paris, France. One of the key features of the art museum is a 200m x 12m living wall. The expansive green wall utilizes the Vertical Garden system designed by Patrick Blanc. The wall is composed of a 1cm thick PVC sheet riveted to a metal frame, a polyamide felt layer is stapled onto the PVC as the wall’s sole growing surface. The system does not require the use of soil, but relies on an automated system installed to regulate irrigation of the wall. The wall can support the average plant density of 30 plants/square meter.

G-Sky Green Wall Panels

G-Sky Green Wall panels provide an alternative ‘living wall’ solution for both interior and exterior walls.  Offering both green roof systems along with wall panel systems and vine containters, G-Sky promotes both the aesthetic and sustainable aspects of green walls and roofs. Benefits listed by G-Sky include reduced heat island effect, stormwater control, sound insulation, air filtration and even an increase in property values once installed. The G-Sky website provides a comprehensive overview of both wall and roof systems along with specifications, green wall plant guide and cad drawings. To start, the pricing for G-sky wall panel system is $100/sq. ft. (Durst,, April 2007)

Earth Centre Conference Building
September 2, 2008, 9:52 pm
Filed under: Material/Building Systems, precedents | Tags: , ,

Bill Dunster and his firm ZedFactory, were chosen to design the Earth Centre Conference Building in Yorkshire, England, after winning a competition in 1999. The site, formerly used for mining operations, allowed for the building to be inserted into a hillside using the earth as a protective housing. Gabions filled with reused concrete waste are used throughout the building both as primary structure and as interior/exterior cladding.


The Sprouting Building
September 2, 2008, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Material/Building Systems, precedents, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The use of gabions as a cladding system can be found in Edouard Francois‘ L’Immeuble qui Pousse, or The Sprouting Building, an apartment complex located in Montpellier, France. The use of gabions as a primary cladding stems from Francois’ intention to explore an economical use of materials and nature, while juxtaposing the typical assumptions on where life will thrive. The large sheer, imposing rock face has been seeded and in time the entire wall will sprout, transforming the exterior of the building into a budding garden wall.


An excerpt from Architectural Review explains the gabion construction process: “Panels were assembled in several stages. The steel cages were set within steel formwork and studded with a double layer of frost-resistant pebbles. A layer of sand followed, then seeds of rock plants contained in grow bags. The ends of the cages are set within a layer of concrete that forms the inner face of the panel. On removing the formwork, the sand was gently shaken out, leaving the soil and seeds. Cast-in lifting hooks enable the panels to be easily lifted into position and fixed onto the structural frame. A watering system between the joints of the panels will nurture the emerging plants. The stone cages have a curiously sensual, primeval quality, like the ancient dry stonewalls in fields. It will be fascinating to witness their slow metamorphosis into a modern hanging garden.” (The Architectural Review, May, 2000. Rock Garden – apartment complex in Montpellier, France.)


Typically used in retaining walls and for erosion control a gabion is definited by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a basket or cage filled with earth or rocks and used especially in building a support or abutment.”  First used along the Nile thousands of years ago by the Eygptians, the first gabions were constructed with woven reed baskets and stones. These earth ‘cages’  provided protection from flooding and erosion caused by the Nile. Commerically available gabions were introduced in the mid-nineteeth century, and except for advances in welding and cage construction, the gabion retains its rustic appearance and straightforward use. (


Although gabions are traditionally filled with gravel or rocks, the use of recycled construction materials has become a common, cost-effective and sustainable practice.  On average, gabion systems can be as inexpensive as $20/sq. ft.  Additonal information and specifications on modular gabion systems can be found at

Multi-Generational Families

In previous decades, an individualist mindset and affordable housing in the United States slowed the once traditional progression of parent-child to child-parent living arrangements. Second and third generation families were not returning to the family home.  A common outcome: elderly parents selling their home to live out their lives in planned communities for the aging or assisted living. The current economic slowdown, longer life spans and changing cultural values are now causing families to re-adjust their living situations. The frequency of multi-generational households is on the rise and Grandma and Grandpa are now competing with their teenage grandchildren for control of the remote.

Families are now looking for ways to either modify or build a home to satisfy the needs of young children along with those of aging parents, accessibility and privacy are resulting concerns. Developer Jim Greenup, of Spokane, Washington, comments on the resulting frustration of current housing types for multi-generational families. “Twenty to 25 percent of families in America are caring for an aging relative, and duplexes aren’t designed right for the concept of joined housing. There are problems, because the bathrooms don’t work right for aging in place, and the stairways and other circulators do not function well.”

Multi-Generational House, Kyoto, 3-- Lab

 In Kyoto, Japan an interesting multi-generational solution has been designed by Hiroe Yoshida and Tomoki Odani of 3 – – lab.  An office space for a young couple and a home for their aging parents is melded into a 259 square foot duplex.  View slideshow.