The "Greening the McMansion" charrette on Wednesday morning, September 16, gave attendees a chance to discuss and draw their ideas for remaking a sample overscaled home in suburban Bellevue, Wash. Co-produced by residential architect and EcoHome magazines, AIA Seattle, the Congress of Residential Architecture, and the AIA Custom Residential Architects Network, the event challenged them "to reimagine a typical 5,000-plus-square-foot, single-family luxury home—the object of many buyers' desires in more bountiful times—and transform it into a more sustainable structure that includes at least some housing component."

Thanks to charrette leader William Kreager, FAIA, a principal of the Seattle firm Mithun, Reinvention attendees had an exterior photo, elevation drawings, sections, and a floor plan of the house to study in advance of the conference. During the charrette itself, they had an hour to assemble into groups of five and sketch out their thoughts onto tracing paper. The groups then presented their proposals to the rest of the participants, as time allowed.

Not surprisingly, some common threads emerged during the presentations. Several of the groups suggested carving the home into smaller apartments. Others recommended making it into a mixed-use project, with retail, commercial, day care, a community center, or office space on the ground floor. One presenter came up with the idea of turning the building into a group home for disabled adults. Over and over, participants emphasized the need to avoid waste and utilize existing resources. "Work with the bones the building gave you and minimize demolition," said one.

For the exterior, one presenter borrowed an idea from McKim Mead & White Architects' 1887 W.G. Low House in Bristol, R.I., tucking most of the façade underneath a big, sweeping roof. Another used Italianate detailing to make the elevations more graceful.

One group suggested giving the house a "deep energy retrofit—wrapping, insulating, and sealing." The same presenters proposed producing energy through photovoltaic panels, solar hot water, and the like, advising a roof redesign to maximize solar energy collection. A few mentioned the notion of growing produce on the property, with one even pointing out that it doesn't necessarily have to be the people living in the house who are doing the growing. "The idea is that you start using the land for real, usable things," she said.