"Rewriting the rules about sensitive and sensible development," is how residential architect editor S. Claire Conroy described the focus of this session. In separate presentations, speakers Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, of Michelle Kaufmann Designs; Randy Brown, FAIA, LEED AP, of Randy Brown Architects; and David Baker, FAIA, LEED AP, of David Baker + Partners, Architects, explained how they're addressing the issue in design and practice.
What emerged were three different approaches to bridging the gap between architect-designed custom homes and what the majority of home buyers can afford. Kaufmann shared the story of how she started her own modular factory. Brown discussed his efforts on a green, modern pocket development outside of Omaha, Neb. And Baker advocated high-density, mixed-use projects that foster active community in urban San Francisco neighborhoods.
Kaufmann's quest for "making thoughtful sustainable design accessible" began with her and her husband's search for their first home. The young couple couldn't find anything they liked that they could afford, and neither could many of their friends. Kaufmann's disgust at the volume of senseless development they were seeing inspired her crusade to provide modular "homes designed for clean, simple living." Today, her firm only does modular houses and even operates its own factory. Preconfigured modular designs (including The Glidehouse, based on her own home) and fully custom modular homes are available The Builder series—her newest creation—offers designs for large-scale development. Kaufmann says people want green to be easy, adding that factory-built houses reduce construction waste by 50 percent to 75 percent. "We've brought automation to every other industry," she said. "Why not housing too?"
Brown followed with his tale of creating a Modern EcoVillage in conservative Omaha. It began when his family launched their own development company. "I found a McMansion on this amazing 2-acre site adjoining a nature preserve, so we bought it," he says. He then designed a "circled wagons" configuration for the site that will eventually yield 12 houses. The economy dampened Brown's hopes of completing and selling all of the houses—including the remodeled existing home—within four years. Fortunately, he can wait for things to improve: profits from his commercial development projects allowed him to pay off all loans on the property. Brown's design for infill development in a single-family format will eventually give Omaha a taste of his contemporary aesthetic and environmentally friendly philosophy.
Baker concluded the session with an in-depth discussion of ideas he put forth in his keynote address, "Shelter and Delight: Improving the Livability, Affordability, and Sustainability of America's Housing." Baker talked about how his firm's ultra-high-density projects positively contribute and interact with surrounding neighborhoods. Reducing or eliminating parking was a common thread. It's a practice that this architect, who bikes to work daily, preaches enthusiastically to developers and city planners. He showed several options for replacing bleak parking structures with vibrant community spaces. Other strategies for making these dense designs livable include the integration of public, semi-public, and private green spaces. Baker showed examples of inviting entry courtyards that connect to the street, as well as concealed interior greenways shared by residents. He also touted the benefit of balconies, even if they are small, as "private bits of the outdoors and visual connections to the larger community."