Designing Sustainable Communities

In addition to my house design work (which is really taking off, by the way), I’ve had several requests to design sustainable communities. So far these large projects haven’t fully materialized, but the opportunities I’ve been presented with have given me a chance to think through some possibilities. The ideas outlined below are somewhat unconventional, but I think they’re useful concepts worth considering.

– The best, most vibrant and successful communities grow and evolve from the involvement of lots of people, not from a grand plan from one architect, which tend to have a ‘canned’ cookie cutter look.
– Reduce costs by recycling designs that have already been built or at least have been nearly fully designed. This is a challenging process that includes identifying and communicating the desires of the community with a wide range of design professionals. Some designs will no doubt have to be modified, but the bulk of the work will have already been done.
– Choose the best designs from various places (discovered in magazines, traveling, websites, books…) with an eye on the over all design goals. For instance, this would include a stunning school design by an architect who has a lot of experience in designing schools.
– Create a sustainable design contest to attract the best designers and ideas.
– Use local architects, engineers and designers as much as possible to contain costs, keep the money flowing in the communities and maintain continuity of design (ex: Thai designers are most adept at Thai style, etc.).
– Select a committee of design professionals to guide and oversee the process.
– Use appropriate building materials and methods that are already well proven and accepted by locals.
– Use appropriate technology: renewable energy, composting toilets, roofwater collection and storage…
– Combining different sustainable materials will likely yield the most attractive results.
– Form follows function, but don’t overlook the importance of beauty. Include some eye catching elements and structures that really stand out.
– Use primarily local materials, and avoid overly expensive, high embodied energy materials that have to be shipped long distances.
– Attract at least some skilled workers who will help build the structures to a high level of craftsmanship. Volunteers and homeowners can provide most of the labor, but it’s helpful to have some experienced workers on plaster, plumbing and electrical.
– Consider community structures for cooking/dining, showers, toilets, laundry and Internet to reduce infrastructure and home costs, and encourage interaction.

3 thoughts on “Designing Sustainable Communities”

  1. As of next week, I will be a graduation from The University of Texas at Arlington with my Master’s in Sustainability. This was a great blog to read, a lot of this information I learned throughout my program. There were some key points that I took away and would like to share on my “Let’s Build a Sustainable Community” fan page. Thank you for this blog and please look me up on Facebook.

  2. Pingback: Designing Sustainable Communities (via Earthbag Building Blog) « Seeds-2-Sow LIVE Online
  3. Compare this to the design of a home that naturally evolves over time. Homes gradually develop individualized looks that reflect their homeowners as people add on additions, remodel, repaint, etc. For instance, very few people buy the all electric GE home that’s been designed and promoted by one company. Most people buy appliances, furniture and so on at different times. This leads to an eclectic style that most people like best.


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