Living Machines’ Water Management

Banquet Hall Exterior overlooks the Meadow.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)
Banquet Hall Exterior overlooks the Meadow. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

 Proudly located in Taos, New Mexico, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and SpaTM is renowned for its hospitality, as well as for its commitments to ecological preservation and sustainability. In 2003, the resort was designed with 36 suites and guest casitas.  In 2008, Living Designs Group completed a second phase of expansion for El Monte that included an additional 48 hotel units, banquet center and spa addition.  The expanded facilities reorient the resort around an open meadow expressing the geothermal well-field below. Having left their cars behind, guests are free to explore the texture-rich adobe architecture, the flora, fauna, and fish-filled streams and experience the nurturing effects of the resort upon arrival.

El Monte Sagrado demonstrates the philosophy of utilizing ecosystems as infrastructure, or rather, eco-structure. The BiolariumTM and The Living Machine® System it houses incorporate recycled water, reclaimed organic matter, sun, plants, fish and rock formation into an eco-system that self-sustains, self-evolves, exhibits itself to guests and beautifies the resort.  Utilizing these systems, El Monte is able to sustain a lush and fertile environment year-round, even at 7,000 ft above sea level. To achieve this, the following water management systems are employed:

Stormwater Reclamation | On-site storm water is collected through an extensive system of roof gutters and an underground drainage network. Coarse gravel filters remove sediment before pipes beneath resort pathways carry water to a lift station that keeps pace with peak rain events. Collected water offsets evaporative losses in a series of four cascading trout ponds and small waterfalls that utilize physical and biological filtration. Additional rainwater is circulated in the historic acequia to support traditional agricultural practices downstream. Phase 2 contributed an additional 40,000 gallons of water storage beneath the parking lot.

Wastewater Reclamation | Water Reclamation at El Monte is accomplished via a Living Machine® System designed to reclaim 5,000 gallons of water/day. Wastewater from El Monte’s kitchens and bathrooms is channeled to a series of collection and equalization tanks where organisms decompose the pollutants in the water. The water then passes through natural filters in constructed wetlands and finally into the BiolariumTM pond and waterfall. The Living Machine® System is monitored and controlled by dedicated computers and software that maximize treatment performance.

Ground Loop Heat Exchange | Rather than burning fossil fuels to heat and cool interior resort spaces, 100 wells circulate water 250 feet below the meadow, exchanging heat energy with that of the groundwater. Thus, the ground becomes a heat sink in summer and a heat source in the winter.  This process dramatically reduces the energy required to regulate temperatures within the resort and the electricity required to circulate the water is offset by wind power credits acquired through the local energy provider.

The design and engineering feats achieved through this project have generated a plethora of positive attention.  El Monte has received numerous awards, high rankings and continues to exceed guest standards.  Living Designs Group has been deemed a design leader in the resort community for architecture, planning and state-of-the-art sustainable systems.

Restaurant interior.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Restaurant interior. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Resort Entry.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Resort Entry. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Outdoor pond retains site water.

Outdoor pond retains site water.

Final water filtration fall inside the Biolarium™ before water is stored for irrigation.

Final water filtration fall inside the Biolarium™ before water is stored for irrigation.Living Machine® filtration pond inside the Biolarium™

Guided by president Douglas Patterson, AIA, LEED-AP, Living Designs Group specializes in sustainable architecture for the Southwest. Widely recognized for sustainable resort-hotel architecture, LDG’s portfolio also includes educational, residential, commercial and large-scale planning developments.

About Masonry Heaters


Masonry heaters have been used in the colder parts of Europe for over two hundred years. Interest is generating in the United States because they are GREEN. The concept has been gaining popularity over the past 20 years. A standard fireplace needs to be fed continually to keep heating the home.  Not so with a masonry heater.  You load the fire once, heat is stored in the thermal mass and it provides heat for 18 to 24 hours. That helps to save our forests. Wood burned quickly is a clean fuel. Emissions are about the same as a pellet stove. There is a warm comfortable heat, but never hot to the touch.  So children and animals will not be at risk, as they can be with a wood-burning metal stove.

After burning our Tulikivi (Finnish soap stone masonry heater) in the evening, we wake up to a warm comfortable home.  There is no need to turn on the heat.  This is very energy efficient and cuts down the demand on energy. Living in the Monterey Bay area we only use our Tulikivi seasonally.  In a colder climate a masonry heater would be burned in the morning and in the evening.

The Masonry Heater Association of North America ( publishes a plans section with different heaters, which have been tested. Envirotech, Temp Cast and others make masonry heater cores, which can be faced with the material of your choice. Temp-Cast masonry heaters are installed in accordance with local and national building codes as site-built fireplaces. Temp-Cast heaters have been accepted as clean-burning heaters by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. However, due to localized emissions problems, some state and local governments require additional testing to ensure that solid-fuel appliances comply with their particular regulations for clean burning. Information is available on building code issues, and contact information for products, resources and certified masonry heater builders.  You can view my portfolio on this web site.

Sotero Masonry has been operating in the Monterey Bay area for over 30 years. Ben Sotero became aware of masonry heaters through his travels in the colder portions of Europe. He was trained at the Tulikivi factory in Finland. He became a member of the Masonry Heater Association of North America and is the only certified masonry heater builder in California at this time.


Challenges and Opportunities

Editorial Director of Green Architecture Notes , Principal of Feldman Architecture


Launching Thoughts & Happy Earth Day

As an architect who is often on the lookout for information about sustainable design strategies, materials and products, I have been frustrated  at how hard it is to find people who have experience they are willing to share. It’s not that people are so protective of what they have learned, quite the contrary. When I have stumbled across somebody who has wrestled with the problem that I am seeking to solve, she is normally quite happy to  share the lessons she has painfully learned. But finding these guiding lights takes a lot of work and considerable luck.

Green Architecture Notes sprung from a modest idea: that the explosion of online communities, discussion groups and blogs has placed at our feet some powerful new opportunities for exchange. We are seeking to create a place to post new discoveries when we find them and to ask for guidance of  others when we are coming up empty. And because of all the new interest in the green building world, it’s also a place to verify, challenge and debate the claims of new products and strategies.

We have started by asking the architects, engineers, builders and consultants who we know to share  key things they’ve learned about green design and to pose challenging questions. We invite others to jump in and join the discussion.

Green Architecture Notes comes, we think, at an appropriate, if difficult, time. As projects get scaled back, put on hold or outright cancelled, we are forced to cut expenses and find new sources of work. With these challenges come some unique opportunities.

We suddenly have more time to establish better ways of working, research products and materials, improve our workflow and project delivery strategies, and tighten or reinvent our detailing. We also can tap into the expertise other professionals who might previously have been too busy to help us work on these important areas. The excesses of recent times have caused many to question the wasteful and unsustainable ways of our construction industry and to replace them with more thoughtful and restrained efforts. It’s clear that the new economy is pushing sustainable design to the center of the profession architecture. Our hope is that Green Architecture Notes will facilitate better and more efficient green design by connecting professionals and helping practitioners avoid repeating costly mistakes.

Here are some images from recent and current Feldman Architecture projects showing green design components. I look forward to exploring these and other topics in the near future.

Approach to house

Approach to house

Living Roof

Living roof

Photovoltaic Integrated Solar Skylights

Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights

Photovoltaic Integrated Solar Skylights

Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights

Rammed Earth Walls and Concrete Floor Providing Thermal Mass for Passive Heating and Cooling

Rammed earth walls and concrete floor provide thermal mass for passive heating and cooling

Rammed Earth Site Wall

Rammed earth site wall

Thin Film Solar Mounted on Metal Roof

Thin film solar mounted on metal roof

House on site

House on site

Jonathan Feldman practices architecture out of a small, award-winning, design studio in San Francisco where he focuses on residential and modest-scale commercial projects. Recognized for creating warm, light-filled spaces that are site sensitive and carefully detailed, Feldman Architecture is committed to incorporating sustainable technologies and minimizing environmental impact.

Feldman Architecture projects have been recognized with a number of prominent green design awards, including the San Francisco American Institute of Architect’s  Honor Award for Energy and Sustainability, the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ award of excellence, California Home + Design’s Eco-Friendly Design Award, and have been featured on green and solar home tours. Feldman Architecture currently has its first two projects with the USGBC LEED for Homes program and both are on their way to platinum certifications, it’s highest rating. More about Feldman Architecture can be found here.