Home Economics: The Urban Partnership at the Bullitt Center...

The 1987 United Nations report “Our Common Future,” defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Since then the design community has debated the meanings and applicability of sustainability and corollary terms such as sustainable design, green architecture and high performance buildings. Sim Van der Ryn offers a definition for ecological design as “any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impact by integrating itself with living processes.” What these terms share is the hope for creation of a built environment that might lead to a kind of balance and stability in a world where we have very little of either. (more…)

Book Review – Getting Green Done...

Did you ever wonder how a ski resort can call itself sustainable? Auden Schendler, the Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Resorts, has to answer this question often. In his book, Getting Green Done, he uses his answer as a foothold for a much larger question: how do we tackle the issue of climate change? (more…)

The Troglodytes of the Loire Valley...

Driving on the back roads of the Loire in France, you can’t help but notice the caves throughout the Valley – many of which have windows, doors, shutters, awnings, courtyards, etc.. Dating back to the 11th century, the soft white limestone, tufa or tuffeau, of the area was quarried extensively leaving deep clefts and caves in the hillsides. These caves or troglodytes represent one of the most dramatic forms of adaptive reuse that I’ve witnessed as they have been converted into homes, stables, storage units and even abbeys, hotels, restaurants, and churches. The abandoned quarries and caves were recognized by the inhabitants of the area for their potential as low-cost dwellings and also in darker times for their defensive potential. Several of the caves are said to have been used by the Resistance during World War II to hide those fleeing from the Nazis to unoccupied, southern France.

I had the pleasure of staying in one of the troglodytes for a few nights last month.  The property where we stayed was formerly part of the neighboring castle’s grounds, and the caves were part of the castle’s farm providing storage and stables.  The property included two large troglodytes where two sides of the buildings are honed from the rock that was quarried from the hillside long ago.  Walls, windows, floors and roofs were all added and the castle’s stable has now been converted into a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home.  Two additional caves also exist on the site and are currently used for storage and laundry, but have been plumbed for future use as guestrooms.  Without intervention, the caves maintain throughout the year a steady temperature of 12° Celsius or about 54°Fahrenheit which for the Loire means that the caves are also used extensively for wine making.  Adding to the charm of the caves, you can sometimes see fossils in the walls and remnants of some of the former uses, such as a trough from the former farm which runs the length of one room and now acts as a ledge.  For me, I couldn’t help but wonder about the 1000 years of inhabitants who have occupied the space and think of the stories and history they have seen.   – Hannah

For more information, see this Smithsonian article on the Troglodytes.

Solar Services...

The recent past is full of paradigms that are obsolete, including the idea that residential photovoltaic solar arrays are extremely expensive systems to purchase install, and maintain. Gone are the days when the photovoltaic array had a lower return on investment than a thermal hot water system. The concept of a “payback period”? That is so 2005. Welcome to the current paradigm: Solar Services. Putting solar PV panels on your roof has never been easier or more affordable.

Sources of Inspiration...

This fall I’ve had a few opportunities to travel outside of the Bay. There’s nothing like getting out of the daily routine to rediscover inspiration all around you in big ways and in more subtle moments.  But there’s also something great about coming home with fresh eyes and noticing all over again the inspiration right outside of your own back door.High-LineA sunny Sunday afternoon brings locals and tourists alike to activate New York City’s High Line.
meridaColonial Mérida Cathedral, circa 1598. A collage of traditional “seconds” tiles in a courtyard house, Yucatán, Mexico.

Cali_Ansel   Then, in a sidewalk of Baltimore’s Butcher’s hill I’m reminded of home by someone’s tiny tribute to California.  It’s true, we have a wealth of inspiration right here in California, from the peaks memorialized in Ansel Adams’ photography to the view from my deck:  above, the craggy tops of the Ritters Range, Ansel Adams wilderness, and below a view of downtown Oakland across Lake Merritt.
It’s good to be home. -Bridgett

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