Matt Baran is a young architect working in Northern California. We'll be following the house he's building in West Oakland as it is built. Matt thinks contemporary architecture should be flexible enough to engage with social and environmental issues. He also knows first hand that there's never an easy answer when it comes to the question of green. We chose to interview Matt because he's in the midst of building a house, which means he's confronting the reality of green head-on, which means he is making some difficult decisions.
What have been some of the challenges you've faced with your project? Already I'm trying to figure out whether I should buy FSC lumber. I called the local lumberyard. I didn't tell them I was an architect or anything, so I could have been anyone calling. I asked about FSC certified lumber, and they told me a long story about how their store had to be certified, how their entire staff had to get trained, how there's a number that tracks it from forest to store. Then they told me the cost. $3.50 for a 2x4 stud. I asked about regular lumber, and they quoted me $2.50. Then I told them I was an architect, and I was building a house, so I'd be buying a whole house's worth of lumber. After some hemming and hawing, the guy on the phone told me he could do the FSC certified for $2.50—the same price, he pointed out, as conventional lumber. Yes, I replied, but couldn't you then do the regular lumber for $1.50? We've already had a $5000 surprise, and I don't have money to burn, so I'm trying to decide what to do. Use FSC lumber, which is greener, even if it means not being able to afford the Nana glass wall that will make the natural ventilation work well and look good? (Note: this is the same kind of glass wall Michelle Kaufman has in her house.) It's a hard decision to make, and there isn't a clear answer.
Why did you choose to build in West Oakland? I like this neighborhood as it is now—I like that there's a mix of people, that there are artists and families that have been here for generations. It is gentrifying, and I guess I'm part of that, but there's so much potential here, and I don't think I could afford to build a house anywhere else in the Bay Area. And this street has its own character, with all the houses fronting it... it's the Jane Jacobs thing of "eyes on the street." You feel like you're in a real neighborhood here.
You contact Matt Baran and learn more about his work and his firm, mbarchitect, at his website.