When it comes to green buildings, most people think of either sleek, super modern architecture, or weird, organic forms. For the past three years I worked on a LEED Platinum home that was specifically designed to blend into its surroundings. Located in an older north suburb of Chicago, the house was surrounded by hundred-year old buildings, and this project, while using modern technology and building techniques, fits right in.
The clients moved in late last year and the project was featured this week in the Chicago Tribune specifically for its 'unique' aesthetic of looking traditional. The facade is based on a traditional design of an open front porch, horizontal siding, divided lite windows and gabled standing seam roofs.
Eco-friendly design concepts were incorporated with low-tech techniques: an infill site located within walking distance to public transportation and amenities, passive solar heating, natural ventilation, pre-fab framing, integrated shading, a second-story green roof/courtyard, rainwater collection, local and low-maintenance landscaping, a vegetable garden, non-toxic finishes, and local and reclaimed materials and furnishings. Essentially the clients wanted to go the extra mile by building an eco-friendly home, but without complex and expensive construction and little maintenance once they moved in. The few 'tech' items that were integrated were photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels, a charging station for their electric-powered car, a high-efficiency HVAC system and high efficiency appliances and fixtures.
Originally inspired by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, the clients set out to construct the home of their dreams green, and set the benchmark high with the goal of LEED Silver. But by employing smart, low-tech design and carefully selected materials, they were able to surpass their goal and were awarded LEED's highest rating, Platinum. All while flying under the radar and staying true to the neighborhood's aesthetics.