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Monday, June 23, 2008

Reimagining the American Dream

Photo: New York Times

One of today's three top most-read articles in the New York Times is titled "The New Trophy Home, Small and Ecological." Highlighting the growing popularity and social cache of green building, the article centers around a luxurious $2.8 million dwelling recently constructed in Venice, CA, earning the highest Platinum level of the LEED ratings' energy certification.

Actors and luminaries of Hollywood visited the Venice home, considering purchase or seeking inspiration for their own LEED-certified home building projects. The Times article compares LEED certification to "a Prada label," observing

"Custom-built homes dominate the first batch of certified dwellings. Today, dinner-party bragging rights are likely to include: 'Let me tell you about my tankless hot water heater.' Or 'what’s the R value of your insulation?'"
Certainly it is inspiring that not only are the rich and famous opting to live in zero-energy houses, but that the news story describing these homes reached the most-read list. More inspiring still, however, are the reader comments following this piece. Some samples:

"No. I never had a giant overblown tract house MacMansion, so I won't miss it. Price? Green should be cheaper once you get rid of the size and useless gizmos. I have an old house, well designed originally and updated with insulation and a lighter colored roof. The cistern is still out back for gray water from rain. We need a national program for rooftop solar, and I have more to do - but my costs over time versus a tiny utility bill and a very comfortable house, I have a bargain! And a big kitchen garden - I eat for almost free in the summer. Old small well designed houses can be green gems. I've got one - who needs a plaque?"
- Missbike, New Orleans.

"To make a building truly green you also have to make it last a long time. To do that it better be beautiful. If it's beautiful it will be cared for. If it's cared for it will endure. Enduring architecture requires artful design, none of which was mentioned in the description; and I am guessing it's not one of the LEED requirements. Beauty can be more enduring than technical proficiency. It's an important distinction."
- Michel Pariseau, Deep River, CT

"The LEED approach to more responsible construction is well intentioned. Yet, design organized by checklists and point systems promotes fragmented thinking that disconnects us and what we build from genuine ecological processes. Wrapping the architecture of the box in a 'green' lexicon does not bring us closer to living in harmony with nature's renewing rhythms. 'Green' materials and building systems do little to promote ecological dwelling if our structures are not shaped by the geometries of sunlight, the cycles of wind and water, the colors of local plants and the spatial dynamics of the land. To design homes and communities that are actually ecological, lay down the checklists and let go of your ego's grab for gathering green points. Walk outside, observe the patterns of Earth and climate and imagine forms of dwelling that harmonize and delight in what you see."
- lawlor358, larkspur, california

"Oh dear, can someone please inform the 'environmentalists' that their landscape is covered with a non-native invasive grass (Pennisetum setaceum)?"
- elg29, Brasilia

Platinum LEED-certified home in Venice, CA - $2.8 million

A news story about that home in the New York Times - $1.25, newstand price

A reading populace smarter than the breaking news - priceless.

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