Gimme Some Shroom Room

A few years back, I was receiving constant visions of futuristic homes. The most fascinating future dwelling was actually alive. No, I was not using mycelium or other mind altering substances).   I wondered what the living walls were made of.  They were light, clean and warm.  Could it be I was in a MushRoom?

Thanks to these and other innovative designers and builders, I have more musings to keep my design passions growing. I really like everything I’ve discovered about fungi through Fungi Perfecti.  There seems to be limitless uses for these habitat messengers. Will we ever discover them all? Keep in tune with me for more information on mushroom homes, and check out the potentials at Ecovative Design.mush room

Posted in Architecture, DESIGNER'S BLOG, Off Grid Living | 3 Comments

Green Building and the Divine Feminine

Many people have raised evocative discussions about Green Building lately, dissecting, analyzing and attempting to define exactly what it means.  Does it mean racking up as many LEED points as possible?  Reversing the greenhouse effect by installing solar panels and insulating well?  Or to build like indigenous cultures, with what local, natural earth and organic materials are available.

Perhaps there are many “shades of green” for all the definitions. However you define “green”, it is important to remember why we are even having this discussion.  It has everything to do with our relationship with nature and the imbalanced societies we have created.  When we produce and build on a massive scale with no sense of “enough”, we have tipped the scales and now we are seeing the results in ever-degraded global environments.  Since we live in a material world of opposing/complimentary forces, it is relevant to look at the Divine Feminine and the Sacred Masculine to illustrate what is happening on Gaia, the ancient name for Mother Earth.  Most ancient cultures, such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Hindu, Aztecs, Chinese, Norse, Mayan, Celtic and many others, had their gods and goddesses that together balanced their cosmology and affected their societies.  Those societies that ignored the lessons of balance created either a matriarchy or a patriarchy.

artist unknown

artist unknown

For the last few thousand years, there has been a predominance of patriarchy, and in much of the industrial world the imbalance toward the masculine has gone to the base level of the gender.  In other words, at the base level of survival, the male’s aim is to pollinate, to spread the genes through the sperm as prolifically as possible.  We have “monumented” the world’s centers of commerce with a predominance of phallic symbols in the growing competition to build the tallest tower, creating work and living spaces that block natural light, and obliterate virtually all of the living habitats in their spaces.  Gaia seems to be saying, “It’s not size that matters”.  The world’s leading societies are exhibiting the out-of-balanced male attributes of aggressiveness, forcefulness and impatience, as seen in the rush to build more shopping malls that sit empty and develop mono-characteristic, cheaply-built homes that sprawl over valuable farmland or ecologically sensitive areas.  Of course, there are men and women collaboratively creating this condition and both genders must take responsibility.

Naturally, we would not want to swing to the feminine side of the pendulum to solve this problem we face with our over-use and pollution of earth’s resources.  Rather, when we bring in the Divine Feminine in harmony with the Sacred Masculine, we can synchronize with nature’s balance.  Caroline Myss describes this balance:

“I suspect that the way to understand Mother Nature is best found through the study of the Tao – the study of the laws of balance that essentially govern the activity of Nature. When Nature is out of balance, the system itself will initiate whatever action it must take in order to reestablish an environment capable of sustaining all life – not just human life, but all life. Within the realm of Nature, all life is equal. Life is precious because it is life, not because it is human life or wealthy life or educated life or young life, but because it is life.”

And from a yogic view, the goal is to marry the two genders in constant Union.  Their attributes are not seen as exclusive to man or woman, as we have these character potentials in each of us:   “The Divine Feminine is receptive, nourishing, holding space, allowing, and inviting. The Divine Masculine is focused on solar purpose, discerning, concentrating, holding form, and acting. At the highest level of Consciousness, the two are in constant Union. Like fire and its power to burn, they are inseparable.”  (Yogini Tejaswini)

When we bring the Divine Feminine into development and construction, we can create a balance in the ecosystem that sustains a large, changing, thriving diversity of life.  Some of the building industry certification standards are incorporating categories that harmonize the design and construction process with nature, such as the The Living Building Challenge that considers eight categories: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, beauty and process.  A few leading architects have ventured outside their colleague’s boxes to demonstrate these ideas.  William McDonough is one of the leading minds in sustainable design and architecture, even acknowledging that the “greenest” way to build is to leave natural places as they are.  He developed the concept “Cradle to Cradle”, where anything manufactured or built can be designed so that all of its component parts can be disassembled at the end of it’s life cycle and “reincarnated” in to new products, thereby completely eliminating waste and generating “ecological, social and economic value”.   In his presentation to the Chinese government for the design concept of a whole new city, he kept the existing flow of water, ecosystems and energy of the valley and simply raised them up to the rooftops.  Farming takes place on all of the roofs of homes and businesses, and every home’s living space has access to natural daylight.  The entire city is self-sustaining without the use of coal or nuclear power plants, and solar panels and alternative energy sources are abundant.

As in yoga, we must take a holistic approach to create balance, and the typical culture supporting green building tends to already have adopted a holistic lifestyle and philosophy, yet the building industry is faced with the greatest bridge to gap to get from the wasteful, destructive practices of the recent past to a truly sustainable way of development and construction.  What has been missing quite often is the receptive, nurturing, protective, flowing qualities of the Divine Feminine.  Even as more people and companies in the industry begin to cross this bridge, it is important to develop new balanced, integrated patterns of business operation that maintain the objective of a harmonized, thriving, life-enhancing planet we inhabit.

Posted in Architecture, DESIGNER'S BLOG, Off Grid Living | 1 Comment

Think – Alternative Energy

Imagine waking up each morning knowing that the shower you take, the laundry you dry, the coffee and toast you make are all done with clean power produced at your home.  Imagine paying much less each month for your power bill, getting a check in the mail for your investment, increased equity in your home, and a significant break from the IRS on your taxes.

If you want to start greening your own home and wonder where to put your energy, conserving energy purchased from the grid will have the greatest impact to mitigate global warming.  According to the EPA, buildings in the US account for 68% of total electricity consumption and 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

Here are a few installations that can have very noticeable impacts:

Solar PV Panels.  Why not convert an abundant, clean, inexhaustible source of energy into power?  The PV stands for photovoltaic, meaning the system turns light into electricity, or photons into voltage.  And there are plenty of those photons passing through clouds in abundantly grey, rainy places, like the Pacific Northwest, for example.  What if you are not home to take advantage of your home generated solar electricity?  Well, the electricity goes back out through your meter – spins your meter backwards, and is available for neighbors, schools and businesses to use, reducing your annual electric bill significantly. Washington State Production Incentive pays you 15 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy your system produces, whether you use it or not.   Additionally, when you invest in solar, you can deduct 30% of the cost of the solar energy system from your federal taxes.  And, new since 2009, there is no limit to how much you can deduct. What other investment earns you a 30% return in its first year?  Consultation with a solar expert will also pay for itself.  Kirk Haffner of South Sound Solar in Olympia, WA explains: “We measure your solar site potential. We accurately calculate how well a solar system at this location will perform.  We inspect your home to ensure the roof, framing, electrical, plumbing, etc. are satisfactory. We review the home design (lay-out) to optimize the route from the solar to the home systems.” Kirk adds, “Even though many of my customers talk about costs and payback, and clean energy and sustainable communities, they often point to the real reason why they are making the decision to install solar – their children and grandchildren.”   Imagine if we can all generate energy from our roofs in the near future.

Solar Hot Water Systems.  For almost everyone in the US, the energy to heat water for household use is typically 20-40% of your total power bill.  It becomes clear when you think about showers, baths, dishwashers and laundry coming from a tank that is continually fueled to keep a hot temperature.  Using the sun’s energy, captured in a system of fluid tubes and run in a “closed loop” to an exchanger that transfers the heat from the fluid to your hot water, you can greatly reduce the amount of electricity or natural gas it takes to heat up that cold water and keep it warm for your next shower.  (In the fluid is a propylene glycol solution, similar to radiator fluid, but non-toxic, to keep the fluid from freezing.)  On average, you can expect solar hot water to provide 60-70% of your annual hot water needs, according to Kirk Haffner.  A tank-less hot water heater retrofitted to replace or supplement your hot water heater is an additional way to reduce energy usage.

Daylighting.  Another great use for the sun, daylighting is the term used by architects for bringing the right amount of daylight into an interior space in order to enhance the quality of light and to reduce on electricity.  Consultation with a designer or architect would be a wise approach to maximize your options.  According to Elizabeth Diane of Lucid 9 Design, the placement of windows in combination with appropriately sized overhangs, landscaping trees and sun-shades can eliminate the need for air-conditioning in the northwest while allowing natural light to brighten your rooms.   A simple retrofit for existing homes and rooms without windows are tubular daylighting devices, such as Solatube.  These roof to ceiling tubes capture the sun’s light and directs it into the room, casting a full spectrum light to enhance your interior environment.

Passive Solar Design.  Making a comeback from the 70’s with a mainstream approach is home design that allows the sun to keep your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.  The design allows the sun to heat an interior thermal mass, such as tile or concrete, capturing the heat and radiating it into the house at night as temperatures drop.  Careful analysis is made to shade the home from hot summer sun and allow for natural cooling.  This can lower your annual heating and cooling bill by 20-40%.

More to Consider. Other sources of alternative energy for the home are on the rise and becoming more affordable.  Geothermal is a system that uses he earth’s constant ambient temperature (or in some parts of the country, tapping into heat reservoirs below ground) to keep air used to heat and cool the home from thermal weather extremes, then running the air through a condensing unit, bringing the air to the desired temperature.  This system uses minimal power to produce heat.  Wind in some areas is a great way to produce extra power.  The most efficient devices use elegantly-designed blades vertically mounted and levitated on magnets to reduce friction and produce power at minimal wind speeds.

An important aspect of any alternative energy system is looking at the efficiency of the entire system.  If you have a leaky house from poor or deteriorated insulation, substantial energy savings are made by installing good insulation.  There are new businesses that use infrared photography to determine where your home is losing heat.  It makes the most sense to address a heat-leaky home as a first step to reduce power consumption.  Blow-in environmentally friendly insulation is an inexpensive way to fill the gaps.

Now, imagine hearing on the morning news, while sipping your tea heated from the sun, that you and people like you have made a difference in reducing pollutants and global warming.  Imagine going a step further; your choice supports more innovation in renewable energy so that the norm is inexpensive, abundant, clean energy for everyone. And, further still, most homes are producing at least as much or more power than they consume, resulting in net-zero energy homes.  It would be a beautiful new day.

Posted in Architecture, DESIGNER'S BLOG, Off Grid Living | 1 Comment

Growing Green Architecture

One of my all-time favorite community projects has been with Garden Raised Bounty in Olympia, WA.  Apparently Oprah likes GRuB, too!  O Magazine mentions them as a great way to get involved in community and healthy, high-quality food for all, here.  I liked the way the administrative team took into account every aspect of green building, community and social responsibility.  I wrote about it in 2007 for a publication of the Green Pages.  Here’s the article.

DSC_0272

Posted in Architecture, DESIGNER'S BLOG, Off Grid Living | Leave a comment