SmartDwelling II was designed for a competition Steve never intended to win. The competition was sponsored by two really well-meaning organizations, but while they asked for the house to be sustainable, their program called for many things considered standard building practice that actually prevented the house from being sustainable. This design was therefore intended as a critique of the program, with the purpose of starting a conversation on the nature of sustainability. The following are some of the elements of SmartDwelling II that did not appear or appeared in different form on SmartDwelling I.
Gift to the Street
If every building gives some sort of gift to the street, that street will be a much more pleasant place to walk. SmartDwelling II’s gift is a bench and flowering plants. Walkability (or better yet, Walk Appeal) is often conceived as the province of planners and other urbanists, with nothing for the building to contribute other than being built on a site where there are nearby things to walk to, but this is not so. A building can contribute to Walk Appeal in several ways such as creating better street enclosure. The SmartDwelling Techniques page describes the various types of gifts that can be given.
People don’t usually like sitting in their front lawn because it’s too public. The large front yard setback is required by code in the southwestern city in which the house is designed. So what else can you do with a front yard other than planting grass which must be mowed each week and regularly gets applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and the like? How about planting it with wheat, which is edible and only needs tending a couple times per year? Other approaches are shown in the Outdoor Room Examples page, but we wanted to get this one into the discussion as well.
A house should be long east-to-west because the sun is easiest to control on the south face because it is high in the southern sky in the summer and low in the winter. Porches stay shady on summer days like the one shown here, while the winter sun reaches deep into the house to warm it. The sun is always low in the eastern and western skies, so it’s best to limit those sides of a building. Unfortunately, the lot selected by the competition committee was long north-to-south which is less ideal, so the best that could be done was to use the full buildable width of the lot.
The last few feet of land on the side of the house is known as the side setback, and the house is not permitted to be built there. Unfortunately, a side setback is often too narrow to be useful for outdoor rooms, and on a corner lot like this, they are too close to the sidewalk to be comfortable sitting in even if they were wide enough for a proper room. So what can you do with them? This design gets double-duty: Dwarf fruit trees are planted just behind the fence, and provide shade on the vulnerable western wall of the house from spring to fall, and the long thin strip of grass on which they sit is ideal for a dog run.
As many windows as possible should be protected by porches on the southern side of a building, but most houses do not have porches running their full southern length. Windows can still be protected, however, from the summer sun. SmartDwelling I uses a “hard awning” composed of a bracket-supported metal roof. The roofing itself is 5V crimp metal roofing in a reflective mill finish. Reflective roofing is one of the best passive cooling devices in existence, bouncing almost all of the heat of the summer sun back to the sky.
SmartDwelling I used a fanciful breeze chimney made of sail cloth and spars, and is not yet available to purchase. SmartDwelling II uses a type of metal breeze chimney that has been around for a century, and which inspired the one on SmartDwelling I. Both turn into the breeze so the passing air will pull warm air out of the house without consuming electricity. Both have a heat chimney into which the warm air can rise; this one is simply concealed in the attic. As with every other item on this SmartDwelling, it can be purchased off-the-shelf today.
Larger outdoor rooms in this region should be shaded by deciduous trees because they protect the rooms against the sun’s heat in summer but drop their leaves in the fall, allowing the sun to warm the rooms in the cooler months. A tree cools a space in three ways. A cloth awning provides shade, but when it warms up, it radiates heat to anyone sitting underneath. But because a tree has many layers of leaves through which air circulates, the lower leaves stay much cooler and act as a radiant barrier. Trees also “transpire,” or emit moisture to the air, creating the same effect as the misting devices at sidewalk cafes.
The Green Fence surrounding the outdoor rooms behind the house is designed to function much the same as SmartDwelling I’s green wall: the bottom half is for beans, peas, and other vining vegetables while the top is reserved for espaliered fruit. The eight foot height is ideal because it is tendable and harvestable with only a step-stool by shorter people, or simply standing on the ground for taller people. The green fence is sometimes called a “Habershamedge” because it was first widely used at Habersham, where Eric has served as Town Architect for many years.
SmartDwelling II’s kitchen garden is built in similar manner to that of SmartDwelling I, with raised beds radiating out from a tilapia tank at the center. It is bounded towards the front of the lot by a “green shed,” which accomplishes several tasks: Garden tools are stored in the enclosed room to the left, the central open part is a potting shed, and the enclosed room to the right is a workshop and storage room. Recycling and trash containers are stored under the potting bench until it is time to set them out on the curb for collection.
Because SmartDwelling II is located on a corner lot, the garage can be accessed from the side street, but the design could still be used if it were located in the middle of the block by driving down the right side of the house and pulling into the garage from the east side. But on this site, the east garage door is still built because it allows the garage to be opened and act as a cabana for a party in the courtyard. When there’s no party going on, the paved surface makes a good place for kids to play. A basketball goal could easily be installed over the garage door.