Sustainable Design Intent and Innovation
For The (Almost) All-American Home, sustainability was considered as a holistic principle that begins before design and continues after construction. This project represents a scope of architectural work that reaches beyond the building of the house itself, offering a case study for a sustainable residential architecture in Houston, the principles of which can be adapted for other other areas and programs across the country.
Alongside the core metrics of energy and water consumption, materiality, and connectivity (detailed in their respective sections), The (Almost) All-American Home employs deconstruction, local sourcing, and urban farming as key components of its sustainability intent. These three additional elements produce a better building and environment, and also contribute to a broader debate on sustainable economic practices and well-being.
In this part of the country, the customary method of replacing an existing building with a new one is to demolish it, a process that all but eliminates the possibility for reusing the building materials, destining them for a landfill. Resisting that trend and showcasing a sustainable alternative to demolition, The (Almost) All-American Home was born from the pioneering approach of building deconstruction, which was virtually unheard of before this project. In fact, here in the fourth most populous country in the country, this is the first building ever to be totally dismantled and recycled. 99% of the building materials from the lot’s existing house were reused by local charities or processed by a recycling facility.
As the design for the house started, the economic recession had set in, pressuring building product and material manufactures to reduce their domestic workforces. While LEED recognizes products sourced within a 500-mile radius, materials or appliances that were produced in the US beyond that limit fail to make it to the credit checklist, despite the fact that they are likely more sustainable than a comparable foreign product. Recognizing the possibility of promoting domestic manufacturing and by extension the economy, the design sought to use, as much as possible, materials, fixtures, mechanical systems, and furnishings that were U.S.-made. These materials define the project’s main architectural qualities and include limestone, terrazzo, windows, metal siding—all from Texas. When New York Times journalist Mimi Swartz covered the house during an early phase of construction, she dubbed it The (Almost) All-American Home, acknowledging the success of the house’s sustainable mission and inaugurating an important challenge to the profession.
The food and air one ingests are as integral to the principles of sustainable architecture as the spaces one inhabits. With the conviction that energy-efficient well-being is deeply tied to occupant health, the house includes a 650 square foot edible garden, which features prominently in the front yard. The property was designed for urban-scale agricultural production, which feeds and is managed by the occupants year-round. Thanks to site’s intelligent solar orientation and a rainwater irrigation system, the perceived hurdles toward growing one’s own food are lightened. Reviving the U.S. Victory Gardens of the early 20th century, the project promotes a nutritive relationship with the outdoors.