The Making of a Make it Right House


[Shigeru Ban MIR house]

Can you guess who designed this rather clumsy looking Make it Right house? While it almost looks like some sort of elevated, mundane prefab structure, it is in fact designed by one of our most innovative contemporary architects. You’re looking at a Shigeru Ban design – and one of the problems with the well-meaning Make it Right program.


Life Without Books – The Green House

From the mountains of Stuttgart to the roofs of the Netherlands to the streets of Manhattan, critics Alanna Stang and Christopher Hawthorne present an incredible overview of contemporary sustainable housing in their new book The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture. In the forward, they declare their mission : to present houses that make “green” architecture utterlery unremarkable. That is to say, houses that have green systems integrated into their design without letting sustainability dominate their aesthetic.

An informative introduction provides a brief history of Green design, from its origins in historic vernacular to the current status of the movement, and gives enough background for the average reader to appreciate the complexity of the presented works. Inspired by the surprising variety of incredible designs they discovered, the curators thoughtfully divided the projects into categories based on their environments – City, Suburb, Mountainside, Waterside, Desert, Tropics, and the tragically under-represented, Anywhere. Full-page color photos and drawings show off the work while written descriptions explain their green features and how the architect balances environmental and aesthetic concerns. The photos and descriptions are well crafted and informative, but the drawings leave much to be desired. Details of the more technical sustainable elements are woefully absent, while the elevations and sections are mostly too small and basic to be informative.

The book opens with its most strikingly “green” work, P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT, designed by Dutch architects Kortknie Stuhlmacher Architecten.

A chartreuse form attached to the roof of a Rotterdam warehouse, the Parasite project is a prototype for a new form of urban housing – urban infill designed to explore the relationship between sustainability and prefabrication. So just how is this project sustainable? The prefabricated panels, both load-bearing and insulating, are manufactured from waste wood and can be assembled in only four days. It is also designed to take advatage of the existing building’s water and heating systems. Many of the other works in the Green House include technologically advanced environmental systems, but with the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT we are presented with a green house that is both simple and thoughtfully constructed.

Including works by Steven Holl, Shigeru Ban, Rick Joy Cesar Pelli, and a host of lesser known yet equally talented architects, The Green Housetakes us on a tour of over thirty residences in fifteen countries. Part primer on sustainability, part reference book, and part sexy monograph, it is a gorgeous collection that shows just how easy and affordable it can be to think green.

The National Building Museum is currently organzing the accompanying exhibit,The Green House, scheduled to open in Spring of 2006


The (not so) very small home

This past Monday, my neighborhood bookstore hosted a lecture by new Orleans born architect Azby Brown. Brown now resides in Japan, where he is associate professor of architectural design at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, and founder of the Future Design Insitute in Tokyo. He was discussing his new book, The Very Small Home-Japanese ideas for living well in limited space. The subject matter isn’t exactly foreign to Brown, whose previous books were Small Sapces, The Genius of Japanese Carpentry, and The Japanese dream home.

The title might be a bit of a misnomer. Flipping through the book prior to the lecture, I noticed that none of the represented homes are VERY small. I was expecting 500 sq ft or less but the total floor area for most of these residences was well above 1000sq ft. Personally, I also take issue with the word “home.” These spaces are extremely elegant and incredibly intelligent, but -speaking as someone born and raised in the American Midwest- they’re not exactly “home-y.” Nonetheless, Brown presents some extremely innovative space solutions by a variety of architects, including Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban. I didn’t realize that the Japanese value light much more than area, and many of these buildings sacrificed a lot of potential space to get more light into a room or to avoid blocking their neighbor’s light.

Appropriate to the subject matter, almost a hundred people were crammed into the small bookstore and – this being new Orleans – they got a little rowdy. Although to be fair, their behavior might have been a result of the constant supply of wine. I have been to many a catered lecture, but never one where my wine glass was constantly kept full by one of the many tuxedoed servers quietly milling through the room. An hour into the lecture, the questions started, but there was no “does anyone have any questions,” or “now I’d like to take a few questions.” A woman interrupts loudly: (in my best John Kennedy Toole-like literary dialect) “Baby! I bin to Tok-yo, and d’ere were sooo many people, well I jes tought dey was havin’ Mardigras or somethin!” …No, no there’s no mardi gras in Japan, but the lively, uninhibited crowd added some excitement to the lecture, and it was a nice change from the stuffy, elitist crowd often present at the University Lectures.

The most interesting portions of the lecture, which unfortunately isn’t represented in the book, were the slides showing Japanese homes in the 1950’s. In these spaces, there is a clearly evident clash of cultures. The small ultra efficient, traditional, Japanese peasant homes that have a place for everything suddenly were forced to accommodate televisions, radios, and refrigerators. The resulting spaces looked more like a junk shop than a tea room.

(for great ideas on truly small spaces, see apartment therapy’s recent competition)