In Texas, a housing development pioneers a fresh, holistic approach to sustainable design  
by Rachel Signer
March 1
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Housing is a basic need for humans and, unfortunately, it’s not only prohibitively expensive for many low-income families, there are also problems related to space: as new housing communities pop up ten or twenty miles away from urban areas, they all but affirm that their dwellers will rely on a daily diet of petroleum to get to-and-from town.

In Austin, Texas, an experiment in sustainable housing design, Solutions Oriented Living (SOL), has prototyped one potential answer to America’s housing problems. Chris Krager, an architect, and Russell Becker, a civil engineer and construction manager, teamed up and spent years researching, planning, and designing a complex of forty houses, which is meant to be net-zero energy efficient and affordable for lower-income households (market-rate houses start at $190,000, and SOL has resourcefully found innovative ways to lower the prices on many of their units). Krager spoke with Dowser recently about his holistic—and robust--approach to sustainability, the need to look through both environmental and socioeconomic lenses, and how he and Becker managed to develop a site that, while perhaps not as sustainable as, say, a turtle’s shell, could be a very good model for future housing development in the U.S.

Dowser: What drew you toward sustainable architecture and sustainable building?
Krager: My undergraduate degree is in business. I worked in banking in Chicago for five years. But evenbefore I took that job I knew I would pursue another path, and I was thinking about going to school for architecture. I came down to Austin fifteen years ago to get my master’s degree in architecture, MArch First Professional at UT, which is a degree geared toward people who don’t have undergraduate design degrees. I worked as a mortgage banker and had a real estate license in Chicago, and I had a construction background from summer jobs in college. So after graduating from architecture school, the challenging thing for me was that, while I was enamored by architecture, I was put-off by its inaccessibility for most people. In other words, I came from a Midwestern, working-class background, and I didn’t know anybody who lived in a house that was designed by an architect. Within a year of finishing graduate school, I started my design and build practice. There were two primary goals for KRDB: one was to make design accessible—economically and intellectually—and the other was to focus on urban design. For me, that meant macrosustainability.

What do you mean by ‘macrosustainability’?
I was born and raised in Detroit, and I spent a good number of my formative years in the suburbs there, and then I went to live in Chicago after college—and I realized that my interest in urban design was due to that back-and-forth, and realizing that the mid- to late-twentieth century of growth was not a sustainable mode of growth. For me, it’s not even a question of whether you should—if you can, you have to design with sustainability in mind. When I say ‘macro,’ I’m saying: curtailing sprawl. And then the ‘micro’ is green building as most people think about it—the structure itself. But if you’re just doing LEED buildings, or energy-efficient buildings, and they’re out fifty miles from urban centers, I don’t consider that sustainable. When we started researching SOL six or seven years ago, and I was looking around for models of sustainable development, the only thing I was finding anywhere were projects that were kind of ex-urban projects—you know, half-million-dollar houses, many miles from a city.

How has SOL avoided replicating that model, which caters mostly to the wealthy?
We started building in Austin ten years ago, and because of the racial segregation of the city, you could go one block east of I-35 and find relatively cheap real estate. So, I was automatically drawn there—because, growing up in Detroit, living in Chicago, I was accustomed to diverse, urban environments. And for our goal of sustainable architecture, we had to go where land is affordable.

SOL has forty units, and forty percent of it is set aside as affordable housing. For us, the model of affordable, sustainable housing—which is what we were trying to produce a prototype for—was not going to just about green building; it would also be about the social and economic factors. We had sixteen units in SOL-- stand-alone, single family homes--that were affordable units that sold for significantly less than the market rate.


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Source Information:

Dowser


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