Low income countries, like Ghana, are being introduced to a sustainable and affordable way to obtain eco-friendly housing. Architect João Caeiro was recently recruited to help, a Lisbon-based design team, develop a house to sustain a single-family for the emerging middle class of Ghana. The result of this collaboration is called Emerging Ghana. Emerging Ghana is designed to be built using only local materials, local labor, and is complete with some of the best strategies for design sustainability you may have ever heard of! This family home is constructed complete with the flexibility and freedom for its owner to build and add-on to the home as a family grows. What’s really amazing?  This awesome house can be purchased for around $12,500 USD. I don’t know about you, but I’m considering purchasing a summer home in Ghana.

Emerging Ghana is attracting some major attention! Some of Emerging Ghana’s recent publicity is due its placement in the Open Source House competition. Open Source House is a nonprofit that emphasizes on global creativity and knowledge about housing designs that are focused on sustainability and affordability. Open Source House aims to bring choice to the typical housing situations of people who live in low-income and poverty stricken areas afflicted with massive urbanization. Every year, a competition takes place where designers are able to showcase their architectural visions in hopes of being chosen as the winner of the Open Source House competition. The Open Source House competition’s first place concept winner will then be built. This year’s winner? You guessed it: Emerging Ghana.

Congratulations Emerging Ghana! With its energy efficient solar-heated water tank, the inhabitants of this beautiful home will be able to bathe and cook with heated water. The solar passive design is south-facing and allows the home to be naturally shaded while rain water is collected to water a food-producing garden in the courtyard. This house is also complete with its own septic tank.

I can’t wait to see this concept be built in late 2010 and to read more media coverage about this fantastic design! Congratulations are also due to Ghana’s impressive run in the World Cup. You go Ghana!

-Hannah Bybee


Burgos 213 Photo By A. www.viajar24hHospitals are uninviting by nature, assaulting one’s senses almost immediately upon entry.  The inescapable odor of antiseptic wafting through the corridors,  the glaring fluorescent lights overhead that accentuate startlingly white walls, and the constant wailing beeps of machines that give the impression that someone is in mortal peril every 1.2 seconds tend to make even the healthiest of visitor feel as though their heart might explode.

Another Life Saved Photo By SarahMcD ॐA recent visit to the hospital saw my father rushed into a very serious emergency surgery. As I paced the floors of the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, a facility that is part of the world-renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I felt overcome with the extreme anxiety provoked by the fear of losing a loved one. At the time I was too preoccupied with hand-wrenching, constant clock checking, and nervous wood knocking to notice that this anxiety was in any way abnormal.  Worrying yourself sick is to be expected in these type of scenarios, what was notable, in retrospect, was that this anxiety was in no way punctuated by the normal agitating factors of a “normal” hospital environment. The air smelled fresh. The waiting room – even though located next to a busy street- was as quiet as a church on a Friday night. The walls were painted with a soft palate, the kind of hues that make you want to curl up with your favorite blanket and a good read. Not the typical institutional white that would ever leave someone remarking to their realtor, “Gosh Linda, it looks like a hospital in here!”, unless that sentence was followed up by, “And I love it! Let me go put on my jammies.”

BWH SHAPIRO PREP DAY4 from Brigham & Women's HospitalThankfully, my father pulled through his surgery. He spent his recovery in a room that if it were to be stripped of its adjustable bed and monitors would easily be mistaken for a high-end loft apartment. The spacious room had breathtaking views of the city, hard wood floors and stainless steel appliances.  The furthest thing from my mind at this time was this hospitals eco-friendliness, so grateful was I to see my father make it through a complicated surgery, I could have been told then that this magical place was run on the tear drops of children and been entirely fine with that knowledge. ( Hey- it was a rough time, in my defense,I would have sent these alleged children candy. Thanks imaginary crying children, you have made a huge difference. Now, remember, there is no Santa…try to cry towards the generators.)

As a couple of months passed and my rational,  less-selfish side was again accessed, I noticed an informative wall mural as I entered the Shapiro Center with my father for a follow-up visit. In a rush, due to a morning traffic jam, I only could read a few words of this educational section of wall…”Green…Hospital…Taco Friday”, as I made my way to the second floor.  Well I may be mistaken by some of what I gleaned, I made a mental note to look into this hospital’s green attributes when I returned home that evening. 

A week and half later I did a Google search. What I discovered made me love this hospital even more than I had before, a cherry on a sundae of awesome.  The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center is not only one of the most advanced cardiovascular care facilities in the world, but it is also the first Green Hospital building in all of New England.

Light09 Photo By Gong DiFrom its inception, the Shapiro Center kept  eco-friendly construction and practices in mind. The Center is not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but followed The Green Guide for Health Care meticulously in its construction.   Low emitting adhesives, carpets and paints were used. More than 90 percent of construction waste was recycled.  Over 75 percent of the interior is exposed to natural light, which, while helping cut down on energy costs, also promotes positive mental health for quicker recoveries. The roof is painted white to deflect heat.  Forgoing the use of the commonly used  and toxin-emitting vinyl, the floors of this building are constructed of rubber. Staff also, whenever possible, use the least harmful cleaners available. 

Aluminum Winged Caduceus (Silver Spring, MD) Photo By takomabibelotA little more Google style detective work and I discovered that The Shapiro Center is also a member of the non-profit organization, Healthcare Without  Harm, which focuses on implementing change in how the Health Care industry operates. Elaborating on the pledge physicians take to do no harm, Healthcare without Harm is attempting to amend this oath to apply to the environment as well as patients, encouraging its members to see the impact one has on the other. As their mission statement  surmises, “ Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment.”  


Untitled Photo By SarahMcD ॐI for one can attest for the effectiveness of this movement.  While gorgeous views, plentiful sunlight and lack of irritants in the air can not take the place of knowledgeable surgeons and skillful nurses, it does play an important role in the recovery process.  Beyond the benefits of an environment that discourages depression and other mental issues that can slow or sometimes even halt recovery times, healthy air is an invaluable benefit for most patients. My father suffers from COPD, a chronic respiratory condition. It is a complication that factors into any and all health problems he has.  A hospital that provides nearly pollutant-free air for his battered lungs is priceless to his overall well-being and his success in the recovery process.

Green Hospitals are not yet the norm, but hopefully the benefit of such institutions will soon be seen.  A building that promotes the health of its employees, patients, and visitors while keeping an eye out for mother earth  is almost enough to make up for the fact they run this place on the tears of children….oh, right, it doesn’t.  

Sorry about the Santa Claus thing, kiddies.  He is totally real, the Easter Bunny too, they hang out on weekends and talk about what a good kid you are. Honest. (No children were harmed in the making of this blog.)

-Meghan Hurley

One of the United States’ most exciting alternative-energy events, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, is about to kick off in Washington DC!  Starting October 9th (and ending the 18th), 20 teams of college and university students, hailing from such diverse corners as Kentucky and Germany, will be competing to design, build and operate their very own solar-powered houses.  The goal is to make them as energy-efficient as possible while still being aesthetically pleasing and practical to live in. In fact, one of our very own at Autonomie Project is down in DC competing himself. Kevin will be representing Boston Architectural College and Tufts University through designing and constructing the Curio House.

The Decathlon is split into three phases: first, the teams put their collective brains together to design their homes using high-tech solutions in unique ways, and then raise the funds and coordinate with contractors to build them.  Next, each team must disassemble their house, transport it to the national Mall in DC and reassemble it.  Finally, the competition begins as each team and home is evalutaed in ten different areas: architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communications, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and net metering (reading how much energy the home consumes over the course of the competition). The juries assessing each area are compromised of scholars and working professionals at the head of their particular field.

This is the fourth Decathlon, the others having occurred previously at intervals of two years.  The contest is always growing, involving more students and universities, and the event brings more than 100,000 people out each time to walk among and interact with the teams and their homes. This is a very special chance to venture into a world that may very well reflect the needs and hopes of a future in crisis. If you have the chance, we highly recommend you take it and go get lost in the solar village!  All of the above information and much more can be found on the event website. We want to send our special thanks to the members of the Curio House and we wish Kevin and the rest the best of luck!

In the past decade or so, partially due to the increase of the public’s awareness of the benefits of a life lived conscientiously, Green Architecture and Building have slowly but surely become increasingly embraced. Unlike bell bottom pants, pump sneakers or mullets, Green Construction proves to be a beneficial trend to the likes of mankind; increasing sustainability, decreasing pollution and keeping people and animals both healthier, and therefore happier.

Well, I guess something could be said for the happiness inspired by the mental image of a person sporting bell bottoms, pump sneakers and a mullet simultaneously… but I digress.

Sustainable living is often said to start at home. For some people, sadly, they do not have a home with which to start. Among one of the most inspiring sections of Green Building is the creation of sustainable housing options for those without homes to call their own.

Homelessness afflicts men, women, and children throughout the world, with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates on any night, in the U.S alone, there is anywhere between 700,000 and two million people without proper shelter.

Unfortunately there isn’t much being done to help those less fortunate in the Green sector. However, there are some altogether inspirational efforts in the United States to incorporate humanitarian efforts for the homeless with the environmentally beneficial likes of Green Building, such as:

Bridge Homeless Shelter www.inhabitat.com

Bridge Homeless Shelter http://www.inhabitat.com

* In 2008 Crossroads, a 125 bed shelter, was opened in Oakland, California. Its green amenities include the use of non-toxic paint, hydronic heating, furniture made from pressed wheat, and a solar-paneled roof.

*Bridge, a Dallas area shelter, which boasts helping decrease crime in its surrounding area by as much as 18 percent, also should not feel too shabby about its use of recycling of grey water, utilization of large windows, radiant heating, and uses FSC certifiable wood and some recycled steel in the construction of its grounds.  You go Bridge, get down with your bad self!

*Zo-loft, an architecture and design studio, has invented a sustainable, portable shelter for the homeless. Its creative design allows the user to roll around this shelter on an aluminum wheel, roughly the size of a shopping cart, that contains two expandable tents made completely out of recycled materials that can hold up to 250 lbs of belongings when erected.

Zo-Loft Portable Homeless Shelter www.inhabitat.com

Zo-Loft Portable Homeless Shelter http://www.inhabitat.com

Green solutions to the dangers that plague the homeless are not just incredibly beneficial to Mother Earth, they also are of immeasurable value to the homeless that they help. Many of the United States homeless population are HIV positive or suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma, an environment free of toxins keeps illness associated to these illnesses at bay. Depression, another frequent affliction of the homeless, can be helped by exposure to serene spaces with adequate sunlight. Furthermore, the knowledge that the shelter that they frequenting, or the the independence they are offered by having a shelter to carry with them and use on their own terms, can be a source of insurmountable pride to a person without a home.

Green solutions benefit mankind, whether that man or woman has a permanent residence or not. These innovations in shelters and portable homes are inspiration that even those less fortunate can benefit from restructuring our society to be environmentally sound. We are in this together…even those among us who refuse to retire their aging pump sneakers.

For a little over 10 years, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has proposed a new standard for building con struction focused on stronger energy efficiency and environmental standards. Known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the USGBC’s LEED program has grown to include of 14,000 projects in the United States. The program itself is based on a rating system that allows new and renovated buildings to achieve certain degrees of LEED from ‘certified’ to ‘silver’ to ‘platinum’ depending on the number of criteria that are me t in six standard categories .

As with any new system, LEED has experienced its share of growing pains as it has gone through continual refinement to meet the nuances and challenges that are found throughout the vast array of building projects throughout the world. Recently, the USGBC released its most advanced latest revision, LEED 2009, which incorporates rules for a wide variety of circumstances and attempts to achieve a baseline focus on not just things such as energy efficient appliances, but the overall holistic lifestyle approach to the building design and its operations. Ensuring such things such as shower facilities for bikers and low maintenance landscaping, LEED has always been concerned with and understands that the user experience is also at the heart of an energy efficient building.

However, the strength and credibility of the LEED program has grown with the current economic crisis.  A number of Federal Government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant applications have now required construction and building upgrades to achieve some level of LEED certification. Local and state governments are continually subsidizing and providing rebates for projects specifically certified by the LEED system.

However, many have been critical of the fact that LEED is not strong enough to meet the impending dangers of climate change. Perhaps in one of the most bold moves in the history of construction law for the state, Massachusetts is currently discussing a requirement that all construction projects, new or renovated, will often require some level of stringent energy efficient certification. Known as the ‘Stretch Energy Code”, all construction over 5,000 sq. ft., would inherently lower its total energy consumption an average of 40% when compared to current state code.

This isn’t good news to all. The Homebuilders Association views the measure as rash, potentially raising the cost of projects an additional $10,000 – money that the current economy can’t handle in the first place. The legitimate concerns call for a more nuanced approach, the respects all levels of sustainability, from environmental to economic.

Regardless of the specific actions taken, the news is promising as government policy, however slow, begins to catch up to the needs of the environment and the needs of the growing public concerned with our role in the world.

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