Oct 7, 2009

Prefab Architect Damon Pearson Interviewed In Growing Urban Habitats Book

Our prefab SIPs cabin house kit architect Damon Pearson of Tektonics Design Group / Green Cabin Kits was interviewed in Growing Urban Habitats: Seeking a New Housing Development Model, a book published about the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville/ Charlottesville Community Design Center's 2005 design competition.

Here is the uncut interview, below, and we encourage you to peruse and add this book to your architectural collection! http://www.stoutbooks.com/cgi-bin/stoutbooks.cgi/81449.html

What role does / did the Urban Habitats competition play within your practice?
Typically, we did (and still do) competitions for marketing and research purposes. The intent was not necessarily to win so much as it was to foster new ideas within the office and to use the result as a way of showing our design talent. We chose competitions that were at least somewhat related to the work we did in the firm, but different enough to make it interesting for everyone. The Urban Habitats competition fit this mold at the time because we were doing almost entirely custom single family housing; yet, we wanted our firms ethos of environmental ethics to be applicable to a broader spectrum of people and project types.

Have you been able to further develop the concepts you put forward in your entry?

Yes and no, but it would seen necessary to go over our goals and challenges with the UH project first. Before we actually started design work, we chose this project because of the opportunity to possibly develop some economical building assemblies that met our standard for environmental conservation (as was partially dictated by the Earth Craft House guidelines set forth in the agenda.) We quickly realized however that due to the enormity and complexity of the program and the site, we would have to direct our efforts mostly toward that end in order to create a compelling idea. Without a doubt, simply fitting all the required programmatic spaces and parking on the site was quite a challenge, and after much back and forth, we came up with the SlipStich idea for preserving open space and contextually reacting to the surrounding neighborhood. We were quite happy with the end result, especially as we were able to deform the initial concept across the site as it reacted to different neighboring typologies, view, solar exposure, etc... Ultimately, the project was very schematic with only the promise of being built well and affordable - a frustration for us as our initial goal had been to spend quite a bit of time in that area.

Oddly, this issue was similar to some of my frustration as a partner at watershed. Despite our best efforts to make "green" available to a broader spectrum of people, we never did. This was partly (in my opinion) due to media sensationalization of the "green" movement leading to clients who were willing and even anxious to pay a premium for it. In Richmond, and I'm sure elsewhere, it became a bit of a boutique industry for architecture, material suppliers, specialists, etc... I point to things like bamboo plywood as an example, which is quite popular right now, costs around $250 a sheet, and has a very questionable role in sustaining our local environment. Instead of these products and technologies coming down in price, they often went up with the ever increasing demand.

I include all of this because now, my focus as an architect with Tektonics is to do projects where we have a very high level of involvement in the building and fabrication process. We are a firm that specializes in designing and building everything from architectural hardware to entire buildings and have a very intimate relationship with materials, processes, yields, and market prices. What I have been able to accomplish as part of this team has, to me, been very satisfying. The shining star has been a shop fabricated housing system that we have developed as a result of entering another competition called the 99k house. This has turned into a very real system that can be built and configured a multitude of different ways for varying income levels and program requirements, including the 1300 sf version that we designed to cost $99,000 for the 99k competition.

So yes and no - yes I have further developed concepts, but mostly those that we were not actually able to address in the UH competition due to the overwhelming programmatic requirements.

Have you been able to realize any projects that are related to the Urban Habitats project, be it in scale, approach, client, philosophy?

Primarily in philosophy I would say, especially in the shop fabricated housing system I mentioned earlier, but also in scale and approach as we have adapted our housing system into the scale of developments. We have done several studies to also see how it can be adapted for portable/temporary classrooms for schools. What has been great with this project is that, now that we have the design of the system down, we can adapt it to things like the UH project in a quick and realistic way. Truly, it is not a one size fits all solution to architecture, but it does have promise in quite a few scenarios and that is something that is very interesting to me.
Tektonics has been busy this year fabricating all sorts of wonderful projects - to learn more, visit http://www.tektonics.com.

Our sister prefab house kit sites, Green Modern Kits and Green Cottage Kits have also been getting recognition. The second prefab SIPs passive solar house kit is going up in Colorado for Green Modern Kits, and our cottage prefab Green Cottage Kits enthusiasts are, like our prefab cabins in Green Cabin Kits, starting to turn from enthusiasts into clients.

... more on that very soon!

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