Design Work Springing Ahead!

by Anthony Weston

The Planning, Design, and Development (PDD) Circle’s Spring design priority is to achieve a village design that is workable both architecturally and financially, and so appealing and functional that it will earn ready assent from current members and can help us effectively (and quickly) inspire and recruit new members. This design will have to be co-developed alongside detailed site engineering, financial planning, etc. but we think the actual, visualizable house plans will be the dramatic next step.

We are currently moving toward this goal in a variety of ways. This post outlines the main ones, but can only touch the high points. All members are invited to find out more when PDD hosts April’s “Last Saturday” event at Hart’s Nest, on Saturday 28 April, 3-6pm. Everything discussed in this post will be laid out and explained in detail, with ample time for questions and discussion too. We’ll have some specific questions for the community as well, as we tune   the new models to members’ wishes and interests. Please mark this event on your calendars and make it a point to come!

“Building Blocks”

Katy, Paul, Donna, and Anthony road-tripped to Atlanta in early March for an extended consultation with Greg Ramsey and associates at Village Habitat Design (we also toured the plant of a potential construction partner on the way). Greg and his partner Dennis McConnell sparked a major re-conception of the design program of the community

Our zoning provides for 32 units. We’d been assuming that we’d mostly be building a few kinds of houses, each basically a Single Family Dwelling Unit (that’s a zoning category), adaptable for individuals, couples, or families with a few kids and maybe a renter in an upstairs bedroom. We were planning one or two shared homes as well.

Greg and Dennis introduced an entirely new element. Suites are semi-independent units linked  to a house with a door (with a lock) and with an external entrance as well, fully equipped as a small apartment (1 or 2 BR plus bath, sitting area, and “wet bar”: a small kitchen without a stove (but microwave is OK). The key thing is that a house with several such suites still counts as a Single Family Dwelling Unit. Thus we can still build 32 units, all officially Single Family Dwelling Units, but at the same time significantly increases both the number and the variety of living situations we can offer to members.

Katy worked out a luminous visual presentation of the basic idea which she presented to a March joint meeting of PDD and Finance/Legal Circles. These slides are a quick illustration. (Please realize that the hexagons are just c0nceptual.  The actual houses are not likely to be hexagonal!)


We need to do a variety of consultations with the County and with potential funders to be sure that this “Building Bock” schematic design meets legal and financial requirements. The key work, though, is to begin to visualize and work it out architecturally. How will the homes actually lay out and what will they look like?

To help answer this question we are bringing an architect on board: Jonathan Lucas, of What on Earth Architecture in Asheville,  We have been in conversation with Jonathan for several years – his style promises a very good working fit with our own – and he has experience with cohousing design as well as a wide range of other projects. Jonathan can offer both floor plans and perspective drawings and also 3D visualizations, energy-use modelling, and virtual walk-throughs. We have begun consultation with Jonathan by Zoom conference and are setting up a three-way conference between us, him, and Greg Ramsey very soon. He will also be making a visit to the land later in the Spring.

As you can see from Katy’s slides, our new model makes it natural to work with “building blocks”: suites and houses of various sizes, keyed to members’ wishes, combinable in a variety of ways. For economies both in design and construction, we’ll want to work with fairly few “blocks” and maximize the ease with which they can be combined and varied. We do want to note that this we may need to adjust or replace our current Sunslope schematic design. It may not be adaptable enough for the multiple configurations we are now envisi0ning. Still, of course, major design elements from Sunslope will remain, such as the large south-sloping roofs for major photovoltaic panels and fully liveable single-floor options, as well as an attempt to moderate the range of style preferences we have discovered among us.

Construction Methods and Partners

We also continue to research and compare a variety of different construction materials and methods. This search relates closely to architecture, but it is still a separate question since often very similar designs can be realized in a wide variety of materials/methods.

Sustainability, affordability, adaptability, availability are all key desiderata, and the decision is going to require weighing of all of them and probably making some hard choices between them. Also, choosing between construction methods is often to choose between specific firms with whom we might partner, introducing yet another set of considerations. The right partnerships will be crucial!

We have narrowed down the list of alternatives considerably. For example, we are unlikely to choose blown-in foam or rigid styrofoam-type insulation, though it can be used in some highly efficient and affordable panelized forms, because ultimately its very longevity is a disadvantage.  You can’t get rid of it, ever. Many also have off-gassing issues. On the other hand, our current candidates include some intriguing methods and materials, such as hemp-lime mixtures for insulation (possibly also available in panelized forms). We are also considering whether and how far earth-building methods could be an appealing choice for parts of the village, farm, or other buildings. At the same time, we continue to consider traditional stick-building methods, which have significant advantages and can be adapted to our sustainability and other requirements as well.

Other PDD Irons in the Fire

There are many other, related items on PDD’s plate:

  • We are revisiting the Affordability question at the same time that we are beginning to get harder and more specific data on likely costs and prices.
  • Another big-picture question is how far can/should we welcome multiple styles (designs, construction methods, etc.), and if so, at what scale?
  • The Common House also needs to go back on the agenda. We’ve back-burnered the Common House in favor of the residences for a while, but on the Building Block plan, smaller suites presuppose the Common House: it probably will have to be built concurrently after all.

Again, please plan to find out more when PDD hosts April’s “Last Saturday” event at Hart’s Nest, 3-6pm on Saturday 28 April.  All members are welcome!








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2 Responses to Design Work Springing Ahead!

  1. Anika says:

    Any post that includes the words, “visualizable” and “luminous” is alright by me! 🙂 Exciting information and possibilities!

  2. Hope says:

    Love it, Anika! Stop by some time and smell the flowers, Hope

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