Dwell and Green Residential Design Sensibilities in Madison, Wisconsin – “The Berkeley of the Midwest”

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I just found this video (link) on the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design concept, of the chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough, and boy did it bring back memories!

The idea of C2C is something I’ve been quite passionate about since first learning of it in the earliest days of Crescendo Design. When our entry (link) in the Cradle to Cradle Home competition was chosen for construction, it was just the springboard we needed to launch our practice in green residential design.

So many of these ideas have become integral and guiding principles in our practice. Our early work with GreenStar Homes, namely the Hybrid House concept, and some of our passive solar homes took many of these ideas to heart. We did our best to combine ideas of energy efficiency and sustainability with principles of Universal Design to create all-inclusive, or holistic design packages that emphasized usability, timelessness and longevity – often centered around a ‘regional vernacular’ aesthetic.

Our green residential design practice has come so far since that C2C competition. Modeling these principles of green design inside of Second Life as a Crescendo Design marketing and education tool ended up sending us on a wild adventure that led us to Berkeley, CA for a year, but we have since moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and have been contacted by a number of families looking to add on, remodel, or build new – and wish to include varying shades of ‘green’ in their design plans. Even though the housing market is in a slump, we have seen no shortage of new residential projects. Unfortunately, we can only take on a limited amount of work at one time, so we’ve been careful in selecting the projects we feel have the best chance at successful realization.

We have yet to do any active marketing, and have secured most of our work by way of referrals. People who do find us invariably express their surprise that we’re working in the Madison area – almost entirely under the radar. Most often, they’re relieved to hear that we take very small remodels and additions as seriously as we do new construction. I find, for the most part, that remodel and addition projects often best exemplify sustainability by their very nature. These are people who have decided to take responsibility for improving their part of the existing residential metabolism of the city, avoiding the pitfalls of new construction. Of course, designing new homes is also a big part of our practice, but I see no reason why a successful residential design practice can’t work with both large and small projects with equal attention and care. I’m not sure that any firm can really call themselves ‘green’ if they purposely avoid remodels and additions because they can’t make big money on it.

We’re still the ‘new kids on the block’ when it comes to designing green, but I can still say that when we first started exploring the idea of starting a design practice, very few people were talking about principles of green design. Of course, there were a few die-hards, that focus on nothing else, who have been doing very important work in sustainable home design in Madison and Dane County for years – hats off to those guys. But recently there has been a massive surge of interest in green design. Most notably is this year’s ‘Isthmus Green Day,’ which I almost completely missed! (we’re still settling in after the moves and having a baby, so I have excuses. 😉 I’m just very excited to see the magnitude of interest rising around green design in Madison and beyond, and are looking forward to the excitement it will generate.

I’ll conclude this meandering post with a clipping from the ‘Letters’ section of this month’s Dwell magazine.

“Do you know of any architects with a Dwell sensibility working in the Madison, Wisconsin, area? I’ve interviewed a few architects to help us with our 1950’s ranch renovation, but can’t seem to find one who doesn’t immediately suggest adding on (we have 2,200 square feet of living space already). While I know adding on would be a simple -though pricey-solution, we would prefer to team up with someone who is willing to explore more earth-friendly and creative options that reflect our modern design sensibilities. I am certain this person must exist in the ‘Berkeley of the Midwest’, but where? Becky Behling – Madison, WI

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