Thomas Connors -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In Chicago, a town that prides itself on plenty of green spaces and miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, eco-friendliness has been a leitmotif for years. Since about 1989, the city has planted more than 300,000 trees, landscaped 36 miles of median strips, and even put a garden on the roof of City Hall. Now efforts are shifting from the public to the private realm. A case in point is the F10 house by EHDD Architecture. A winner of the Green Homes for Chicago Design Competition, it not only conserves water and energy but also stores heat thanks to a smart system of windows and wall-mounted recycled plastic bottles. Compared with the average house, it's built to reduce its environmental impact by a factor of 10. And the architects made sure its unusual conservation elements would also give it an arresting visual appeal.
The enlightened design exudes simplicity. Built on a standard 125-by-25-foot city lot, the house is essentially a 1,830-square-foot box clad in red-stained fiber-cement siding. (Its narrow size occupies less space than its neighbors.) A Brazilian ipé wood porch shaded by galvanized-steel awnings adds elegance without ornament. A rooftop herb garden arranged in shallow trays makes use of rainwater runoff that would otherwise enter the sewer. "To educate clients who believe building green means spending extravagantly, we develop plain solutions," explains EHDD lead designer Marc L'Italien. "It's the way you landscape and orient your windows to mitigate sunlight, for example."
Given the compact facade, the expansiveness of the two-story open-plan interior packs a startling punch. In the living area, architects emphasized the floor-through openness by connecting floors with a light-filled stairwell. Like the ceilings and walls, the stairs' risers and steel railings are painted white. Light enters through windows on the front and back walls of both levels and through a high clerestory along the top of a boxy projection, piercing the center of the roof. In the reflective white interior, the fenestration greatly reduces the need for artificial illumination.
The wall of water bottles in the stairwell functions as a heat sink, storing up the sun's radiant energy during the brightest hours and releasing the warmth later in the day. "It works no differently from an adobe in the Southwest," says L'Italien. In summer, transoms and a whole-house fan help keep the air cool.
Construction materials such as fly-ash concrete foundation, cork floors, and insulation derived from recycled paper satisfied the ecological agenda and met the competition's call for an affordable home. Under Chicago's low-cost housing program, the F10 sold for $145,000, while actual building costs totaled about $200,000. The reasonable price tag supports L'Italien's assertion that living green is a mass movement, not a fad for wealthy dabblers: "You can't build a 10,000-square-foot house with bamboo floors and think you're helping the environment."