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Landscape Architecture For The Prefab Modern House Kit: The Root Cellar, and More. Guest Blog Post!

We will begin to have guest bloggers (weren't you tired of listening to me anyhow?), people who know a heck of a lot more than I on the next steps of the prefab SIPs house kit as it goes from a modern house kit shell to a sustainable modern homestead in the years to come.

Please welcome Heather Barber, founder of Topos, LLC, a landscape design studio dedicated to purposeful design through creating unique natural environments in Richmond, Virginia. The sustainable landscape plan by Topos was earlier mentioned here; today, she talks about visiting the off grid prefab modern house for the first time, and how sustainability is connected in the kitchen.

The rest of the post is her own.

turning the page on sustainability and the sufficient garden...

Sustainability and landscape go hand in hand, but to really understand sustainability from a livable principal you must put form in the background and set the focus on function. The two do not have to live entirely separately, but the thing that has driven landscape design for centuries must become secondary to to the primary purpose of function. A sustainable landscape does not have to leave beauty out of the picture, but it is there for many more reasons than just aesthetics.

Let’s take green modern kits casa ti as a prototype for understanding the adaptation of the built object to the site rather than the normal process of site adaptation to accommodate the built object. casa ti is a melding of modern living principles with a centuries old notion of living with the land, off the land, and of the land. casa ti is sited in the middle of rural farmland in Virginia.

At first sight, it seems as though there is a modern box sitting in the middle of this soft, rolling earth...still viable earth that is now a repository for a very static looking building. Understanding modern sustainability will turn this perception on it’s ear. casa ti, a prefabricated green modern kit home is actually a very dynamic part of the earth and a living, breathing entity that sustains the land it inhabits. The landscape that surrounds casa ti becomes a fulcrum that allows the exchange between the site, the building and the family that lives on the land.

So many of the sustainable landscape principals are the functional values that have been used in farming and land use for thousands of years. Many have been abandoned to the contemporary notions of density, aesthetics and convenience. Having the opportunity to attend the first casa ti open house I found it absolutely astounding that many of the local farmers grasp the notion of the sustainable system (being the building, the land, and the functions of the land, the landscape) and yet many of us ‘designers’ don’t really fully understand. I learned a tremendous amount about the importance of function from the resident farmers who came to support casa ti.

It also sparked a conversation with my father, a celebrated Landscape Architect whose heyday of design was in the 60’s and 70’s, pre autocad and plotters and computerized land forming programs. Now in his 70’s, Dad still uses a sepia printer (a ‘brown’ print machine) and a typewriter and still understands working within the natural systems of the earth rather than contriving them to fit the design. All of this being said, I have really re-approached my ideals of sustainable design and casa ti this week.

We are working on many planes with the prefab house nestled in the rural landscape. Foremost, casa ti is a structure drawn from modern design tenets. It is constructed in a way that would blow the doors off of most LEED and Earthcraft rated buildings. The siting (the location of casa ti) in a rural, traditional farming community is a great opportunity and hindrance equally. It allows casa ti to function as intended, as a fully self supporting, energy producing entity that forms a relationship with the land, the profile, the context, the climate, the macro and micro environments. The challenge is finding the craftsmen, the materials and the technology to make it all happen in a natural and budgetary way. It is all a learning process and I am honored to be a part of it.

So, how do we meld the aesthetics and function of the modern style prefabricated green modern kit home with a traditional rural site?

Again, we look at many of the sustainable attributes that already lie within the site. The immediate area around casa ti will become an extension of the living space and reflect the modern form / aesthetic. The people who live here want to live in a healthy way without sacrificing comfort and enjoyment and that is an absolute. Clipped hedges, exterior fireplaces, large planes for dining, and family entertainment areas will all be designed to express the modern style. The choices of plant material and hardscape materials will lend to the functionary aspect. The true beauty lies in how these areas are also those which sustain the mechanical, solar, and water treatment for casa ti.

The secondary environs become the threshold that allows the aesthetic transition between modern style and traditional farm style. Open space, groves, and more naturalized land forms set up view shed and flow into the actual working land and forested areas of the site. Again using native plant material and land forms from recycled earth becomes the functional aspect. They lend to the shade value and thermal support of casa ti, and provide sustenance.
Water harvesting and recharging will reduce the necessity for potable water waste on gardens and cyclical necessities within the residence. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees will be planted down hill and irrigated with the traditional agricultural flooding methods. Green walls add to the thermal value of the home and earthen berms protect the home from energy stripping climatic effects. A small pool will be used to house and recharge the water supply. UV filtering and a baffled rill will do the actual recharging. Seasonal crops will be used in the larger fields, always cycled one season with a green crop for essential nitrogen restoration. Seasonal fruit trees, berry shrubs, vegetables will be planted for 3 1/2 seasons of additional food stores.

A root cellar (which has been the most logical, yet baffling part of the design) will serve many functions. It will house the minimal mechanical equipment needed for casa ti, as well as add natural storage for vegetables and fruits, thus minimizing loss and the need for refrigeration.

This lends to another necessary discussion...the contemporary kitchen in a sustainable setting. The things that are of the utmost importance are storage, accessibility to the edible landscape and waste. Composting areas need to be close in order to minimize unnecessary waste in the kitchen, yet need the space and the ‘privacy’ to be their ugly smelly selves. The kitchen is also a great area for the collection of gray water for non potable use, and relatively economical to make happen. The kitchen garden must fulfill a certain portion of the food supply for at least 3 1/2 seasons. Sorry, you’re not going to get much out of this garden when the surprise March blanketing of snow occurs. Enter root cellar...again, the proximity to the house is important, but equally the type is too. Banked into grade change allows light and airflow and doesn’t turn it into the dungeon (horrors), but equally allows the proper amount of moisture to circulate so your carrots and potatoes don’t turn to chalk or worse. Of course, dependent on the size and location, additional venting and drainage is necessary. I’ve found several articles helpful, posted below for your reading pleasure. It truly is fun stuff.

As the casa ti plans evolve, the next chat will be about addressing other aspects of the sustainable site, such as parking courts, natives vs. invasives, and positive drainage for maximum water efficiency.

Relevant links:
-- Heather Barber, Topos LLC
    Richmond, Virginia

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At 10/28/09, 9:17 AM , Anonymous Roof Ventilation said...

Thanks for the great post! Very cool. I love "still understands working within the natural systems of the earth rather than contriving them to fit the design" - too many people jam the environment around the design. This design is simple and elegant.

What is the price range for these?

At 10/28/09, 1:24 PM , Blogger Passive Solar Prefab Homes said...

The prefab house kits range in price according to their size and design complexity - to see more, please visit...

Prefab Modern:

Prefab Cottages:

Prefab Cabins:

(Thanks for your nice words! If you have any more questions feel free to contact me! : ) )


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