Text description provided by the architects. NEW YORK, NEW YORK – November 21, 2011 - Live Work Home, a winning design proposal from Cook+Fox Architects in the From the Ground Up Competition in Syracuse, New York, has been awarded LEED-NC (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction) Platinum certification, the highest possible rating by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). On Friday, November 11, Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair of the USGBC, recognized this notable achievement by presenting the LEED Platinum certificate to architect Richard Cook in Syracuse.
Completed in late 2010, the Live Work Home considers the longevity and livelihood of the Near West Side of Syracuse, NY, a shrinking city affected by the migration of significant industry throughout the 20th century. Today, the neighborhood faces high unemployment rates and lacks space for creative industry. Affordable housing alone does not respond to the needs of the neighborhood; its vitality as a community is a question of sustaining livelihoods and the social diversity. Just as pockets of extreme blight and vacant lots can weaken a neighborhood, adding density to the small-lot patterns of Near West Side with mixed social and economic activity will re-energize the community.
Inspired by the legend of the Three Sisters, a lesson in strengthening agricultural biodiversity, the flexible home “seeds” the neighborhood with many different building types, driving a positive cycle of long-term investment. Essentially a small modern loft, the simple and flexible construction of Live Work Home—a column-free structure with sliding doors and mobile partitions—was designed to address a range of uses over time and allows for a lifetime of waste-free remodeling. This 1,400 square foot project reconsiders the understood definition of “home” for a new, urban context- and demonstrates how small-scale sustainable architecture can be delivered at the highest level.
“Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.” -Buckminster Fuller, I Seem to Be a Verb, 1970
Grounded in ideas of healthy living and biophilia—our innate human need to connect with the natural world—the home is also a response to Syracuse’s climate and ecology. The city’s long, light-starved winters make daylighting a top priority, thus the house is placed to maximize solar exposure, lit with direct and diffused daylight from skylight tubes penetrating the roof. A perforated screen wrapping the western and northern facades bounces daylight into the house and filters light through adjustable rotating screens along the western side. Inspired by the natural beauty the pattern of dappled light filtering through a tree canopy, the custom-designed screen draws from Janine Benyus’ research on biomimicry, which teaches about taking design cues from nature. The screen also features a large, garage-type front door, which can fold down to create an open-air anteroom of “prospect and refuge.” Acting as a front porch, this space creates an ethic of “eyes on the street” that helps residents feel safe and engaged with the sidewalk and street.
The long, narrow site suggested an exploration of linear archetypes including the Haudenosaunee longhouse, Syracuse’s original vernacular form, which is easily lengthened or shortened with changing family dynamics. An open, linear plan was chosen to achieve the greatest possible flexibility at the least expense and to allow residents to “age in place,” which encourages long-term residence and intergenerational living.
It was especially important to consider long-term operational affordability during the design-process when addressing the needs of a diverse population of potential occupants, including students and aging residents, and low-tech passive strategies became the foundation of the home’s green design concept and affordability. A high-performance building envelope constructed of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) saves energy, improves comfort, and reduces both construction waste and on-going costs of ownership. A heat recovery ventilator circulates healthy, filtered air year-round. During hot summer evenings, the garage door can be closed, allowing front doors to remain open for natural cooling while maintaining privacy and security. Efficient, hot water-based heating is delivered through a radiant floor, which also allows maximum flexibility in room planning when compared to standard forced-air systems.
Beyond affordability, the concern to build for longevity and sustainability necessitated the healthiest possible indoor environment for the homeowners. Materials were chosen to protect the indoor air quality by reducing the risk of moisture, mold, and the off-gassing of harmful chemicals. Following the deconstruction of the original home sitting on the lot as well as a nearby warehouse, old-growth pine and hemlock were salvaged and repurposed into the floors and cabinets, part of a broader ethic of waste-free modeling and re-use for Live Work Home. To address stormwater issues, the functional landscape design includes low-maintenance, drought-tolerant native grasses and rain-barrels.
Local nonprofit Home HeadQuarters managed the construction process, which included training for a team of construction apprentices, cultivating a workforce for future sustainable building projects, and creating much-needed green-collar jobs. Homeowners John and Kathy Miranda moved into the home in November 2010 with the intention to fulfill the home’s flexible layout to house an environmental consulting business, a small office space, and personal living space for the couple.
Following the From the Ground Up jury process, longtime Near West Side resident and juror Carol Horan said, “I went back to the neighborhood where I’ve been living for 37 years and looked at it with new eyes, paying more attention to details that I had never noticed before. My fondest wish for this neighborhood, and indeed, the whole community, is that we all look with new eyes.”