Jared Langevin shared with us his project Cross Cultivation. The project, designed along with Joshua Cummings and Gabriel Cuéllar was awarded 2nd place in the 2010 USGBC New York Natural Talent Design Competition (Emerging Professionals category). More images and architect’s description after the break.
Domestic architecture is capable of engendering one’s sense of belonging to networks of humans and nature, fostering a distinctly personal place for its inhabitants by strengthening their relationship to surrounding people, places, and climates. A relationship on any number of social, emotional, and sensory levels is evident in a gathering of neighbors around a crowded dinner table, a conversation between loved ones in the dappled evening light of a veranda, or a solitary afternoon of reading amongst the pleasant scents of a fragrant garden. In each case, the quality of the connective experience is inseparable from the character of the domestic space in which it occurs; architecture is the moderator between the individual and the collective, between private and public, between the cultivated growth of the exterior and the conserved consistency of the interior.
Prevailing practice in contemporary domestic architecture has shifted architecture’s dynamic capability for moderation towards an unnatural condition of separation. As technological advances enable the more efficient creation and control of an artificial interior environment, they do so at the expense of the relationships that once existed between an inhabitant’s “indoor” and “outdoor” existences.
Once, we varied our daily activities according to the weather and the season; we now take for granted a more narrow, predictable range of tasks around the house. Once, we depended directly upon knowledge of Earth’s soil composition and growth cycles for our sustenance; we now bring food into the home with little understanding about where it came from or how it was made. Sharing and community once played a significant role in our individual abilities to survive; instead domestic architecture now propagates consumption and insularity.
Our project recognizes the need for a re-engagement of the exterior: a reanimation of the sustainable balance between interior and exterior spaces and the diverse activities that can take place across them both. For this focus, there could be no better setting than the city of New Orleans, which possesses a remarkably diverse outdoor culture as an a priori condition. Front lawns and stoops directly engage a house’s denizens with their neighbors. Street vendors migrate around town selling local food products and crafts. Lush gardens extend out from courtyards and balconies, introducing densely vegetated outdoor spaces that become integral to a domestic culture as any interior room.
The proposed house enumerates the best qualities of New Orleans’ outdoor traditions while incorporating them with the fundamental traits of the city’s famous housing typology, the Shotgun. A linear series of enclosed rooms with direct connection to each other, it represents the most prevalent type of domestic architecture in New Orleans. However, the narrow limits of its typical site preclude the Shotgun house from participating in the city’s many garden gestures. This has been the case since the early development of New Orleans’ garden culture in the 1800s, when the Shotgun house garden was merely an adjacent afterthought, possessing “purely utilitarian character, if it existed at all” .
Two aspects of the USGBC program allow us to rejoin the garden to the rooms of the Shotgun house. First is the requirement that the finish floor be elevated at least seven feet from ground level for flood protection. This raising up frees the entire site as a growing plane, open to sources of light and air. Second, the house is intended for just one or two occupants, minimizing square footage requirements and yielding more potential open space to the site itself.
Given these considerations, the Shotgun structure is reworked to include a series of diverse outdoor spaces as a part of its notoriously abrupt sequencing of rooms; altering this sequence from a linear “Exterior, Interior, Interior” to the musical “Exterior, Interior, dal segno al fine.” Outdoor rooms are included in a carefully arranged landscape that engages all of the senses: fruit, vegetable, and herb plants produce an abundance of tastes, fragrant swaths of jasmine, gardenia, and lavender provide perfumes day and night, tree species attract songbirds, rocks that radiate heat offset any slight chill in the air, and deciduous plantings change color and density across the seasons. The species and cultivars of the plants and trees have been selected for their nutritional and functional value. In addition to these elements, a subsurface wetland winds across the length of the site, acting as a powerful filtration ecosystem for the redistribution of rain and grey water supplies towards irrigation. Taken together, these strategies echo both the exquisite excesses and efficient utility of the New Orleans garden tradition, consistently providing food, water and sensory delights to the house’s occupants.
As the outdoor rooms of the house evolve over time, they engage in a dialectic with its interior rooms – an interaction that benefits both in a number of ways. Tall operable windows and doors, a tested New Orleans method, regulate the flow of freshly tempered garden air into each of the spaces, which act as mixing chambers for the diversity of fragrances and air temperatures coming from the various garden rooms all around. The deciduous plants provide interior shading and humidity control in the long summer months and allow transmission of radiant solar heating in the short winters. These measures are combined with the high insulation, thermal mass, and moisture control of thick walls, forming an entirely passive conditioning strategy for the house. Moreover, the abundant growing infrastructure of the outdoors is constantly cultivating a diversity of food items that can be cooked, consumed, or conserved in the protection of the interior spaces.
In turn, the interior rooms provide a reliable environment for storing and preserving many of the products that are grown outdoors, extending the usefulness of these items from short term yields of a specific growing season to long term sources of sustenance. Additionally, the very structure of the interior rooms provides a degree of protection to the surrounding gardens in potentially damaging weather conditions, and their gently sloping roofs accept and direct rainwater toward a ground cistern for later irrigation use in dry conditions. The center of these roofs is strategically oriented to catch the maximum amount of incident light, and features an array of Solar Hot Water panels to offset the project’s electrical demand.
This indoor/outdoor dialectic of the house serves as a crucial prerequisite for its low energy consumption, encouraging the use of non-mechanical means for achieving comfort and moderating the amount of time spent indoors, where most of a household’s energy use is concentrated. More importantly, the dialectic will be crucial in sustaining the longevity, health, and well-being of the house’s designated inhabitants. This has been shown in numerous studies on elderly individuals, which have reported that increasing a subject’s level of daily outdoor exposure brings an associated improvement in motor functions, resilience to sickness, and lifespan , , . In the proposed home, days filled with gardening, beekeeping, surveying crop yields with neighbors, and resting in the shade of a pecan tree transcend a mere exposure to the outdoors, insisting that these outdoor spaces can act as the primary setting for one’s everyday life, a condition that is punctuated only by periodic returns to the relative stability of the interior realm.
In general, the proposal for an exteriorized domestic space calls for a direct and meaningful interaction between human inhabitants and their immediate environment, to the point where each grows with the other in a dynamic process of cross cultivation. If today’s typical home encourages complacency through the seemingly effortless provision of an artificial way of living, the exteriorized home counters this by challenging its inhabitants to actively participate in the attainment of their own comfort and sense of belonging via connections to the natural and human networks that can best provide these things. The resultant architecture is no longer characterized in terms of arbitrarily imposed separations and neatly defined ranges of predictability. Rather, much like the city of New Orleans itself, the house is an exercise in a messy vitality – a partly wild and continuously growing platform for the sustainable interaction between inhabitants, their neighboring communities, and the natural environment.