Trend Exploration: Green Design For All

At Fuse 2012, we all walked away with a new, if unintended, mantra: "just wash the spoon." In a world increasingly taxed by waste, the Fuse community found itself coming together to commit to higher levels of awareness and sustainability. But where can sustainability and design meet? It's a question we've been mulling over here in the Fuse offices, and one we hope to explore here on the blog. Next Big Design contributor Phil Ng came across one field where the two are frequently meeting: design for low income housing. Read on for an exploration:

Building Sustainably: Making an Impact in Low Income Communities 

Sustainability is a nice big ideal. The idea of creating a structure, whether commercial or residential, which can generate the smallest impact on the environment with the potential to produce its own energy is the overall goal; however, even for green design enthusiasts of means, costs of transforming a home into an energy efficient and sustainable dwelling can be daunting. For low income families, there is rarely an opportunity to attempt such improvements.

In recent years, a developing trend finds architects widening their gaze to provide low income families with sustainable and energy efficient homes in a growing number of cities. Over at, Molly Kincaid posted a piece centered around the emerging trend of architecture transforming low-income housing into sustainable and well-designed homes in parts of California.

Recently The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a study that stated that San Francisco is home to the most expensive place to rent in the country. “In San Francisco, a studio apartment costs upwards of $1,500 a month.” Many residents of San Francisco are unable to generate such funds and when it comes to low-income housing "impersonal, poorly built, high-density "projects" feel more like a punishment to the people who live in them than a gesture of support."

A new crop of designers and architects are attempting to remedy this situation with projects like The Plaza Apartments in San Francisco. Built to house, “the destitute, many of whom are also plagued by drug addictions and psychological problems,” The Plaza Apartments features a concrete outer finish with colored panels for a sense of modernity, while a photovoltaic roof generates much of the power. Utilizing these techniques, as countering costs for electricity via solar power, a typical unit is available to rent for $380 to $440 per month. This new wave of low income housing attempts to improve not only the lives of the formerly homeless, but also reinvigorate the neighborhoods with colorful design.

Head over to to read Molly Kincaid go further in detail of the emergence of sustainably built low income housing in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and New Orleans.

The rebuilding of New Orleans has quickly become a hotbed for development of green and sustainable building practices. In order to allow previous owners to move back to their once ravaged city, new homes are being built more intelligently and designed to reduce damage from future weather hazards. Over at, Charley Cameron posted a piece centered on the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. A movement has emerged from coming from the “Make It Right Foundation”, founded by Brad Pitt, focused on rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since 2007, Make It Right Foundation has been investing much time and effort in, “constructing innovative sustainable housing”.

In latest developments, Brad Pitt has signed on Frank Gehry, Pritzker Award winning architect, to design models to be the latest in green home design. These new homes will be two stories tall and topped with a solar panel roof. Designed in a “Double Shotgun” architecture, these compact homes are expected to attain LEED Platinum Certification; the highest in energy efficiency and use of sustainable features that the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design awards to a particular building.

Kitchens will be outfitted with sustainably harvested wood to be used for cabinets, Energy Star appliances, and countertops composed by 75% recycled materials. Home utilities will also be given the platinum treatment with solar modules, producing 4 kilowatts, on the rooftop, as well as tank-less water heaters, which cut energy consumption.

In order to withstand impending hurricane winds and flooding, each home will be outfitted with a wide array of defensive structures. Window frames will have protruding pegs at each corner in which sheets of Kevlar can be attached for protection against high speed hurricane winds. The foundation of each home will be elevated two to three feet above the minimum regulation height recommended in each specific area to reduce risk of damage in times of flooding. The streets are even modified with a permeable material in which rain from heavy storms can drain more easily.

Currently the prototype of this highly stylized, energy efficient, sustainably feature rich homes cost in the area of $300,000. The “Make It Right Foundation” is aiming to reduce costs of these Frank Gehry designed, two-family homes to cost near $200,000. Comparably, current single family homes in the region being built by “Make It Right” cost $150,000.

Phil Ng is a Social Media Analyst at IIR USA with a specialized focus on technology and technology culture. He may be reached at



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