Ecological Design/The ecoMOD Project

Another way to seek solutions to carbon emissions and over-consumption without going nuclear. Prior posts on the same subject: tidal power, DG, campus sustainability, solar investments, ecological footprints, and consumption more generally.

Around Grounds here (they call it "Grounds," not campus, and don't ask), the leaders in ecological innovation are architecture, urban design, and engineering. Probably in that order. William McDonough, he of Cradle-to-Cradle and ecological sustainability design fame, used to be the Dean of the Architecture School, and now runs his company (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry/MBDC) out of Charlottesville.* So that's one thing to point to as encouragement and evidence. The university has a pretty intensive Sustainability Assessment going on, so there's that too. And, in the Engineering School where I teach, there are number of engineering projects--at the undergraduate, graduate, and individual faculty levels--that pursue ecological design. As you would expect. These are great projects with helpful goals in mind.

High among these is the ecoMOD project.

They have a nice website. Check it out. (It appears Treeehugger also had an appreciative post on this some time back.) It's ecological modular design, homes that are of modular assembly and ecologically sustainable. They also incorporate matters of social and environmental justice along the way, so that the designs and possibilities are not simple ivory tower contrivances. And they have impressive ambitions. They've built two houses over the past few years--one local, another in Mississippi--and are in the process of designing, building, and evaluating their third, also here in Charlottesville. They're doing this in conjunction with the Architecture School, and they are doing it in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

i-5a9bee3c1e060883316a76ea29dd46a6-ecoMOD sketch.GIF

An artsy-architechty sketch of the second home design, from the ecoMOD website, where you can find other images and photos of design considerations, the building site, and actual finished products too

Under the umbrella of this large project are numerous smaller ones--green roofs, better building materials, economically feasible appliances and electrical design, more viable design structures for utilities, passive heating and cooling systems, water collection and distribution systems, alternative energy production, evaluating affordability and occupant satisfaction, for example. I generally know about this from advising students who are working on various aspects of the project, although there are facets of ecoMOD about which I have no idea. (They come to me with the project, I don't hand it to them. I'm not the main agent in this project, is my point.) The project allows engineering students to work on ecological design principles, to approach their technical work within broader social and environmental contexts, and to test, in a way, a lot of the developments being worked on all around the world. So, ecoMOD becomes a testing ground for more widespread ideas, a training ground for engineers-in-the-making, and an opportunity to follow through in practice with the grand ideals of more ecologically sustainable urban design and planning.

It's a way people are working on our consumption and carbon emission problems without the nuclear option.


*Although I am somewhat skeptical of the cradle-to-cradle philosophy, that doesn't matter for this post. For instance, though, see The Yes Men, for a unique take on the raw materials approach to better production chains.

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