Over the past year, Union Studio founding principal Donald Powers and his family had the opportunity to rehabilitate a small bungalow in their hometown of Jamestown, Rhode Island, into a new net-zero home for their family. Their adventure will be featured this fall on This Old House, which premieres tonight on PBS. This blog post is the beginning of a series by Don that discusses how bringing new life to this cottage and working with This Old House embraces a holistic view of sustainability and community.
Images © Kevin O’Connor
Why This Old House?
The mission of Union Studio has always been to use architecture and urban design to help foster or preserve communities. We think more in terms of places than buildings though we are firmly convinced of the importance of excellent architecture to make a place truly alive. Not that we’ve never done single structures – we do and we have – but we’re less interested in the lone, “beautiful object” approach to architecture, unless a beautiful object was exactly what the community needed and had planned for.
We’ve also held what has at times what seemed a contrarian position on the current thinking about sustainability. We’ve argued against what we sometimes describe as the “gadget-focus” of current theory around energy-efficiency and sustainability. We push for a more holistic view of sustainability where decreased car usage and fewer roads, community connectedness, natural materials, and real preservation born out of affection for a place are emphasized more than wind generators, solar arrays, and argon-filled windows.
So how does our net-zero home, built with This Old House, fit into this philosophy? As a highly crafted object sporting the latest arsenal of high-tech, energy-saving and energy-producing devices, isn’t this house inconsistent with our mission and often repeated “low-tech” values of neighborhood and community? We argue that the answer is ‘no’. For Union Studio, the Jamestown Net-Zero House is the perfect chance to put our words into action and our money where our mouth is. I look forward to explaining how in the coming weeks.