The TH Interview: Gregg Lewis, Organizer of the C2C-Home Competition

Last Thursday and Friday, some of the biggest names in design—including William McDonough, Sarah Susanka, and Daniel Libeskind—gathered in Roanoke, Virginia to select the top entries in the C2C Home Competition, an inaugural contest based on the revolutionary ideas outlined in McDonough and Michael Braungart's book Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking the Way We Make Things, or, as we call it, the bible of "green" design. Forward-thinking professionals and students alike were challenged to create homes that achieve new standards of sustainability, and more than 600 answered the call. But these were not radical, conceptual housing designs for the future; rather, they are viable designs for today—or, to be more specific, for May 2005, when architects will break ground on the first project.

Here, TreeHugger catches up with Gregg Lewis of SmithLewis Architecture, who, along with partner-wife Jennifer, organized the event.

TH: How did you start the C2C conversation in your town and come up with the idea for the contest?
My wife and I are architects that started a small practice built on sustainable design. But we quickly realized that there wasn't even a public discussion on the topic. We eventually invited Bill McDonough to come speak in our town. We were upset to find out that the president of our local AIA chapter didn't even know who he was, but about 750 people came to hear him speak. A local non-profit had also been talking about having an affordable housing competition. We said we'd participate, but only if it was sustainable. And we really felt like the cradle-to-cradle protocol gave us the best approach to accomplish our goals.

TH: What were those goals?
We're looking for new, fresh ideas, but also build-ability and practicality. The ultimate question was: Can these things be built in 2005 in Roanoke, Virginia? This was really our goal—and all the entry information stated it—this is a design-build competition. You can't move sustainability forward without struggling with the practical ideas.

TH: Will specific projects actually be built?
It all depends on which designs are the most feasible—and upon finding a builder that will do it—but yes, we're hoping to begin building in May. The first one to be built will be the one that's most practical. Some projects are ready to go, others need to be developed. How we'll adapt those for being built remains to be seen. But over 12 to 18 months, we could build several dozen.

TH: What were some of your favorite projects?
Pat Freet's [the second place professional winner] is my favorite project of the whole bunch. He used a panel system—you could disassemble parts of your house, for example, when your kids leave home. You could send panels back to Home Depot or the Salvation Army and they could be reused. By the same token, you could add space to your house in the same way.

TH: Will this project be built?
The question here is, do we take the design and go ahead and develop it with the best existing materials we can find, or do we find a manufacturer who can help us create new materials?

TH: How did this contest compare to others you've been involved in?
It was one of the most phenomenal projects of my life. This jury was phenomenal and really picked a good mix of projects. Their commitment to this was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Each jury member picked their top 20-40 designs from more than 600 entries. Those initial selections are now on exhibit at a local art museum.

It's been a phenomenal thing for the local community. When the art exhibit went up, the museum director was floored—usually she gets about 75-80 people at an opening, but this time, they were just jammed in; more than a thousand people have gone through.

TH: Sounds like you really whipped up some community spirit.
Cradle to Cradle is now the third best-selling book on Amazon.com for Roanoke. People have actually read the book. That's the biggest satisfaction I've gotten. It's been a tremendous amount of work, but it's very satisfying.

TH: So what's next?
Roanoke has a sister city in China, and Bill McDonough is the U.S. Chairman and a member of the Board of Councilors of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, so we'll do it in China next!

TH: Some people argue that building "green" is a passing trend. What's your take?
Well, the solar movement in the 70's was due to an oil embargo, but as soon as prices came down, it went away. But now there's a real need for alternatives like solar power and wind power. And with projects like the Liberty Center in New York referring to sustainability, it's showing to people that we're serious about new types of building and energy.

It is a trend, but I couldn't be more convinced that green building is a trend that's here to stay. It's a very reasonable proposition. The only thing that will stall it from catching on is if the media does a bad presentation of it—if they plant the seed of doubt in people's minds.

TH: What's the lesson learned from all of this?
Human activity can be good for the planet, not just less bad. I have children and I don't want to tell them in the future that we dropped the ball on this one. [by MO]

Top image: An image of Patrick Freet's winning design, with modular walls that allow it to be reconfigured throughout a family's various stages of life.

An illustration shows how the house's components can be used as modular units and technical nutrients.

An illustration show the various elevations of a winning design, with sources for natural ventilation.
To see more on the winning projects, visit ::C2C-Home.

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