Can One Call Mitch Kapor's Berkeley House "Green"?


Kapor Klein House model, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects

There is a fight going on in Berkeley, over the construction of a house for Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus and creator of Lotus 123, the program that made personal computers useful. Neighbours, architects and others call it "absurd" that the house should be called green, saying its 10,000 square feet is far too big. One neighbour complains that "green building begins with using 'just enough' and preserving what already exists. Clearly the idea of 'just enough' is not part of the design concept."

But how much is too much?
Kapor Klein House Ground Floor, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects

The proposed Kapor Klein House has enough green features to score 91 on the Berkeley Scale that calls anything over 60 green, but the neighbours think it is too big to be green.

When I looked at the plans, my first thought was "that's not 10,000 square feet." And it isn't; under the zoning bylaw it is calculated at 6,478 SF. It is only 10,000 SF if you include the basement that is being used for parking, which isn't usually done, it's underground. Kapor doesn't have ten cars, but neighbours complained that there was not enough street parking to accommodate visitors, so he put the spaces in.


Kapor Klein House side elevation, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects

And what is the "right" size of a house? The lot is 29,741 square feet with a height limit of 35 feet. Kapor COULD have built to 40% coverage, or 11,896 square feet, times three, or 35,689 square feet, under the bylaws. Some might say that he has exercised admirable restraint it the face of a bylaw that encourages ridiculous monsters.

But the real problem I have with the attack on this house in the New York Times is that it is comparing big with BIG.


A "green" house by the Atlanta architect William H. Harrison; John Umberger in NYT

Times writer Fred Bernstein conflates it with the work of architect William H. Harrison, who is designing 25,000 and even 50,000 square foot houses and has the nerve to say "The people who can afford the green technologies are going to want large houses,"And those innovations, he said, will trickle down to smaller houses." He says about his client for the 25,000 square footer:

"He's a billionaire, and he drives a Prius, for God's sake," said Mr. Harrison of his client. "He wants to do the right thing, environmentally. And now he's being told, 'You're not good enough, because your house is too big.' "That, Mr. Harrison said, "is about socialism, not sustainability."

That is my problem. Perhaps I show a fondness toward modern design, and think that Kapor's Architects Marcy Wong Donn Logan, have done a better job than Mr. Harrison. Perhaps I have seen far too many 10,000 SF and bigger monster houses built where they knock down every single tree on the lot and don't give a damn about anything green; I like the fact that so many trees are being saved and that it is way below the maximum permitted footprint. Perhaps I think Mitch Kapor deserves credit for NOT building what all of his billionaire contemporaries are doing, namely 35,000 SF monsters that fill every inch of their site.

6748 SF is big; I have complained about "green" houses smaller than that. TreeHugger founder Graham Hill keeps reminding us that "Greener" isn't the same as "Green."

But for the Times to compare it to 25,000 and 50,000 square foot houses isn't fair. It just isn't in the same ballpark.


More on house size and green building:

When it Comes to Green Building, Does Size Matter?
Dumb Question Dept : "Why is New Housing so Big and Lousy?"
Quote of the Day: Monique Cole on Big Green Exurban Houses
This House Isn't Green
Monster Homes: Enough is Enough

Tags: Berkeley | Housing Industry

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