First Look at Archetype Sustainable House Competition

We visited Archetype: Sustainable House Competition yesterday morning with some trepidation. The winner of the competition gets to build their design at the Kortright Centre, a hotbed of conservation and sustainability. The requirements for the design were:
a) meet LEED for homes 1.71 Gold rating
b) be designed for mass production
c) Aesthetics and Ergonomics
d) four bedrooms plus garage
e) innovative waste water treatment

We have had some doubts about this competition, wondering whether four bedroom houses with garages on greenfield sites with 50' by 120' lots is could possibly be sustainable or affordable. We always thought that you could live the Ozzie and Harriet suburban tract house lifestyle or you could live ethically and sustainably, but it was hard to do both. We were concerned about the the criteria- design of the waste water treatment seemed more important that design of the house. The requirements were extensive and seriously time-consuming, and competitors would have to do a lot of work. And they sure did.

Our trepidation increased when we arrived for breakfast and were greeted by a table full of Fiji Water. Surely anyone knowing anything about sustainability would not be serving water that has been shipped from Fiji- do they have any idea of what message this sends?

However ultimately whether we think the program made sense or if the choice of water was a blunder, the competitors rose to the challenge and did some remarkable work.


We liked a lot about the ROAGhouse because of its planning- instead of the traditional wide house with a front and a back yard, they have done a narrow design that opens up most of the lot and has the windows facing south without waste of residual space. It is one of the few schemes that really concentrated on design and planning rather than, um, innovative waste water treatment. But then, we have always admired Montgomery Sisam.

We knew Monica Kuhn would do a thoughtful and sensitive design with a green roof, if a bit less than cutting edge architecturally.


This team from Ryerson University seems to be conflicted about the program as well: "We love our houses.We love them more than hockey, more than winter vacations to the sun, more than beer, maybe more than we love our timbits....We love our houses because they facilitate our ways of life. We Canadians love our houses most when they are detached and set on their own plot of land, with space for the kids to play, for the dogs to run, for the burgers to grill and for the home to grow. We love our houses for reasons both idealistic and pragmatic. ... We love our houses for these reasons and for a thousand more. And like a wayward child, we love our houses in spite of their shortcomings. We love them in spite of the fact that, taken as a whole, they consume an inordinate proportion of our resources, natural as well as financial. We love them in spite of the fact that our most valued territory, suburbia, is quite simply unsustainable. Our love is burdensome. It comes at a heavy price, one that is soon coming due. Our task it to change our culture, by reconciling our love of house and that of nature."


some were a bit conventional and crunchy granola;


some were a bit strange;


we choked over this one, which had a basement garage with a ramp, such an egregious sin that it is banned in Toronto for ruining streetscapes and destroying neighbourhoods.

There was a big focus on the technical side, everyone produced massive documents outlining systems and technologies. We hope that more information will be presented on the website soon and will try to dig more of it up.

We understand that the 50' lot is the developer standard and the Canadian Dream, and that the idea of this competition is to show the development community that they can continue doing their greenfield developments while building sustainably. Unfortunately they will be faced with the eternal question: "How much is it per square foot?" and will start off-loading all of these technologies. its time to revisit the whole development model, not just the house.


Perhaps the coolest thing in the show was the fabulous display system, put together by third year students at the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University. They were asked to create an exhibition that could easily travel to other venues and that would exemplify sustainability. They made it from corrugated cardboard with no paint or other finishes. It is assembled with no adhesives, can be unfolded and laid flat for shipping and less than 10% of the cardboard was wasted during cutting. Very slick, right down to the giant bolts holding up the descriptions.

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