Book Review: Contemporary Design in Detail - Sustainable Environments

Eye candy, sweet sweet eye candy. Yenna Chan's Contemporary Design in Detail - Sustainable Environments is filled with the stuff. Page after page of lustworthy (and no doubt incredibly pricey) sustainable homes make you wonder why you weren't smart enough to invent Google. This isn't to say that the book lacks substance under all those pretty pictures. Chan gets to the nitty gritty of each home, pointing out one particularly strong method of construction in each example and explaining how these techniques make the home particularly sustainable. Examples in each of the book's four sections (Response to Place, Connection to Habitat, Conservation of Resources and Use of Building Materials) show how green building techniques can go beyond simply the LEED standards that Chan describes as "a checklist for design" and into thoughtful design that heeds to the natural landscape and uses the green technology and methods to drive design. If the book has one fault, it is the fact that nearly every example given of sustainable living centers on expensive single-family housing. Chan even acknowledges this in the book's intro, noting that examples of innovative high-density green architecture are just now coming into their own. Fortunately, even in the most rural of examples, Contemporary Design in Detail goes as far to mention the siting of the residences shown - almost always in land already cleared by previous activity. Mentions are also made concerning the integration of the building process to the local economy, including my one of my favorite sections of the book which focused on several examples of bioregionalism. Chan shows that eye candy can draw you in and maybe even help you learn the substance behind the design.