More Ideas About Design After the Coronavirus

Architect Tom Bassett-Dilley on air quality and privacy gradients

exterior of house by Tom Bassett-Dilley
House by Tom Bassett-Dilley.

 Hausman Photography.

Tom Bassett-Dilley is an architect in Oak Park, Illinois who has been on Treehugger before with his Chicago house that is "healthy, efficient, and right-sized for comfortable living". This appears to be a specialty of his and in the face of the new coronavirus he is thinking about "air quality, privacy gradients, and outdoor connections." Like this Treehugger, Bassett-Dilley likes the Passive House standard because of its balanced ventilation system that doesn't recirculate air; instead, it exhausts air from the bathroom and kitchen, pushes it through a heat recovery ventilator, and brings in fresh outside air which is then filtered. In fact, Bassett-Dilley has a lot of suggestions that are similar to those we have made here on Treehugger.

Indoor Air Quality

Kitchen with gas stove
Kitchen. Hausman Photography

The photo of a beautiful kitchen in a renovation shows a gas range, but it appears that Bassett-Dilley has joined the anti-gas chorus, noting that "gas cooking turns out to be a big issue, even in homes with ventilation." But he also has advice for those with a kitchen like this, writing on his blog:

First off, ALWAYS use your kitchen hood when you cook, and use the back burners first. Even boiling water can release CO and other toxins (not the water, the combustion byproducts), and the hood picks up fumes from the back burners better than the front ones. Open windows when you can. 

He is writing from Chicago, where opening windows isn't an option much of the year, so he recommends adding an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) if you can. But he is showing a serious hood over that serious stove and points to a good article by Allison Bailes about kitchen ventilation. This is a subject dear to my heart, as I wrote in my post with the longest title on Treehugger– The most screwed up, badly designed, inappropriately used appliance in your home: the kitchen exhaust.

Privacy Gradients

Space in hall becomes home office
Hallway doubles as useable space. Hausman Photography 

This is the section that most appealed to me, dealing with how we actually use our homes. Privacy Gradients is a term I had not heard of before, but that makes a lot of sense:

This may sound like architect-jargon; what I mean is that it’s good to have active areas where common activities (cooking) happen and family and friends can gather, and it’s good to have spaces where people can get away from the crowd and noise. It’s a general principle that can result in a space being called “home office” or “music room” or “library;” but it A good example of this is the “Away Room” or “Place of Your Own” as laid out in Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House concept. 

Basset-Dilley's photo shows a clever use of a wide hallway as a workspace; years ago I designed a house that had this as a way of creating a space for the computer so that the kids could be supervised while they used it. Basically, just adding a bit of width to the hall turns it into useable space instead of just circulation.

Nature Connection

screened porch on house in country
Screened porch on net zero ready prairie retreat.  Hausman Photography

Finally, Tom Bassett-Dilley raises the issue of biophilic design and connection to nature, showing an architectural feature I have not seen on a new home ever: a screened sleeping porch, to enhance the connection to nature. Before air conditioning, this was an important feature in country homes where it wasn't too noisy or polluted. We can't all have sleeping porches, but we can all have a little biophilic design in our homes:

Biophilic design is becoming more important as we spend more time indoors—our genetics aren’t that far away from our hunter-gatherer past, so we expect those inputs from the natural world, the variable sounds, smells, air movement, textures, and natural materials and patterns, to be fully alive. Our stress levels rise when we don’t get those and instead get the sound of the refrigerator humming, cars honking, an HVAC system blasting on, the soul-deadening environment of featureless drywall painted with plastic paint.

When I started writing about Passive House and energy-efficient designs around a decade ago, I despaired that the architects designing them cared more about hitting numbers than they did about ephemeral concepts like biophilia. That's why I admire the design thinking of Tom Bassett-Dilley; he gets the technical stuff of efficiency, but also the healthy and happy.