Design, Green Building

The  Cities and Houses of the 21st Century

My last year has been so exciting, having completely taken my career path on a scenic detour into the world of sustainable building design and urban planning.

It’s such a fascinating and exciting area to be involved, especially since it’s so important that we as humans get it right when it comes to where we live. Basically the big questions are, how do we build our homes to be healthy, comfortable and efficient, and then how do we organize them in the most effective manner in our rapidly-growing cities?


Simplicity needs to dominate how we design buildings, as “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”.  My dream for the future of our homes can’t be summed up any better than this illustration from Albert, Righter and Tittmann Architects:


With the explosion of fancy gadgets and automation, we’ve shoved all sorts of smart thermostats, and air/water/heat/humidity sensors and snazzy heating and cooling systems into our living spaces, all the while completely forgetting about the environment around us, where and when the sun shines, and how we can regulate hot and cold passively with smart design.

Think about it- today, nearly the same house is built in Juneau, Alaska as it is in Phoenix, Arizona.


All over the world, millions of once rural dwellers are flocking to the nearest urban metropolis in hopes of improving their quality of life. This is causing populations in dense city environments to skyrocket; Vancouver for example is forecasting a staggering one million more inhabitants within the next couple decades.

Towers are popping up everywhere I look, and the time it takes to leave the city seems to get longer every time we leave for vacation

Picture from here.

Careful urban planning is absolutely crucial going forward if we are going to make these cities livable and healthy. Building too spread out results in car-centric lifestyles for many, which comes with high costs both for the municipal government and for the driver, both in terms of direct spending and increased health and environmental concerns from car emissions. However, build too high and too dense, and different problems arise.

Lloyd Alter, one of my favorite journalists, coined the term ‘Goldilocks Density,’ believing cities need to be built not too big, not too small, but juuuuust right.

In a Guardian article, he elaborates that cities should be:

“dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can’t take the stairs in a pinch. Dense enough to support bike and transit infrastructure, but not so dense to need subways and huge underground parking garages. Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.”

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