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Some comments from Jay Harman

Jay Harman encourages us to bring our world back to health.

Jay Harman encourages us to bring our world back to health.

An award-winning entrepreneur and biomimetic inventor, Jay Harman has taken a hands-on approach to his lifelong fascination with the deep patterns found in nature. He has founded and grown multi-million-dollar research and manufacturing companies that develop, patent and license innovative products. Harman is also the author of The Shark’s Paintbrush. Harman’s goal – both as an author and an entrepreneur – is to show industry that improving the efficiency of industrial equipment is beneficial for both the bottom line, and the planet.

Some highlights from his presentation:

  • Humanity has exhausted the unsustainable presumption of the Industrial Revolution. The world is waking up to an entire overhaul of the industrial world. The makings of a technical revolution are underway.
  • We humans use energy to overcome friction. We seek the path of least energy, which is the shortest distance between two points – a straight line.
  • But there is no energy shortage in nature – even though nothing in nature is a straight line; all in nature is curved. And nature doesn’t invest in inefficiency.
  • We can bring this world back from the brink. Nothing works the first time; we make mistakes – so we need to maintain our appetite for making things right.

 


 

Art in the natural landscape, by David Trubridge.

Art in the natural landscape, by David Trubridge.

Separate from Jay’s presentation, we conference-goers were inspired by natural landscape art by David Trubridge, who believes that “Without beauty there is no care.”

Helpful, Inspirational, Wonderful

Tom Elliott describes the journey through the Living Building Challenge.

Tom Elliott describes the journey through the Living Building Challenge.

Some amazing and thought-provoking comments from Barbara and Tom Elliott in their presentation on their Desert Rain LBC residential project:

  • The process of creating a Living Building is not linear. Have patience. Allow things to happen on the edge of chaos.
  • Tom shared a lesson learned on their ranch regarding leafy spurge: In order to eradicate the leafy spurge, they had to partner with it in a way. The problems are not “out there,” they’re “in here.”
  • A Living Building Challenge project happens through a network of partnerships.
  • For Tom and Barbara, Desert Rain is an outer expression of their inner values. Outer beauty attracts; inner beauty captivates.

    Desert Rain residential project presentation

    Desert Rain residential project presentation

  • We’re at a bifurcation point with our building processes on this planet Earth: Either we learn and integrate the lessons learned and move forward – or you collapse and fall backward into maximum chaos. The question is: How do we remake our human systems so they align with natural systems? The answer is: Through countless individual acts.

Living Future Unconference 2014

Michael is sending us photos from the Unconference in Portland. Wish we could be there – but we know Michael and Eric will take copious notes and bring home stacks of literature and tons of ideas.

Amanda Sturgeon speaks at the start of the 2014 Living Future Unconference.

Amanda Sturgeon speaks at the start of the 2014 Living Future Unconference.

Maya Lin, keynote speaker, first evening at 2014 Living Future Unconference.

Maya Lin, keynote speaker, first evening at 2014 Living Future Unconference.

Happy reunion: Eric, Tom, Barbara and Michael.

Happy reunion: Eric, Tom, Barbara and Michael.

Checking out Dubbletten and Aquatron.

Checking out Dubbletten and Aquatron.

Now and Then

Forty years ago, I was an AFS exchange student. I spent a year in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, living with the most wonderful host family imaginable, and essentially repeating my senior year of high school.

When I learned where I was headed, I began to form an idea in my head about what my year abroad would be like – to live in a tiny village in a predominately Catholic country, speak Dutch, eat new foods . . . Try as I might, I knew I couldn’t imagine it fully. I suspected, however, that at the end of the year, I’d return home with a different perspective on many areas of life.

drivewayOur house-building journey feels similar. All along the way, we’ve envisioned the architecture and design, the components of a living building and life in that home. But we’ll never know until we get there what it’s really like to keep our water and energy use and waste at net zero, to restore our land to health and productivity, to live with a heightened awareness of our connection to the earth. In the end, we’re sure we’ll live in a comfortable, well-designed home where we’ll welcome friends and family to share in the beauty of our surroundings and the produce from our land. We expect to have learned what it takes to live in a way that builds rather than destroys the environment. And we look forward to that.

In the meantime, we’re making our way through our red list vetting process. We’re working with the county health department to convince them that really, it would be safe and sane to flush toilets with harvested rainwater. And we’re nearing completion of construction documents . . . with a few new design thoughts yet to be implemented. Our team members remain hard-working, helpful, cheerful; without them this project would be impossible.

Not a campaign

Over Thanksgiving dinner, as Tom and I were describing some of our vision for growing food at Beacon Springs, our younger son made a helpful observation and asked a follow-up question: first, Mom and Dad, here at this table, you’re preaching to the choir – and second, what can we, Eric and wife, and older brother and wife, DO?

Tom’s recent reminders come immediately to mind: that Beacon Springs and Living Building Challenge are not a campaign for us. We’re not out to change the world by building and publicizing the greenest house around or by coming up with a way to grow food that renews the earth, pays our bills, and feeds hungry needy people in Washtenaw County. As the project unfolds, we find ourselves thinking more and more about THIS piece of land, THIS group of people who are touched by our project. The challenge is not to the world, but it’s to us, Tom and me, to revitalize the 15 acres we now own – to live in a way that makes this corner of the world as healthy and productive and full of life as we can possibly make it.

We hope our example is one that inspires others to follow a similar path. That IS where saving the world can happen. But we’re not on a campaign.

A note on the LBC red list and on teamwork

Most of the 20 imperatives of the Living Building Challenge are, well, exactly that: a challenge. You have the net-zeroes – energy, water and waste – and these are made possible largely because of the strong team of specialists we have assembled.

For our project, with such a focus on passive solar design and the passive ventilation tower, the energy imperative seems quite manageable.

Water, with our rainwater harvesting strategy, is relatively easy, except that our local health and safety regulations are not designed to accommodate rainwater as potable water. A well was already dug on our land at purchase, so we have a Plan B for potable water if we can’t get approval for rainwater as a source for potable water.

Toilets and net zero waste: That’s another one that gives the county authorities the willies, but there are precedents in our county, and it appears that this one won’t be too difficult. Once again, we have a pre-dug septic field on the parcel, so we have a Plan B. Nevertheless, I cringe at the thought of putting in a large septic tank and field for such a small task; it also would be like throwing away valuable water and fertilizer so desperately needed by our worn out farm land.

But it’s the Red List that’s the onerous challenge. Thank God we have Eric Doyle and Catalyst Partners as our LBC project manager and Red List cops. It’s through his dogged pursuit of all those manufacturers, with assistance from interns attending nearby colleges, that we have any hope of vetting everything. Even our challenges with FSC compliance, with our solution to have the cabinet shop onsite since we cannot find FSC kitchen cabinets, pale in comparison to the task of vetting all materials against the LBC Red List.

Our LBC team is the only way we have a prayer of meeting the challenge. Without our team of impressively qualified professionals, I’d put this project in the “Hopeless” category. The core team – Michael, Brian, Eric, Bob and Shannan – are a delight and our lifeline. For me, it’s the friendships I’ve made among these professionals, and the enjoyment I experience in working with them, that brings new life in daily living long before our Living Building becomes tangible. Thank you for that, team!

We’re live!

Our first public presentation of our Living Building Challenge project is Thursday, September 26, as part of the AIA (Huron Valley)+2030 Professional Series.

Vince Martinez, Director of Research at Architecture 2030, Eric Doyle, Living Building Challenge consultant for Burh Becc at Beacon Springs, and Jan Culbertson of A3C Collaborative Architecture, look at setting and achieving energy goals with integrated design.

AIA + 2030 Session I:
The 2030 Challenge: Setting + Achieving Energy Goals with Integrated Design
September 26, 5–9:15 pm, at Henry Ford Community College
Rosenau Board Room; Andrew A. Mazzara Administrative Services and Conference Center

Learn more . . .