As an architect, I have always cared deeply about the needs of those who have entrusted me to co-create their homes and workplaces with them. However, I never understood how much I could influence their health and well-being until fate dealt me a personal lemon. In this article I will introduce myself and tell you about the journey that has lead me to specialize in a very unconventional approach to creating homes.
Early in my career I became chronically ill. I realized that my own inexplicable illness, which had puzzled many physicians, was caused by chemicals used in the construction of a new home I had lived in. I had multiple chemical sensitivities, or environmental illness. That was 22 years ago.
Until that time, designing for health and environmental considerations had been of only peripheral concern to me. I, like many architects, considered myself to be an artist, not a technician! I concerned myself with beauty, flow, spatial experience and the fulfilling of my clients desires. I left the nitty-gritty of what was in the systems and materials up to the engineers and product manufacturers. I just assumed the EPA or some other governmental body was looking out for us. .Then I discovered through my own illness and recovery that, in essence, we are all involuntary participants in an unregulated massive experiment called industrialized building.
Faced with the daunting task of creating a chemical-free sanctuary, in which I could regain my own health, I had the opportunity for much soul-searching. I began to realize that the standard building practices, on which I had built my career, were often destructive, not only to the health of the occupants but to the environment as well. Together with my physician, Dr. Erica Elliott, and John Banta, a dedicated building scientist, I wrote my first book, Prescriptions for a Healthy House, in the hopes of influencing other architects, builders, and homeowners to build healthier homes. I wanted to make the process accessible and easier than it had been for me. In this writing I had unknowingly created my lemonade stand!
It was during the time of my recovery that I became a student of Building Biology. This science and philosophy of building for human and planetary health, originating in Germany, was essentially unknown to Architects in North America. It went beyond creating environments that were free of harmful chemicals. In a nutshell Building Biology holds nature as the gold standard for human health and as the ultimate model for sustainability. I learned that to the extent that we understand and incorporate the physics of the natural environment into our buildings, we will be nurtured by them and at the same time, we will automatically model many facets of sustainable building.
Robert and I moved to Ashland in October of 2010 after a long and fruitful collaboration in Santa Fe. We were drawn here by the vibrancy of the community and the company of so many like-minded people who are deeply concerned about the creation of a sustainable future and who share an impressive diversity of expertise. In the LocalsGuide I plan to share with my fellow Ashlanders some “jewels” for creating healthy home that I have learned so far in my journey.