In Bend, Ore., the Desert Rain House

People / Places / Products / June 1, 2015

What started out as a desire to build a LEED-certified home in 2009 quickly evolved into a case study for the Living Building Challenge.

Tom Elliott and Barbara Scott have built their home in Bend, Ore. – it was designed by Al Tozer, Jr. – to a rigorous set of sustainable standards set by the International Living Future Institute.

“At the very least any project that’s fully certified must generate at least as much energy as it consumes, and harvest and process all water and wastewater on site, and use local materials,” Elliott says.

Bend is a high-profile city of 90,000 people. Nestled up against the Cascade Mountains, it’s a recreational Mecca for hikers, bikers, and mountain climbers. There’s also a growing population of techies.

“We built it there as a demonstration project, to show that if we could construct it in a downtown urban setting, it could be built anywhere,” he says.

The project is actually a compound of five structures, with a main residence that’s 2,300 square feet, a 500 square-foot detached apartment and an 800 square-foot building where sewage is processed.

The couple deconstructed two buildings on site and re-used their materials throughout the compound. It’s a series of frame structures with a lime plaster exterior and an American clay interior with salvaged wood.

“They’re built super-efficient, so they’re very tight,” he says.

To meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge, the home must:

  • restore a healthy coexistence with nature
  • create a water independent building for both input and output
  • rely 100 percent on solar
  • maximize physical and psychological well being
  • use materials that meet standards for production and process, safe for all species throughout time and
  • support a just and equitable world.

There’s also an emphasis on beauty. “We thrive in beautiful spaces – If  they’re beautiful, we’ll want to take care of them for  a long time,” he says. “So longevity is important – this house is designed to last 200 years.”

It’s also the subject of a book written by Juliet Grable, which can be found here.

For more information, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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