K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Eric Corey Freed

Eric Corey Freed

Eric Corey Freed is executive director of Urban Re:Vision and principal of organicARCHITECT, an architecture and consulting firm in San Francisco with nearly 20 years of experience in green building. Freed currently teaches the Sustainable Design program he developed at the Academy of Art University and University of California Berkeley Extension and sits on the boards of Architects, Designers & Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), Green Home Guide and West Coast Green, as well as the advisory boards of several other organizations. He was the founding Chair of Architecture for The San Francisco Design Museum and a cofounder of ecoTECTURE: The Online Journal of Ecological Design. His column at GreenerBuildings.com is syndicated to more than a dozen other publications, and his quarterly column in Luxe Magazine is seen by thousands around the country. Freed lectures frequently, has appeared on HGTV, The Sundance Channel and PBS, and is the author of Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies, Sustainable School Architecture and Green$ense for Your Home. His work has been featured in Dwell, Metropolis, Town & Country, Natural Home and Newsweek. Architect and critic Philip Johnson once described Freed as "one of the real brains of his generation."

Nov 18 2010

Posted by
Comments off


Designers spend so much time generating drawings, why can’t they be used after the buildings are complete?

I was talking with a senior person from Autodesk, the makers of the ubiquitous AutoCAD program, about the future of the design profession. Most of today’s buildings, structures, bridges and products are drawn with their software, so imagine the potential influence their interface could have on us in our design decisions. Our conversation began by talking about using mobile devices, but quickly moving into what happens to the CAD files after the building is built.

In reality, nothing happens. The files are archived and saved for legal and liability reasons.

Hundreds of man hours are spent to create a model of the buildings for the construction, mapping out the circulatory, respiration and skeletal systems of the finished structure. With a little foresight, these drawings could be used for the time after construction is complete, known as Post-Occupany.

The real impact of a building occurs in this post-occupancy period. Operating the lights, heating, computers, outlets and faucets hold the true environmental impact. Over 85% of the environmental impact of a building occurs post occupancy. The more information and measurements we have, the better we can operate our buildings.

For decades, architects and developers have used surveys, called “Post-Occupancy” evaluations, to determine how the finished building is used and enjoyed. With Green Buildings, such evaluations have helped determine the success of sustainability features, such as daylighting, energy management and thermal comfort.

Post-occupancy evaluations are vital to developing a high-performance building and may soon be required as part of certain building codes. Just read through California’s new CalGreen code to get a glimpse of the energy-efficient future of every building. Despite these advances, our detailed CAD drawings sit unused in a drawer.


A suggestion of how our mobile devices could augment our vision.

Imagine the possibilities of taking all of that data and making it available to the public. Ubiquitous and powerful mobile devices—all armed with cameras, GPS and internet connectivity—could overlay our CAD data onto the real world. Your iPhone could “see” through walls and show you where the studs are, where the plumbing is running and more. Repairs and additions could be simplified and opportunities to improve efficiency would emerge. In addition, a smart app could fetch the local planning code information and show you the virtual boundaries of a future addition.

Part of the step towards this future can be seen in Autodesk’s new AutoCAD WS software for the iPad, which allows you to open, markup and make minor edits to your CAD drawings onsite. I expect it won’t take long for a clever Facilities Manager to carry around a copy of the CAD drawings on his iPad or iPhone while inspecting the finished building.

Lastly, I am particularly thrilled that Autodesk has finally (re)released AutoCAD for the Mac.

You can download a free trial here.


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

Bookmark and Share

Nov 08 2010

Posted by
Comments off

The need for Healthy Homes

A Chicago showhouse teaches us all a lesson in healthy interiors

You have probably been on dozens of home tours throughout your life. (I know I have.) And most of those were probably filled with people making haughty conversation about the lamp from Artemide, the cabinets from Poggenpohl or the fixtures from Porcelanosa.


My own Eco Room entry for the Marin Designers Showcase Home of 2002

Such showcase houses rarely discuss sustainability. Usually there is one room set aside for such things, often referred to as the “Eco Room” on the little floor plan they hand you when you buy your tour tickets. I did one of these myself back in 2002, and you can imagine the strange looks people would give me upon explaining the concept of using healthy paint. Most tend to focus on the things you can see and touch: reclaimed woods, recycled metals, salvaged furniture. The concept of healthy products, especially the entire topic of Indoor Air Quality, is largely unmentioned.


The initial rendering for the Healthy Home 2010 Showhouse, with proceeds benefitting Healthy Child Healthy World. Photo: Healthy Home 2010

Located just 30 miles northwest of Chicago, in the suburb of Palatine, sits the Healthy Home. Weighing in at 5,800 sq. ft., this home could easily be criticized as anything but green, but rather than focusing on efficiency, the designers chose to explore what it would take to make it as healthy as possible.

The materials selected for the home include an all-star cast of experts, among them:

Penny Bonda, FASID, LEED AP
Partner of Ecoimpact Consulting
Author of Sustainable Commercial Interiors

Annette K. Stelmack, USGBC LEED Faculty, LEED AP
Sustainable Design Consultant, Educator
Founder of YRG Sustainability Consultants
Author of Sustainable Residential Interiors

—Leslie Gage, LEED AP
GREENGUARD Environmental Institute

—Leigh Anne Vandusen
Owner of O Ecotextiles

And spearheaded by:

—Victoria Di Iorio, Education Outreach Coordinator
Healthy Child Healthy World

—Jill Salisbury
Principal and founder of el: Environmental Language


One of the gorgeous and green pieces by el: Environmental Language. Photo: el: Environmental Language

Jill was my tour guide and provided the incredible furniture for the home. The idea of healthy and sustainable furniture is an easy one to understand: use sustainably harvested materials and finish them with non-toxic finishes. Despite this simple message, Jill’s company, el: Environmental Language, is still one of the few companies offering furniture that is both well-designed and healthy. Her lines of furniture and kitchen cabinets are the only (and the first) to embrace the Cradle to Cradle design protocol.


The warm and cozy Family Room sits opposite the kitchen and is filled with healthy products without any sacrifice of aesthetics or quality. Photo: Nick Novelli, Novelli PhotoDesign

The furniture market has been the last to delve into sustainability. Since most products are made with potentially toxic and harmful chemical fire retardants, lacquers and sealers, furniture companies are reluctant to explore healthier alternatives. So instead, (nearly) the entire industry sits and waits for either the inevitable legislation or a competitor to push them to action. If you are a designer, the best thing you can do is to start asking tough questions from your furniture suppliers about health (or just spec Jill’s products).

The whimsical Kids Room features healthy paints and draperies from O Ecotextiles. Photo: Nick Novelli, Novelli PhotoDesign

The whimsical Kids Room features healthy paints and draperies from O Ecotextiles. Photo: Nick Novelli, Novelli PhotoDesign

Healthy Home 2010 is the first house in the U.S. to follow the Indoor Environmental Quality Management Plan for Residential Construction from the Greenguard Environmental Institute.

Indoor air pollutants can be up to five times higher indoors. Since we spend most of our time indoors (80-90% of our time) and more and more children are now sedentary homebodies, the need for healthy interiors is more important than ever.


The kitchen of the Healthy Home feature cabinets with no added formaldehyde and zero-VOC countertops. Photo: Nick Novelli, Novelli PhotoDesign

The house is rather traditional in its design and layout, but that is forgiven in the sensitivity taken to all aspects of the Indoor Air Quality. In fact, the design team max’ed out the points in the IAQ Category on their LEED checklist.

This focus on healthy interiors is in deference to Healthy Child Healthy World, the showhouse producer. Running on a loop in the gorgeous media room is their latest educational video. Titled “A Wake Up Story” is a must-see/must-share video focusing on the hidden chemical dangers lurking in your home.

Watch it here:

The Healthy Home 2010 is a LEED for Homes registered project and certification is expected in the Spring of 2011.

The home will be open for tours during the upcoming Greenbuild Conference and Expo this month (November 2010). For additional information on the home and to purchase tickets for events and tours, please visit www.HealthyHome2010.com. All proceeds from the tours support Healthy Child Healthy World.

Healthy Home 2010: Designer Showcase & Tour

All proceeds to benefit: Healthy Child Healthy World

A Wake Up Story


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

Bookmark and Share

Oct 25 2010

Posted by
Comments off

Nobody is perfect, except for us Environmentalists

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

eric 1My little family in our (gasp!) swimming pool
Courtesy: Ann Summa for The New York Times

Last month, I was interviewed for the Home Section of The New York Times. The article, entitled “Green, but Still Feeling Guilty,” looked at several green experts to discuss the things in our lives around which we still hold some guilt. When asked if I still felt guilty about my environmental impact, I responded, “Yes, are you kidding?! All of the time!” and then proceeded to talk about how I changed my own home to cut energy and water use.

eric 2

I spoke at length about our graywater sink, our ultra-low-flow showerhead and the dual-flush adapter for our toilets.

I even mentioned the reused 2-liter soda bottles I slipped into the bank of the toilet tank. Half of the water inside my home (and probably yours) either goes down the toilet or the shower drain. These simple measures save more than half of that wastewater. Anyone can do them too, which is why I was excited to be included in the article.

eric 3

While the article reveals the tips and conclusions these experts have drawn in their own lives, the overall tone of the article (and of the reporter I spoke with over the phone) was one of expecting perfection. We expect environmentalists to live impact-free lives. Someone stands up and says we need to change the world and, instead of listening and considering the information, we look for the things they are doing wrong. Is this human nature? Or is it just easier than facing reality?


Just a few days ago I was giving a lecture and was asked if I felt guilty about all of the jet travel I take to give my talks. “Do I buy carbon offsets?” they asked. I get this question often, and it tells me we are all missing the point.

For an exercise in frustration, take a moment to read the public comments on your favorite political site. They are shouting matches. Most of the criticism is not countering the salient points of the article, but instead attacking the actions and character of the reporter. It’s an old trick: Someone makes a pointed argument and the other distracts them by attacking them on an unrelated point. And I see this with environmentalists all of the time. Sometimes the loudest criticism comes from your fellow environmentalists.

The day after winning the Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore received a wave of criticism about the energy use in his Nashville home. The facts didn’t matter. Many used this bit of juicy info to dismiss his message about climate change entirely.

The idea of environmental perfection is one you quickly abandon (or lose your mind trying). I see it among my eager students who, armed with their new knowledge, skirt to edge of a nervous breakdown over their own impact. You’ll recognize these students by the nervous twitch and Nalgene bottle.

I have news for you. There is no perfect solution; there is no choice without impact. Our job, our responsibility, is to measure our impact and find ways to mitigate or reduce it. We have to do this to buy ourselves some time while we redesign the world.

Going back to the Times article, it criticized me for our swimming pool. As I write this I feel this impulse to inform you it’s an unheated, covered, saline pool with a variable speed pool pump run during off-peak hours. But then I realize that is my guilt talking again.

Should we dismiss the larger message because I have a pool?

(If you think so, I refer you to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human.)

While our national political discourse has descended into shouting matches on television, we can’t afford to lose sight of the environmental issue. We are all in the same boat, and physics doesn’t care if you believe in Global Warming or not.


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including Green$ense for the Home.

Bookmark and Share

Oct 12 2010

Posted by
Comments off

Oh, McDonough, where art thou?

We have all been charmed by the Godfather of Green, but has a patina tainted his reputation?

Photo: Courtesy of MBDC

The West Coast Green Conference is one of the highlights of my year. Out of the 40+ conferences I speak at each year, West Coast Green is always my favorite, and many others share my enthusiasm for it.

The combination of attendees, speakers and overall feeling of community there is unmatched. (Full disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board, but am still unsure how they make it so much fun.)

Such high expectations could lead to disappointment, but this year’s show was packed with visionaries and featured the Godfather of Green architecture himself, William McDonough. For those of you living under a rock, McDonough is the first name to come to mind when thinking of green design. He designed the New York headquarters for the Environmental Defense Fund back in 1984 while most of us were in only dreaming about making a difference. In 2002 he co-wrote Cradle to Cradle, which proposes an alternative meme to the “Cradle to Grave” paradigm employed in nearly everything since the Industrial Revolution. In May 2008, Vanity Fair crowned him “a prophet of the sustainability and clean-technology movements.”

His TED Talk is a must-see (I play it for my students every semester) and could be watched a hundred times and still teach you something.

But as incredible and visionary as his ideas appear, the realities of practice have been rough. A November 2008 article in Fast Company Magazine was a brutally honest portrayal of the differences between Man and Legend. Those who know him well (but declined to be named) generally deemed the article as “tough, but accurate.” The profile painted a picture of a jet-setting eco-celebrity whose own inability to relinquish control is squashing the hopes of his most promising projects.

Although he commands high speaking fees, McDonough has been giving a similar variation of his incredible speech for years. Many an eager young disciple has flocked to hear him, only to leave disappointed at hearing the same lecture, complete with the same jokes and same inflections. My own students have expressed their disappointment. They still love the message, but were hoping for some new insights. Ironically, his highly watched TED Talk may have worked against him.


West Coast Green founder Christi Graham and her staff wanted something new. His regular stump speech would not suffice. They proposed he eschew his typical talk for what they called a “three-hour deep dive” into his current thinking on design. To our delight, he accepted. The talk was billed as “McDonough Unplugged” and the keynote hall was packed.

The result was a delightful success. The man on stage was a different Bill from whom most of us know or have seen before. Without the linear narrative of his well-worn slides, a new story emerged that was much more engaging, more accessible and (I dare say) more human.

McDonough began by admitting he was nervous and he had “never done this before.” Don’t underestimate how nerve-racking it must have been. This was not a room full of easily seduced clients or sycophantic developers; this was a room full of his peers, many of whom seemed ready to call him out on the slightest detail. But by the end of the afternoon, people were in tears.

Similar to the (in)famous three-hour monologues by Buckminster Fuller or Bruce Goff, McDonough spoke in a free-form oratory style. (NOTE: Fuller spoke at Darmouth while McDonough was a student there.) At times he sketched ideas on a digital notepad, others he was seated conversation-style with green prefab architect Michelle Kaufmann.

When it came to the current state of the environmental movement, McDonough was surprisingly undiplomatic, dismissing energy efficiency and retrofitting (keep in mind that most of the room was filled with the leading efficiency experts). Instead, he laid out his vision for moving away from being “less bad” and toward being good all of the time. “Just using less carbon is not going to help us. No amount of efficiency will save us,” he explained. “We have to de-carbonize.”


He was vulnerable and humble, with a slight hint of a man who had recently gone through a dark period and emerged with new clarity. He shared his well-known stories and one-liners, but they were now set into context and surrounded in detail. The audience witnessed his thinking, process and bigger vision in an overall message of optimism and hope.

“We need to have more fun than they do…” he said, referring to the environmental movement. “Then they will wonder what we’re doing and they will come.”

After the talk, I was chatting with David Johnson, director of McDonough’s San Francisco office, who said (paraphrasing), “I’m so glad everyone else got to see him like that…”

McDonough admitted his own personal feelings of guilt around working with clients who represent what he called the top 2 billion people on the planet. “Starting today,” he announced, “I’m dedicating my firm to the bottom 2 billion to solve the real problems.”

Everyone in the room fell back in love with him. Bill McDonough once again proved his brilliance by opening up and sharing his humanity with us. I hope he enjoyed it enough to continue.

Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

Bookmark and Share