Recently I interviewed the extraordinary landscape architect behind the Kindling House greenhab project, Jeremy Stapleton. Read what his design and sustainability goals were and how he achieved them on a very tight budget.
Taz Loomans: What was your design concept for the landscaping at the Kindling house?
Jeremy Stapleton: The concept for the Kindling House came from the context of the project. Chris and Ashla wanted to bring an innovative modern home to Central Phoenix and push for a new standard.
Firefly and Sharon Lewis, the project owner, let me demonstrate the value of site design in developing real estate projects. One of the biggest constraints on the success of the project was the size of the home; many home buyers want something larger than the standard mid-century ranch.
Another challenge was tying the renovation into the rest of the neighborhood without casting a socially stigmatic shadow on the neighbors. Some renovations feel cold or sterile or uninviting when modernity is imposed upon a mature neighborhood.
I figure the best way to keep the home inviting is to make the space surrounding it a place people want to be. Given our weather, it makes sense to spend more time outdoors, exploring the garden and witnessing the wonders of nature.
I’m obsessed with resource efficiency. The site had to expand the livability of the home, maximizing the utility of the resources available.
Utility and efficiency drove the design. We typically focus on the macro scale, global trends, and resource depletion.
But when I think of resource efficiency on the individual micro-scale, I come to the conclusion that our only truly scarce resource is our time. So how do we want to invest it?
The wild calls me and lures me outside. Nature soothes stress, and rekindles the sense of wonder, discovery, and appreciation that allows me to not stress about time. It helps me balance life and the time I spend desiring to be doing something else. I wish access to this feeling upon everyone.
The Kindling House is an attempt to provide that access, daily, from right outside the home.
Focusing on efficiency, I tried to make this site consume fewer resources while producing more for both the homeowner and the neighborhood. If the site can generate resources, than the owner and neighbors won’t have to invest their time and consume other resources to procure those resources on site.
So I have water and plants to play with. I’m exploring the use of water, a renewable resource, to mitigate the use of non-renewables. As the site matures it could become a neighborhood center or farm, offering food like grapes, figs, lemongrass, pomegranates, prickly pear and limes; food and lumber from the bamboo grove and access to an assortment cutting flowers and medicinal plants.
Taz Loomans: What are some of the sustainable landscaping concepts that were implemented in the project?
Jeremy Stapleton: We did the usual stuff, removing the turf, planting trees and vines to shade the façade and increasing permeable surfaces to utilize rainwater and cool the site to reduce the home’s energy demand.
Focusing on water efficiency I concluded investing water solely in aesthetics is in pure economic theory, irrational behavior. Investing the resource to produce another needed resource is a more logical use of water outside the home.
Many native plants are resources most of us overlook because we haven’t been taught or experienced how to use them. So I chose an edible/medicinal palette that would bloom year-round and provide a habitat for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Nearly every plant on site is edible and/or medicinal; they all would be if I could find local sources for some I’d hoped to use.
We installed a drip irrigation system controlled by a programmable timer and an ET Sensor that regulates the supply based on weather conditions. In the backyard we restored the flood irrigation and created planting wells to passively collect rainwater.
I dedicated a portion of the site near the back as a compost station and we removed some awkward bricks from the façade and used them as pavers to provide a path between the recycling bin and the front gate to support the habit of recycling.
Some may question the use of water to grow bamboo in the desert. I justified the water as an investment in shade and lumber. Perhaps in the future, if the house is to be expanded, the homeowner can use bamboo grown onsite instead of electing to import materials from afar, reducing consumption of non-renewable resources.
The site now uses nearly 59% less water than before the remodel.
Taz Loomans: How were you able to achieve such a great front and back yard on a fairly low budget?
Jeremy Stapleton: The budget was low given the scope of the plan so I was careful to impose lines that created impact and specify materials that would give a bigger bang for their buck.
The collaboration with Youth Build provided the opportunity to exchange education for labor and afforded me the opportunity to connect with and explain to the crew what it was they were building.
They were jazzed about planting food instead of lantana and wanted to know more. I think this enthusiasm ignited their desire to do the job and do the job well. It was the hard work of YouthBuild that made it happen.