So I was reading a back issue of Organic Style at work the other day (don’t look at me like that, I was on my lunch break). Organic Style, for those not in the know, is a magazine that yuppies can read while feeling good about themselves. Interspersed with ads for all natural tampons are articles about closet reorganization and saving the rainforest. Most of the magazine is quite self-congratulatory, and aimed at those in a very high income bracket. Occasionally there are snippets of interesting information like proposed legislation that would weaken the “organic” designation. Or you can read about the editor’s “healing” trip to some fancy spa in Colorado that costs more than three months of my salary, and how all of the readers are encouraged to undertake a “personal retreat” of their own in the New Year. It’s the kind of magazine you would find at eye level in the checkout stand of Whole Foods.
So, there I am, reading Organic Style, and one of the features in this issue was the “Green House Competition,” or some such. Essentially, readers were invited to submit their homes to this competition, and the winner would get a photo spread and lots of praise.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think that green design is awesome, and I’m really excited to find it catching on in a big way (a low income housing complex in San Francisco was recently finished by a team of green architects, and I’m stoked). The ethics of green design are very close to my own heart–build small, build centrally (and close to public transit), use natural and recycled materials, use materials that have a minimal impact on the environment, sustainably harvested wood, take advantage of natural resources (build a house that maximizes southern exposure, for example), be energy efficient, have a minimal footprint, and so on. Green design is very much in my mind because some day I would like to build my own house, and it will be green. (Probably literally, I’m really interested in sod/turf roofing.)
So I turn to the article, and there’s a photo spread of an elegant but small house looking out over a gorgeous valley surrounded by hills. At first, I am a little perturbed, because I see no sign of a garden, or wildlife, or any sort of use of the beautiful valley, other than serving as a buffer. I also see no sign of public transit, or a downtown area. I think that perhaps maybe they photographed the house in such a way to cut out the signs of civilization. So I start to read.
And there it is, in the first paragraph–the house is over 2,250 square feet. For one person.
In the next pages, I realize that the initial view of the house was a side view, and that when viewed full on the house reveals itself as a trophy house monstrosity. The unimpeded view is there because the house is in a rural area. There is no garden. There is no wildlife, because the area was overutilized by settlers past. It’s just…a monstrous house in a barren valley. This bothers me on a number of levels. The first is that houses of that size are utterly unnecessary, and shameful. The second was that this home won a green building competition. Now, the house did use recycled materials, and was built in an energy efficient manner. I must give the architects credit–they did what they could. But I feel that a house of this size is automatically not green, because it disturbs several of the fundamental ethics of green building. It’s more of a taupe, or maybe greenish yellow–it’s trying, and it deserves credit for that, but it should not be lauded as an example of the pinnacle of green design.
I also loathe this kind of trophy house construction because that is what is ruining the beautiful place that I live in. More and more of the land here that used to be beautiful open space is being clogged with foul disgusting ostentation second homes. The cost of living here goes up because of the filthy yuppie rich that infest it like ringworm, and people in the service sector like me struggle to make a living. I’m fortunate–I have a lovely and rather green home in the downtown area which allows me to walk to work and most shopping, and it’s not too expensive–some of my friends are not so fortunate. Northern California is already destroyed–watch out Oregon, if you seal your borders now, you might have a chance.
Now, I will admit that my dream house would be in a rural area, and therefore I would be violating one of the rules of green design myself. But my house will also be small, no more than 800 square feet (and that’s pushing it). My house will have a big organic garden. My house will make use of its acreage, whether it’s protecting wildlife, grazing goats, or being used for sustainable timber harvest. I will work in and around my home, eliminating the environmental costs of a frequent commute. I will use locally sourced materials and workmen, and I will also build as much of my own house as possible. And then, I will live in it. Full time. It will be my house, it will not be a second home. If at some point I need to move, I will rent out my home, so that it will be used by someone who needs and values it as much as I do. So while I certainly won’t be scoring 100% green because of my personal preference for the serenity of the woods, I think I will be doing a great deal better than the winner of the “Green” House 2005 competition.
We live in a culture where everything of beauty is being slowly destroyed, and I’m not sure that it’s something we can stop at this point. I find it deeply depressing that Organic Style is so supportive of the capitalist, consumer lifestyle. I really doubt that they have any features like “living well on 14,000 a year,” or “make more out of less,” because secretly that’s not their ethic. Organic Style is part of it’s own culture–the culture of single women with fake blonde hair driving their Lexus suvs to Whole Foods to buy organic peaches.