Sustainable Design Abounds in SoCal
By Kathy A. McDonald
A Frank Gehry-designed house for the Make It Right Foundation features a solar canopy that produces clean energy and provides cooling shade.
LA’s luxury home builders and architects are going green! And Hollywood influencers have done much to get the word out on ecosmart construction. Actor and producer Brad Pitt uses his star power to galvanize the Make It Right Foundation: The organization partners with top architects like Frank Gehry to construct sustainable homes at a fair cost for communities in need. (The Foundation also maintains an extensive database of its forward-thinking construction practices and makes that information available to all on its website.) Other well-known advocates for building green include Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Ed Begley Jr., who is in the process of constructing a LEED-certified Platinum green family home in Studio City (evox.com is chronicling his efforts via an original web series).
“You can do a larger home and make it eco-friendly,” insists architect Richard Landry of Landry Design Group. For each new residential project, Landry and his firm present clients with the latest options in sustainable design, from nontoxic paints to power-source alternatives to gray water systems, which recycle bath and laundry water for irrigation. Landry finds his clients are becoming more concerned about the environmental impact of custom-built homes. “Although the houses are large, they also have healthy budgets, so we can go the extra mile,” he says.
One such commission pushed the green building envelope: New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and supermodel Gisele Bündchen’s 14,000-square-foot Pacific Palisades home, reminiscent of a stone-clad French château. Landry and his team incorporated state-of-the-art, energy-efficient systems throughout. Insulated walls, radiant heating, solar power, and a cutting-edge fuel cell system by ClearEdge Power make it so that on some days, the house actually generates power back to the electrical grid. While such systems typically cost more upfront, within seven years, due to low or minimal utility bills, those costs are recouped.
It’s a breeze! Architect Dan Brunn’s 5,700-square-foot Flip Flop House in Venice features doors that pivot open and closed to naturally cool the house as well as reveal/conceal artwork and beach views.
“Aesthetically there was no compromise,” says Landry of the “eco-mansion.” Reclaimed-wood beams, vintage fireplaces, and recycled stone added patina and character “that cannot be replicated or reproduced,” says the architect. Covered loggias extend from the house, creating shade (which cools it) and allowing for cross-ventilation that minimizes the need for air conditioning, a real energy drain.
Architect Dan Brunn’s 5,700-square-foot Flip Flop House in Venice pushes the boundaries between inside and out and forgoes air conditioning completely. An extensive system of overhangs shades the building, oversized 9-by-7-foot window/doors pivot open, and ocean breezes passing over water elements further cool the house. “Sustainable design has to be done,” believes the architect. And, “it goes hand in hand with modern architecture and materials,” says Brunn, who diligently sourced materials, such as the recyclable glass and aluminum found in the kitchen, locally. He finds that clients seek out eco-friendly products and notes the latest trend: a dedicated outlet to power electric vehicles.
Although individual homeowners lead the way in adopting new technologies and energy efficient appliances, some developers also consider the natural environment. At the far end of Malibu, MariSol is an 80-acre, 17-lot ocean-front subdivision that makes the most of its enviable location. Represented by Rodrigo Iglesias of Hilton & Hyland, lots were sited and graded to maximize privacy and views (utility cables are underground), and open space was preserved and replanted with drought-tolerant, native plants that serve as habitat for indigenous species like the Monarch butterfly. “People are more concerned with the environment and that is expressed in what gets built,” says Igelsias. Pricing for lots begins at $6 million; MariSol’s showcase house closed earlier this year at $16 million (among its many green attributes is a driveway made of recycled concrete pavers).
In Malibu’s MariSol, open space was preserved and landscaped with drought-tolerant plants that serve as habitat for indigenous species.
When it comes to teardowns and major renovations, LA homeowners have the option of a green solution that not only diverts demolition by-products from area landfills but also recycles materials and provides a tax benefit. The nonprofit Deconstruction & ReUse Network’s crews hand-wreck and deconstruct houses, rather than just bulldozing them. “The costs of throwing things away has not been fully calculated,” says Lorenz Schilling, president of the organization. “Don’t let the first phase of a project be an afterthought. Give a thought to what’s existing,” he urges.
To that end, ReUse Network offers a turnkey solution: After an appraisal, the group methodically deconstructs a home, salvaging lumber (such as old-growth wood planks found in a 12,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion), windows, lighting fixtures, and vintage items. Raw materials are donated to other nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity; some materials are resold. Even Jacuzzis can be recycled. Although more expensive than standard demolition, homeowners reap a significant tax break and take part in the simplest and most green technology of all: reuse. The moral: Reuse it or lose it!
photography by brandon shigeta; chad chenier (gehry house)
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.