A Framework


Tom Bender
May 1993

Text of top award winning entry in the 1993 "Sustainable Community Solutions" International Competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Union of Architects (UIA).




SUSTAINABILITY requires we perceive and ensure our real wealth: a lasting supply of world resources, biosystem health, and the capabilities of human and global systems.

We then discover sustainability to be a framework for generating real wealth, not merely ensuring our survival.

A WEALTHY WORLD is one with:
* A healthy and growing diversity of lifeforms, communities and capabilities.

* A meaningful sense of its place in the universe.
* A healthy and growing diversity of capabilities, individuals and lifeforms.
* A satisfying spiritual, emotional and material heritage, life, and prospect.

* The love and respect of others and the ability to give.
* Equitable opportunity for the physical, emotional and spiritual health which the natural world can sustain.
* Opportunity to develop and employ innate capabilities and to be of real value to the community.

SUSTAINABILITY IN OUR BUILT ENVIRONMENT is essential to the wealth we enjoy as individuals, communities, and as a world.

Our towns and buildings consume, or can make available, land and resources. They enhance or damage our health and productivity and that of natural systems.

Design for sustainability can give leadership in sustaining and improving our real wealth




* This framework outlines the dimensions of change necessary to move our industrialized societies and our built environment into patterns which are sustainable both internally and in relationship with the natural systems which envelop and support us.

* It has shown dramatic savings (75-90% in many areas) possible in the real financial and economic costs of supporting our communities. Those savings, and the resources they release, can make our living patterns affordable and also available to the entire world.

* Sustainable energy and material use, efficient land use and buildings are necessary. Alone, however, they are not sufficient to create sustainable communities.

* Institutional and value changes are even more basic requirements for sustainability. They provide unexpected opportunities and rewards for both architecture and society.

* The emotional, symbolic, and artistic dimension of our surroundings are vital to nurture of our minds, spirits, and will. They give the deeper meaning, richer impact, and connection inescapeably needed for sustainablity.

* Our spiritual connection with our surroundings, other cultures, and natural systems is key to sustainability. Peace, harmony and meaning - with our dreams, with our neighbors, and with our surroundings, are crucial to any sustainable community.


Wealthy societies inevitably generate inefficient institutions. Restructuring them can release vast resources for other needs, and expand the effectiveness and availability of their services. Physically, this permits better facilities for various institutions, "better fitting" design , and surroundings that reflect back to us better values and a true sense of aptness.

REAL wealth is NOT NEEDING transportation, health care or other institutional services.


Large institutional and economic systems are good at channeling power and profits into fewer pockets. Simpler, more localized, fine-tuned patterns are usually better and more sustainable at meeting our needs and generating real wealth. Documentation in many areas - agriculture, building, communications, health, shelter, energy, waste recycling, community building and appropriate technology shows the viability and benefits of more sustainable, localized patterns.


Cost savings for a statewide higher education system of 50-70% can be gained by replacing redundant lecture courses with videocassettes, making offerings available globally through satellite / videotape media, and separating the process of university educational certification from providing learning opportunities. Multi-lingual global application would give a 25 to 50-fold decrease in the cost of higher education. Proposal currently under consideration by the Oregon Board of Higher Education.


Restoring the health and productivity of over-exploited soils, forests, fisheries, agricultural lands, water and energy resources can provide astounding economic returns as well as improving the sustainability base of our communities. The State of California's highly successful "Investing for Prosperity" program has become a model being implemented in other states and countries to productively invest in restoration and improvement of natural resources. $5 million which was invested in reforestation alone has been projected to provide 18,000 jobs, $448 million in timber sales, and $104 million in increased tax revenues over the next 50-75 years.


We have known now for twenty years - since before the 1974 Oil Crisis - how we can reduce energy use by 90% and enrich our freedom, enjoyment and lives in the process. Savings come in many forms - embodied energy in materials, transportation / infrastructure costs, agricultural energy use, appliances, lighting, structure and furnishings, water conservation and space heating and cooling. Specific technologies are now in the marketplace which can exceed even this goal, and which make possible widespread and rapid implementation. Maximizing energy-efficiency, renewable energy use, and material recycling in all areas we affect is essential.


Reducing the resource competition underlying global discord allows military savings to be used to heal people and places. Reducing our vulnerability to terrorist actions (outlined 10 years before the World Trade Center bombing), is tied to the security implications of globalized economic dependencies Enhancing the resiliency and self-reliance of our countries can minimize the need for military expenditures (our largest government expenditures) and free those resources for other needs.


It is far cheaper to avoid the need for services than to supply them, however efficiently. Our "Make Where You ARE Paradise" proposals outlined ways to reduce need for transportation and avoid associated costs. Transit-supportive urban land-use patterns are beginning to implement some of these potentials. High-speed hydro-electric rail systems are the key to integrated transportation systems for Oregon and elsewhere. Analysis of the multi-modal system now planned by the state Transportation Commission shows rail giving a potential for 33% savings ($8 billion) in initial construction costs. Once infrastructure is in place, passenger-mile costs for additional rail capacity drop to 1/20th that of highway travel. The crucial element is connectiveness between modes which can reduce the need for car ownership. 100 mpg cars tested by all major manufacturers can reduce highway fuel usage by 75% within 10 years.


Reducing demands on infrastructure opens new opportunities for what the existing structure can support. New institutional patterns- and simple changes such as granny flats, infill and shared housing, home occupations, urban food production, and bed & breakfasts - can change the life of our communities. They minimize need for resources, transportation and consumption of land, while bringing our lives into closer contact with others and our surroundings.
Innovative ways to recycle auto-centered communities saves our investment in them and gives them productive new lives.


Diversity is richness. Different cultures and traditions create different realities and different potentials. Knowing and acknowledging their value underlies the mutual respect needed for sustainable relations. The traditional Chinese "feng-shui" practice involved aligning their homes, cities, and tombs with the flows of "chi" energy in the earth. The deeper understanding of feng-shui which resulted from our discovery of the geophysical basis underlying this process has found application in designing our built environment and in improving safety from videoscreens and other sources of electromagnetic radiation. It has also brought new respect for and interest in other aspects of their tradition.


The true challenge of sustainability to architects and community builders is more than a technical one.

It is showing that there is power and greatness in sustainability and that life in such communities can move our hearts, give richness and meaning to our lives and create better places to live.


Planning for 1000-year lives of our buildings and communities ensures we see and respond to our depletion of global resources. Energy and resource efficient and healthy buildings have extreme importance.

The technical and economic success of energy and resource efficient buildings is now well shown. It is no longer pioneering territory as it was twenty years ago when this research and demonstration house was designed and built by a class of 150 pre-architecture students. Technical systems gain value when integrated into an interactive design - where waste energy from one system cycles to support another, or where superinsulation reduces the need for solar heating to the level easily supplied.

Ouroboros' pioneering design for energy efficiency in northern prairie climates demonstrated this, including: earth sheltering and sod roofs; superinsulation and insulative windows; night insulating shutters; combined direct and active solar heating using snow reflection; water conservation and compost toilets; attached food-producing greenhouses; wind electricity; naturally induced summer air cooling; low-energy materials; material, energy, and nutrient recycling; and natural habitat and microclimate improvement.

Today's need is to ensure that ALL buildings are energy and resource efficient and healthy Energy codes such as adopted by states under the Northwest Power Plan are one of several mechanisms for addressing new construction, as are the "Nega-Watt" purchase plans of several utilities to deal with existing buildings.


Sustainable building patterns are not effective without sustainable institutional patterns. Such patterns often transfer the initiative from the institution to the individual, and employ more effective and empowering interactive patterns.

You know a school works when the kids don't want to go home. This family-based alternative elementary school has a curriculum based on need for student self-confidence before learning can take place, and on learning following student enthusiasm. Consensus-based decision making often releases and resolves deeper issues in the community .

The school was built by families in a "barn-raising". The design has classrooms located around a "Commons" for individual projects, parent participation, and meeting space. Toxicity review was made of all products used. The design uses full daylighting, energy and water conservation, local materials, and provides both indoor and outdoor class space.

Asking what the users of a building need can often help find more effective institutional patterns. In a Head Start Center we asked what would make us feel best as a kid coming in the door. "The smell of good food!" was the immediate answer. We made the kitchen the physical and organizational heart of the Center. With the kitchen openable into every room, the cook represented a friend and bite of food for every kid, a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear for every harried parent, and an extra eye for everyone's safety.

The lobby expanded into a comfortable Commons - a place for community volunteers and staff to work, a place for parents to find a moment of peace and rest in an often tumultuous day. In the kids' own space, a play structure was designed to bring them close to the ground and sprouting spring bulbs outside the window, to a skylight to watch clouds and rain running off the roof, and to unexpected mirrors to give them new views of themselves.


Increased housing density and other techniques can reduce the construction cost of housing, but other costs are far more significant over the lifetime of a house. Financing is by far the largest cost, followed by operating energy. This top award winner in the 1981 California Affordable Housing Competition outlined ways to reduce overall housing costs by a whopping 75-90%.
Increased durability was shown to be the outstanding contributor to reducing net construction costs. A no-interest revolving loan fund addressed financing costs, and a community housing exchange addressed sales costs. Energy costs were lowered by now-common means.
Buildings can be constructed to serve well for many generations, and doing so can dramatically reduce their cost.


Communities need change and creative tension, and the impact of unplanned and unexpected juxtapositions. They need to touch the spirit of their members and the universe they inhabit. Communities also need the rightness of basic patterns to keep connected things together and harmful ones apart, to implement effective transportation and supporting land use patterns. To the degree we reclaim our cities and family budgets from the automobile, we can gain the benefits of minimized demands on support systems.
Models for the technical solutions to these issues exist. The regulatory changes and creative impulses are our opportunity today.


Buildings designed for sustainability need have more than good technical systems. They need to have both that AND be designed for durability, for livability, for community, and to touch our hearts. They need to support sustainable emotional, spiritual, value-centered, and institutional patterns.

This home included a focus on sustainable local materials; a high-efficiency woodstove made of recycled auto engine blocks; recycled lumber, furniture, sinks, glass, appliances, and solar collector panels made of recycled printing plates. Heating is by passive solar, solar hot water, and site-grown wood heat. A non-mechanical "cool box" was used for food preservation, and foot valves on sinks for energy and water conservation and hygiene. Other elements included high-efficiency lighting, owner-built and state-approved compost toilet, insulating window shutters, native plant landscaping, tree planting to repay material cost, and low-toxicity materials for indoor air quality.

Institutional changes included home office, home schooling, and owner-building. Rooms are planned to let activities follow the path of the sun through the day, to celebrate sun and moon-rise and -set, to have entire rooms open fully to the outside in good weather. Mechanized sounds were eliminated in the design. Other elements support elimination of unnecessary material goods and closer connection with the natural world. The quietude and freedom these technical changes gave permitted a spirit in the building that supported its inhabitants and connected to its surroundings.

Designing a building with a soul requires focused attention to each decision in design and construction, so that each element answers its need in the same spirit and relation to others.

Economic rather than financial costing shows the real effects of our actions and choices. Project evaluation frameworks need to include:

* Externalized costs - impacts on land use, transportation, energy supply, microclimate modification, employment, materials, water, sewage and stormwater control.

* Institutional performance - including no-build means of reaching policy objectives, effect of building design on health and morale, user-operable heating, lighting and ventilation, support services for workers, and integration of work and living facilities within walking distance.

* Energy system performance - including climate impacts, siting, configuration and orientation, window placement and shading, air movement, daylighting, solar heating and low-energy cooling, energy cascading, saving of fossil fuels, and embodied energy in materials.

* Monetary cost - including building and energy lifecycle costs, fuel cost escalation, depletion vs. sustainable sources, financing costs and residual value at end of financing.

* A Final Comparative Value Analysis
then can evaluate the project as a real estate investment (lifetime owning costs); as an energy structure (physical quantities of energy used and efficiency of use): as a total operating entity (effect on the performance and well-being of occupants); and as a public investment (contribution and costs to public systems and the "common good").

Sustainability requires our lives to be rooted in dramatically different values. Values such as equity of wealth and power and respect for others are essential for reducing crime and permitting us the comfort of our communities.

Our values are reflected and embodied in our surroundings. Through our surrounding's emotional, symbolic, and spiritual dimensions they marshal and direct our inner resources.


The values necessary for sustainability invoke a better, and very different, way of life. PERMANENCE instead of profit; PEOPLE instead of professions, RESPONSIBILITIES instead of rights; ENOUGHNESS instead of moreness; BETTERMENT instead of biggerment; LOCALIZATION instead of centralization; WORK instead of leisure; EQUITIZATION instead of urbanization; TOOLS instead of machines.

AUSTERITY instead of affluence, for example, does not exclude all richness or enjoyments in our buildings or our lives. It only asks us to avoid those distracting from or destructive of personal relatedness. Affluence, in contrast, does not discriminate between what is wise and useful, and what is merely possible. Affluence demands impossible endless growth, both because those things necessary for good relations are foregone for unnecessary things, and because many of those unnecessary things act to damage or destroy the good relations that we desire.

When our minds change, changes in our building and other actions follow without effort.



The uniqueness of a region creates a unique culture and built environment once we come to feel at home in it. Learning to value and celebrate that specialness is necessary both to a region's sustainability and to our own comfort and enjoyment. The pioneering Winter Cities project, created by Canadian Arni Fullerton, pulled people together from similar environments worldwide to develop common markets for winter cars and clothes, and winter problem solving. More importantly, they discovered how to celebrate, enjoy, and live happily in winter instead of merely counting the days until summer.

The words "Pacific Northwest" mean RAIN. People groan about it. They try to forget it and escape it. What would happen if they enjoyed it? Slug races, mud-wallowing games, buildings that celebrate the rain running off roofs? An intensive "Zen Rain Garden" proposed for the heart of the city of Portland, Oregon, would act to celebrate and keep us in touch with the rich and powerful forces that give the Northwest its special character.

The desert, and its geological timescale needs equally to be celebrated. This proposal, for a museum and shrine to the immense geophysical forces that continue to create and transform our planet, would create a rock-cut structure within the vast monolithic basalt flood that covers eastern Oregon and Washington. It would display and celebrate the wonders of our geologic history, and be a base for exploring the area's active volcanoes and remnants of the titanic Lake Missoula floods.


Visiting other people and places should enrich both them and ourselves through exposure to different values, conditions, and achievements. An Oregon coastal community decided that this "spirit of place" is a fundamental element of successful tourism . They concluded that people come to the Coast for its specialness, which should not be lost among look-alike tourist facilities. The community hall and visitor's center used an $80,000 grant for architectural crafts to help their building more powerfully convey to both community and visitors the unique character of the Oregon Coast.


A true sense of our place in the universe must underlie any sustainable community. Modern research has produced a picture of the universe we inhabit which is more awe-inspiring than any traditional myth. Knowing the deeper themes of evolution brings new light on our nature, our relationship to the elements and to eternity. This deeper sense of ourselves and of a closer kinship with the world around us can bring forth a new and richer sense of design.


The power of our minds and spirits surpasses even that of our technology. Those inner resources need shelter, nurture, and challenge. We need to design places to powerfully stimulate our inner resources and connect them with the wonders of the world around us. Tools are available to do this without plants, without water, in the desert, at night, or in the winter - to create gardens which touch the spirit of place, celebrate death, time, people and love.


Working in new information-intensive environments is bringing us to again appreciate the need for their counterpoint - quietly evocative environments where we can assimilate, process, and integrate that information into creative and effective action.


Love is expressed in our surroundings, as elsewhere, in our willingness to give without condition. The most precious thing a building can convey is that sense of unstinted giving - of doing something out of love rather than calculation. Giving initiates a reciprocity that grows in value to both the giver and receiver. Surroundings which are given more than the minimum convey a sense of generosity which is true freedom. That in turn evokes a sense of love and giving in others.
Remember the power of a Gothic cathedral where the builders instilled perfection into areas that would be seen only by God and in the memories of their own hearts.


Many intractable social problems - alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, child and spouse abuse, homelessness, obesity, poverty, failing schools - have a common root. They all arise out of lack of self-worth, lack of respect by and for others, or lack of opportunity to be of use and value to family and society. They are all diseases of the spirit.

Our built environment embodies our attitudes. Change our surroundings to reaffirm the sacredness of our world and we can restore a sense of respect, honor, and value. This is a necessary part of the solving these social problems, and necessary for sustainability. Symbolism, geometry, the process of building, geomancy, community design, the economics of building from a spiritual base, and learning from existing sacred places all contribute to a new design perspective.

Build schools that treat students as adults and as people. Build places for health care that cherish the sick. Build work places that treat the workers as being as valuable as the machines and the boss. Give builders a chance to put something into the building they can show their children with pride. Respect the patina of age in buildings and people.


We are more and more living in and changing the once invisible electronic, microscopic and macroscopic worlds and those of our minds and dreams. Our surroundings need to acknowledge and incorporate them.

Discoveries such as the geophysical basis of the
Chinese feng-shui practices can enrich our culture, deepen understanding of architectural practices such as the precipitous siting of this temple for site electromagnetic field energy, and help provide a basis for dealing with unexpected dimensions of our own actions.

Lessen our needs for vacations, tourism,
transportation, and our impact on the ever fewer remaining places of powerful natural patterns. In making our places more special, we make them of more value to us and to visitors both. Make winter gardens. Celebrate night. Bring the stars back into the city.

They focus our attention on outer, rather than inner qualities - often in our groggiest states. A window into a garden can connect us to our surroundings instead of reminding us of a hangover. Hide mirrors until needed.

Natural systems often perform cheaper and better. The Hasht Behesht in Isfahan used an operable lantern at the top of its dome to draw hot air out by convection in the summer, pulling in air cooled by the trees and fountains in surrounding gardens. Closed in the winter, the dome masonry became a thermal flywheel to stabilize inside temperatures.


A cathedral or palace serving twenty generations costs each one less than a hovel. Long service life makes the generosity of quality unquestionably affordable. Remodeling rather than replacing substitutes employment for resource use. We use half the resources if our buildings last twice as long.

Such work requires giving an opportunity for builders and users as well as designers to contribute their skills. Durability provides the budget. Its product reflects to everyone that skill and competence is honored and valued, and it expands our belief in what is achievable.

Planting trees does not insure nature is part of our cities. Getting rid of noisy activity does not necessarily make a better city. Many cities have beautiful and stimulating public spaces built entirely of stone - no less a part of nature than trees. Sustainability requires opening our hearts to finding patterns of local fitness and new potential.

People,and the other forms and forces of life, are primary. Our building and our possessions are of far less import. Ask anyone who has escaped tragedy with their lives and those of their loved ones. Ask what truly gives joy and for what the future will thank us. Honor places we hold sacred, the sacredness in ourselves, others, and all that makes our world.

It is as vital a dimension in our surroundings as space. Eliminating the sounds of TV, refrigerators, HVAC systems, dishwashers and office equipment can be essential to the peace of a place. Adding birdsong, the laughter of children, or the sound of the wind can give a place new life. The unexpected quiet of a moss waterfall heightens its dynamic silence.


We are their children. So are all the lives and all life on our planet. Honoring these connections in making our surroundings acknowledges our place in the whole incredible dance of the universe.

of shelter and nourishment as well as our bodies. That nourishment creates our wealth, and is the glue that holds sustainability and well-being together.


in our building empowers that attitude in our actions. Tradition honors the insights of the past. Planting trees honors hope for a future. A tokonoma honors guests. Providing place for birds to nest honors the other lives that share our world. Honoring the past lives of building materials makes us aware of the beauty and struggles of all life.


are elemental forces. Bring us closer and deeper in experience and empathy with them. The bath was made central to this house, with fireplace of wave-rounded, fire-born basalt rock beside it. Above was a sky room at the roof peak, under a ten-foot pyramidal skylight, surrounded by the ocean, fog, rain, and the wheeling of the stars at night.

It is part of life, and of all cycles. Celebrate what was given and what remains with the living. Share grief. Know that the pain of loss acknowledges the wonder of the bonds that grow between us. Create a setting that touches the wonder of these events plunging deep into our hearts.

This does not require large budgets or spaces. It needs only the desire for that connection and a willingness to evolve a life and surroundings that are unique. This native wildflower meadow needed only control of competing vegetation to reveal its beauty.


Space here permits only a broad overview of the framework in which our built environment consumes or generates wealth and helps or hinders sustainability. Documents and projects listed provide more extensive details of individual elements.

38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© May 1993