Sustainable design is an integral part of the education of architecture and interior design students in the Department of Architecture. In addition to their traditional academics, students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of hands-on activities. One of these is the TERRA (Technologically + Environmentally Responsive Residential Architecture) sustainable design demonstration house which is located at the northeast corner of North Main Street and Greenlaw Avenue in Downtown Memphis.
The project, which was initiated in 2005 by the University of Memphis through the Department of Architecture and its Center for Sustainable Design (CSD) in the FedEx Institute of Technology, broke ground in the Uptown neighborhood in Memphis in June, 2007, and was completed in February, 2009. DPC Construction LLC of Memphis is the general contractor.
TERRA was designed entirely by architecture and interior design students under faculty supervision and involved students in a series of special electives and honors courses.
“When we started all this, I knew there had to be a better way to do things, but what that was, I didn’t know.” said Mary Carroll, a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture degree program. “Working on TERRA has shaped my whole life and career.” Upon graduation, Ms. Carroll plans to continue her involvement in “green” design through consulting.
The idea for TERRA originated from a conversation between me, Sherry Bryan, Director of the Architecture Program, and former U of M architecture professor Jim Lutz. “We were talking about creating an urban studio in which our students would design housing within the inner city,” said Professor Bryan. “This conversation led to the idea of a sustainable, demonstration house that would serve as an educational tool for our students as well as the community.” TERRA fits into the Sustainable Shelby initiative in many ways including education and community revitalization.
Architecture Professor Michael Chisamore, Director of the Center for Sustainable Design, said: “TERRA brings a new understanding of sustainable architecture and design to Memphis. In addition to serving as a teaching laboratory, one of the main objectives of the project is to demon-strate that sustainable design can blend in with the other residences in the area.”
TERRA features energy efficient and environmentally responsible techniques, materials, appliances and fixtures. It adheres to Memphis Light Gas and Water Division EcoBUILD program and to the American Lung Association Health House standards. The Department of Architecture will apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum designation, and the two-story, 1,840 square-foot home will then be one of the first in the region to conform to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Green Building Rating System.
Several features, such as insulated concrete forms, special soy-based expanded insulation, passive venti-lation, a tankless water heater, sustainable landscaping, and a grey water recovery system, among others, are uncommon, and in some cases a first for the Memphis area. The house also features a cool metal roof with a photovoltaic array and energy-efficient windows. A rainwater harvesting system was designed into the house and will be added in the future.
Eric Criswell, one of the principals in DPC Construction LLC, said “We are very committed to advancing sustainable development and would definitely welcome the opportunity to do another house like TERRA.”
More than 55 businesses and organizations donated materials, time, expertise and offered discounts towards the eventual completion. The project has benefited from partnerships between the University of Memphis and AIA Memphis (American Institute of Architects), the Memphis chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Uptown Partnership, which includes the Henry Turley Company, Belz Enterprises, and the City of Memphis.
Third year BFA in Architecture student Kate Bidwell, a LEED Accredited Professional, likes what she sees in the TERRA house and is encouraged by the Sustainable Shelby initiative. “Architects and designers have an obligation to give back to the community. Projects such as TERRA and our sustainable design education work with BRIDGES USA offer that opportunity while helping revitalize the neighborhood.”
TERRA also serves as a teaching and research tool for sustainable design in the region. Using knowledge gained from the TERRA project, the Department of Architecture plans to continue student-centered research into sustainable design through the design of prototype affordable and sustainable residences in other neighborhoods within the Memphis area and fostering partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
Alzbeta Bowden, a student in the Master of Architecture degree program, has been greatly influenced by her three years of working on the TERRA house. She recently opened a sustainable design firm in Memphis with former U of M student Philip Jaynes. “The house may be finished but the mission TERRA started is just beginning.” Ms. Bowden replied when asked about the role the project has played. “TERRA will continue to inspire and educate people in Memphis and the region for years to come.”
Like TERRA, Sustainable Shelby is not only a vision of how things should be. It is also a blueprint for how things must be. Our students and faculty have seen the benefits of developing consensus and working together towards a common goal in our projects such as TERRA. Now is the time for everyone to support and implement Sustainable Shelby and move forward together into a sustainable future.