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Architecture in the Age of the Anthropocene

Architecture in the Age of the Anthropocene July 10, 2024
A house designed with nature’s new norms, rather than in defiance of them.
A house designed with nature’s new norms, rather than in defiance of them.

Since a house on Friends Lake was completed in 2022, it has experienced two, once-in-every five hundred years storms. 

Fortunately for the house, and of greater importance, for its owners, the architect is Mike Phinney and his forty-person, Saratoga-based firm, Phinney Design Group, which builds for exigencies such as these.

Phinney and his team of LEED-accredited professionals chose to design with nature’s new norms, rather than in defiance of them.

“The site informs the design,” said Phinney, a graduate of Lake George High School and RPI.  “You look at the topography. What’s coming from the mountain

is a gutter that swells with water after a heavy rain. We didn’t just work around it. We celebrated it. We made it a feature of the design.”

The house, built as a vacation home for a Massachusetts family, incorporates the intermittent stream by separating the garage from the house to accommodate it and by constructing a walkway across it, linking the two structures.

The interior of the house, no less than its surroundings, is hardened against the extreme weather we’ve become accustomed to in recent years.

Equipped with a solar power battery storage system, 

the house can remain fully functional for at least five days without access to external sources of power – and without having to rely upon a generator powered by fossil fuels.

As one of New York State’s most experienced green architects – Mike Phinney participated in the design and construction of the first certified green building in New York State, the headquarters of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany – Phinney Design Group has become an expert in minimizing a building’s carbon footprint.

Among other things, the firm uses carbon negative materials in construction.

“I’ve been saying this for 30 years: there may be better than average building materials, material that has been recycled or can be recycled, but how much energy was consumed in its production? With a low or no carbon building, you minimize high carbon materials like steel. You find a balance,” said Phinney.

As a minimum of fossil fuels were used in the manufacture of the house’s building materials, the logic of green design insists that a building emit no greenhouse gasses itself. 

“There are no fossil fuels used for cooking, for fireplaces, for anything. There’s not even a small propane tank for a grill outside,” said Brennan Drake, who worked with Phinney on the house.

Needless to say, the house is also energy efficient.

Overhangs not only reduce the need for air conditioning, but increase the building’s durability, augmenting the benefits of low maintenance construction.

Other features that make the house highly energy efficient include a geothermal power plant for heating and cooling and an Energy Recovery Ventilation system.

The ethic as well as the aesthetic of the house emerged from conversations with the owners, said Mike Phinney. “Our design process is an iterative one; the best ideas rise to the surface,” said Phinney. “But ultimately, our responsibility is to listen to the client and to their goals. This particular family wanted a house that sat lightly on the landscape and was sensitive to its surroundings. And their goals were a good match with what we like to do.”

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