Living Cradle-to-Cradle

Two Virginia architects complete the first house that meets William McDonough’s strict environmental protocol

Gainsboro, a Roanoke, Virginia, neighborhood pockmarked by failed urban-renewal exercises, may be an unlikely place to find America’s first cradle-to-cradle (C2C) home. But this month local architects Stephen Feather, AIA, and Richard Rife, AIA, will complete a 1,623-square-foot, two-bedroom house that meets those sustainability principles. Several other C2C submissions are now in various stages of development.

Feather and Rife’s design was one of 625 entries in a 2004 international competition to apply William McDonough’s C2C protocol to new residential construction. Local firm SmithLewis Architecture arranged the competition when Roanoke officials hired the firm's principal, Gregg Lewis, AIA, as consultant to jumpstart the city's neighborhood revitalization initiative.

“We feel that sustainability needs to be part of the discussion,” Lewis says of the decision to launch the competition as a way to solicit the best designs.

This inaugural project features locally harvested wood, low-VOC interior finishes, a geothermal heat pump, and roof-mounted photovoltaics. It also was designed for modular production, although this example was stick-built. “We hope our C2C house will be an impetus to get the industry involved in green building, as we see this as a way to make green building more affordable and more mainstream,” Rife says. 

Construction costs are estimated at $150,000 and were fronted by a local community development corporation. The actual sale price is $95,000 after mortgage incentives and product donations, to be commensurate with the market.

When complete, the house will blend aesthetically with the modest Southern homes surrounding it. To Lewis, what began as “an incredibly rich design problem” now promises to be an engine for redevelopment. “All of a sudden you have this gem on the block,” he says. “People will be motivated to reinvest in the community.” 

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