Over the next year we will be writing a set of posts to show why homes, like ours, are so different and why you really shouldn’t consider living in anything else (seriously you shouldn’t)! Each month we will have a new topic, walking you through a home step by step. For this first post let’s take a look at how we ended up in the overall current situation in Phoenix and why we are at the start of a new generation of homes.
Arizona has an interesting and varied history with home building. We have a unique mix of some of the best (from an architecture viewpoint) custom homes and some of the worst production homes (from a common sense viewpoint) in the country. On both sides, a wild west mentality has developed. A very incorrect notion of “it’s the desert build what you want” has spread.
As consumers demand more and more comfortable, healthy and durable homes a new generation of more intelligent and holistic home building must take hold if we don’t want to live up to that infamous flaming bird Phoenix was named after. Let’s take a look at how we got here…
The original Phoenix single family home was some form of a pit house, starting around 450AD. These homes were built from (and returned to) the available earth around them. A simple hole was dug into the earth, connecting to more stable temperatures just a few feet down. Thick walls then helped buffer temperature swings through the day. Essentially zero insulation to shield from outside temperatures but a high mass to slow temperature swings. The summers were certainly still hot, but more bearable. Early adobe homes followed similar concepts. Flat (or nearly flat) roofs limited the surface area baking in the sun, helping to keep interiors more comfortable.
In the early 20th century people moved to Phoenix from very different climates, bringing the styles of architecture they identified with. Many of these styles were very different from what worked best in the Sonoran desert. Probably the most obvious is the tudor style with maximum roof area to bake in the sun and no overhangs to shade from said sun. These homes were also typically accompanied by elaborate fireplaces and green lawns. Somewhat of a human will over the desert rather than an embrace of that desert.
Modernist style architecture made a big impact in Phoenix during the post war era. The low sloped roofs, floor to ceiling glass and deep overhangs fit the Phoenix climate and desert landscape perfectly. This style was especially well adapted before the days insulation and air conditioning. For a period it looked like this could become the predominate style for future Phoenix development.
Unfortunately with the invention of 2×4’s and fiberglass insulation came a whole new level of production building. These new methods, insulation and AC systems allowed builders to crank out nearly identical homes around the country in increasingly large numbers, at ever decreasing costs. A race to the bottom. Unfortunately little attention was given to local climates or culture. Homes became universal and disposable.
As society discovered the broad negative impacts of building disposable housing we created an entire industry to reduce these negative impacts. A new industry to make this existing industry less bad. Organizations such as the US Green Building Council have been at the forefront of this progress. This focus on various aspects such as energy, water, and air quality allow for measuring (and hopefully minimizing) of negative effects. Unfortunately, this movement towards less bad doesn’t do enough to directly add benefits to those who own and live in the homes every day.
We are part of a large movement of companies and individuals focused on doing more good rather than being less bad. Companies like Patagonia that obsess about Patagonia Footprint Chronicles both to reduce their negative impact but also to give better, more delightful and durable products. Companies like Tesla who are using technology to build holistically better cars, proving that electric cars are the way of the future, inherently better in just about every way – not just for green blooded hippies who want to save the planet.
We are leading the way in home building for a more holistic future. We believe your home should support your life, not the other way around. It should be the most relaxing place on earth, connecting you to the natural cycles of the planet and bringing delight to your daily life. Your home should require minimal effort and maintenance, simply letting you live how you seek to live. It should not need a major remodel for over a generation, last well over 100 years and return to the earth when its time as a home is up.
There is a better way to live and we want to help you achieve it. Please stay connected over the next year as we talk in detail of some of the many things we are doing differently at VALI. We would be honored to build your next home. And even if we don’t, we want to educate and arm you with some critical knowledge to make sure your next home brings more good into your life.