C2C HOME: First Cradle to Cradle house underway

by , 07/30/06

C2C Home, Cradle to Cradle, Cradle to Cradle Home Competition, Green Architecture, Green Building, Sustainable Homes, Coates and Meldrum, William McDonough
above: entry by Coates and Meldrum

Anybody remember the launch of C2C Home a couple of years ago? It was an open competition for residential design using the values of sustainability set forth by William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle philosophy. We were highly anticipating the futuristic housing that would emerge through the collaboration of forward thinking developers, talented designers, and dedicated contractors striving to reduce our living footprint. Having heard little in the last two years, we were thrilled to learn that the first Cradle-to-Cradle house is nearing completion in Roanoke, Virginia.

So which entry was chosen? And what fabulous design is about to materialize as a monument to the principles of sustainable living? Here’s a hint: the competition winner (pictured above) will not get that particular honor………

C2C Home, Cradle to Cradle, Cradle to Cradle Home Competition, Green Architecture, Green Building, Sustainable Homes, Stephen Feather and Richard Rife, William McDonough

The design by local architects Stephen Feather and Richard Rife (above) has been chosen from the 624 other entrants in the competition as the inaugural project to be built. While it was not a winning entry, it seems that the city of Roanoke, in which the competition was sited, has gone forward with construction plans. We had hoped that the design of this first model would be more aesthetically inspiring, although we commend the integration of renewable energy systems, such as the geo-thermal heat pump and solar panels, in such a modestly priced home: construction costs are expected to be around $150,000, much of that being subsidized by a local community development corporation.

However, the question begs to be asked; why was this model chosen for construction over one of the winners? Of course, we encourage sustainable development however it happens. But is this the best representative of innovation in sustainable systems, technologies, design, and living? The latest news offered on C2C’s website is that a ceremonial groundbreaking was held in May of last year for up to eight of the entrants. C2C notes that plans for two (non-winning) entries are in the works – neither of which are Feather and Rife’s, which make this all the more puzzling. Most likely, Feather and Rife’s entry was simply the easiest to construct, generically palletable, and the least scary from a public funding standpoint. Baby steps, right?

We would love to know what the status is of the winning projects – if they are going to be built, how the funding will be procured, and what the timetable might be. If these winning entries are being disregarded in lieu of other participants, what was the point in honoring them in a competition about building homes sustainably? The irony is that 600 design teams worked their butts off “burning the midnight oil,” plotting test prints, building models, and shipping their work – to be judged on how effectively it minimizes waste and uses resources responsibly!

Too often, competitions prove to be a fruitless publicity stunt to raise money for under-funded institutions or image hungry developers. Considering the approachable scale and high profile of the first Cradle to Cradle home, we thought surely one of the winners would see light of day. Hopefully someone close to the competition can update us on why the winners have been sidelined.

+ C2C Home Competition

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  1. Popeyes’ dream ho... July 8, 2007 at 10:11 am

    […] which obtains its electricity from spinach, making it worthy of being declared the winner of Cradle to Cradle […]

  2. David June 22, 2007 at 6:14 am

    Consider this: we have sports competitions to determine who is THE BEST ‘elite’ athlete (in any given sport), not to determine who is the most average.

    We need examples of new ways of living. And eco/enviro friendly does NOT restrict us to modernist ‘cubes’. We have here a false dichotomy: either modernist cube, or ‘same old, same old’. Where is the earthen construction and earth-sheltering … what could be more economical that to make effective, appropriate use of the world’s most abundant builting material? And what about soft shapes? Why all flat surfaces and square corners? Why not a single curved wall? And don’t tell me $$s. Good design includes cost as a factor. Marginally more expensive is all we need to accept. To say ‘beyond the realm of economic viability’ applies only to the ‘high tech’ approach. The real improvements we require, really, are design related.

    People need homes to aspire to. Lifestyles to aspire to. If just one rock star or hollywood type would endorse a modern, urban Earth home … then we’d be well on our way … we need for new examples to be made ‘cool’ for the masses. People need permission to think and live differently.

    Also, having a competition for the so-called ‘best’ house … as an independent, individual structure taken ‘out of context’, then, really, we’ve missed the point. We need to think interdependent, interactive … as wholes: whole clusters of structures (houses, etc.) in a neighbourhood setting … in larger scales: community, district, region. What is true for the individual is not necessarily true for the whole. Likewise, what is true for the whole, isn’t necessarily true for the individual.

    This competition, and others like it, misses the richness that we so need.

  3. Shanon June 21, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    In terms of its net-effect on the physical environment how could it possibly matter what shape or form this dwelling is? Address and solve the larger problems first, creating dwellings that have little to no effect on the environment and then make those dwellings accessible and affordable. You can then satisfy the remaining 1% of those that are fortunate enough to demand their home look a certain way or achieve certain aesthetic goals. Practical realism beats out idealism every single time, why try to fight that?

  4. Inhabitat » SPINA... June 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    […] which is obtains its electricity from spinach, making it worthy of being declared the winner of Cradle to Cradle […]

  5. whit faulconer August 22, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    To Richie K,

    I think a certain amount of dismay or disagreement is justified. But one man’s dog is another man’s bride. Your concerns are clearly more about how the contest was managed and judged. The team that worked on the design that is being built I’m sure is proud of their work. Not only that I think the biggest challenge to all this theory is to take it from the turtle necks to the blue collars. The number of people who qualify for and will consider affordable housing is growing exponentially in this country with each year of stellar progress from the current leadership in DC. The chasm between drawing board and job site is massive. I think the contest organizer shows great restraint and respect in his comments in reply. Whenever like minded people decide to circle the wagons and shoot at each other ,you just give more ammunition and levrage to the real axis of evil. And of course, Roanoke is a great town with a diverse and connected community, as I’m sure you expected to learn contrary to your guess.

  6. Bobby Stewart August 7, 2006 at 4:54 am

    If you are looking for a green, energy star certified, & LEED compatible way to build you need to look at ICF construction. ICF stands for Insulated Concrete Form. To reach maximum energy efficiency the most cost effective way ICF is the way to go. Maybe you should entertain that Idea. I am an ICF distributor & contractor. Check out some websites: eco-block.com & energyconcretestructures.com. We are local in Roanoke 540-815-6034.


    Bobby Stewart
    Southern Concrete Construction, LLC

  7. Gregg Lewis August 4, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Richie –

    The simple reality is that it is a bad idea for those of us engaged in trying to move the conversation on environmental sustainability forward to build anything that is so far beyond the realm of economic viability in a inner city (not suburban) neighborhood that it is not replicable and is instead, perhaps, irresponsible. We certainly do not hide behind that fact – we have sought instead to find a way to respond to it.

    We are continuing to make strides to build a number of the winning designs. The local, non-profit affordable housing provider that selected the design that looks to be the first of the designs to be constructed had pursued another design which would have required an additional $100,000 of subsidies to move forward (it also was not one of the winning designs). Nobody involved in that process thought that would send a reasonable signal to the community about the costs associated with green building.

    We are excited about moving forward with several of the winning designs but the partners engaged in those conversations have their own set of challenges which we continue to work through to bring the projects along.

    The winning design shown above is a project that we are looking forward to constructing as a demonstration project. That work will require that we undertake a separate fundraising effort in which we are already engaged.

    I, personally, would have been thrilled to bring all eight of the winning projects forward simultaneously and immediately on the heels of the jury process. That proved untenable and so in a number of regards I share your frustration.

    To Matt – we have not run an energy model on the house moving forward. I have had a mechanical engineer I know run a model on another one of the designs (referenced above) that showed a roughly 75% reduction in energy use vs a typical, code-compliant alternative of the same square footage.

    To Josh – the estimate I reference above was given to me by a member of the design team – I don’t have any of the details or whether that includes the spinach PVs


  8. Richie August 4, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    Dear Greg Lewis,

    If mediocrity was what you were after, as regards to which design of the C2C competition to build… you have acheived this in spades !

    Your actions in choosing to build such a lame design renders the entire C2C competition process meaningless.

    I suspect that hiding behind the estimated cost to build certain designs, as reasons to not build them, is a real lame excuse on your part. Did you specify that there was a budgetary cieling before the designs were rendered ? And did the ‘winning’ designs exceed the clearly specified budgetary ceiling… or what ? And if they did exceed this clearly specified budgetary limit… how could they then be chosen as winners ? Wouldn’t their doing so have rendered them unfit to be judged ?

    If this design being built is truly what the ‘community’ wants… I appreciate knowing this. Why ? Well, as a result, I cerrtainly will steer clear of the standard suburban nightmare that Roanoke Virginia must surely be. This design you’ve chosen is just more of the same ‘Ugly’ that has too strong a foothold in suburbia.

    Richie K

  9. Matt July 31, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Has any energy modeling and LCCA been done to determine the benefits of the winner vs constructed houses vs typical house. That would be interesting and telling. The jury for this competiton was a bit odd, yes. Perhaps some were not the right people to judge the designs’ ability to meet the stated intent of the brief. A nobel effort none the less. It seems a real C2C process lies in places more hidden than just an image.

  10. Josh July 31, 2006 at 3:42 pm


    Thank you for your response. I work for a green building/green building consulting company. Just a quick question about the winning entry…the spinach protein PV window technology currently exists? I would have guessed the winning entry would cost much more than $450,000.

    To the other commentors, I’m in the middle. While I see elegance in the futuristic, boxy and minimalistic design, I also feel frustration in the fact that most such designs do not appeal to traditional aesthetic interests, sometimes leaving the impression that green design and building is not easily adaptable and universal.

    I think the model selected is a fine example of affordable housing, though I would have loved to see more details and character in the design. But understandably, that translates directly into $$$$.

    So all in all, an awesome thing you’re doing, Gregg, we as a building/design/development community really need to prove that we can set the standard much higher than merely “zero energy”.

  11. Gregg Lewis July 31, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    As the competition organizer, I will offer the following:

    The intention from the beginning of the competition was that the local building and development community would take the lead in driving which of the houses were constructed first – their investment, their selection – or, in the event that our organization was able to raise the funds we would construct the designs we felt made sense in all regards, including financially. It should be noted that the “winning” design was estimated to cost $450,000. This home was designed for a lot in a neighborhood where the average home selling price is $70,000-85,000. The $365,000 appraisal gap made it impractical to build this home in this neighborhood.

    Many of the designs, including many of the winners, were far more progressive in their thinking relative to the environmental sustainability than they were in addressing the question of economic viability. We are continuing to pursue development of a number of the winning designs elsewhere in the region where price won’t be quite as much of a constraint and will look forward to seeing a variety of the solutions in their built form.

    I would also like to thank all of you who continue to express such strong interest in the project!


  12. Harriet July 31, 2006 at 1:57 am

    I live in Roanoke and was able to see all the design entries when they were displayed. As Mr. Burke noted above – the chosen design will be much more easily accepted by the community than most of the others that were presented. As long as the “goals” are achieved it matters not if the house looks colonial, split level, ranch, cube or dome.

  13. Scott July 30, 2006 at 8:02 am

    Nice looking homes. On the C2C website, if you click compete, then look at the bottom, it lets you download a high res image where they describe their design. Some cool info. As for the one they are constructing, I’m guessing they were applying the “neutral” rule. Maybe it’ll have white walls and beige carpets too, hehe.

  14. Michael G. Richard July 30, 2006 at 7:46 am

    Speaking of normal-looking small(er)-footprint houses, this one comes to mind.

  15. Gary Burke July 30, 2006 at 5:23 am

    I am not that bothered by a sustainable eco-friendly low-footprint house looking like a Normal House. In fact I think it’s a GREAT idea. Many, many suburban families look at the weird skewed cubes of the super-modernist homes and go “GAAH” and run away screaming. Why not make a sustainable 50s ranch home or sustainable Cape Cod or sustainable Colonial? I love modernist houses and they look great to me but if sustainable design is to go truly mainstream it has to embrace boring. Boring is good. Boring works.

    Also the Cape Cod house is one of the most practical and beautiful house designs ever. Check out Stewart Brand’s “How Buildings Learn” and Christopher Alexander’s “Pattern Language”. Many of these skewed-cube homes look great on a drawing board but living in them day in and day out? Changing them? Growing a family in them or restoring them? Loving them? There is much to be said for fine craftsmanship in an established and well loved design language. Nothing could be more sustainable than architecture that has worked for centuries.

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