EQUAL DESIGN FOR ALL Seattle architect Leah Martin believes that green design is a right, not a privilege
self-proclaimed “Robin Hood,” architect Leah Martin believes that everyone should have access to sustainable design. The principal of Seattle’s Verge Architecture & Design uses funds from her large-scale projects to support her work on small renovations for clients who normally couldn’t afford her services. Last year, Martin took her personal quest to bring parity through design one step further when she founded HATCH Collaborative, a grassroots organization that identifies and solves design problems in the local community. DB: How can design professionals make green design affordable?
Leah Martin: Everybody assumes that it’s more expensive to build a green building, but it doesn’t have to be. Take one of our recent renovation projects, Arbor Heights. We reorganized the kitchen and dining spaces, relocated the stairway and added a bedroom. I’ve seen projects like this done for three times as much. We saved by reusing materials and surgically approached reconstruction. We also took prefabricated materials like cabinets and added some design flair to make them special on-site. It gave the homeowners a custom kitchen that they couldn’t have afforded otherwise. DB: Can new construction be sustainable?
LM: I believe simple site design is the most critical aspect of energy efficiency. On our Juanita Residence, we designed a new home that faces southwest, which is ideal in the Pacific Northwest. The siting enables the home to use heat gain during the winter as a heat source and then block low-angle sun during the summer. We also reduced the amount of finish materials used by exposing the building infrastructure and structure. In this instance, we used structural concrete as the finished floor. I have an aversion to covering everything up. I like to have the main structure of the house be the finished product.
Rendering by HATCH Collaborative, hatchcollaborative.com
As part of her work with HATCH Collaborative, Martin designed an alternative to portable school classrooms, which studies have shown negatively affect student performance. Her prototype design is off the grid, daylit, warm and affordable.
DB: Tell us about HATCH Collaborative. How is it different from your main architecture practice?
LM: HATCH is a partnership between myself and three other women who are all engaged in public design activism. The difference is that Verge gets a phone call from someone with a problem and we offer a solution. HATCH identifies problems in a community and then decides to fix them. The name comes from hatching projects from within. We have our ears to the ground. Right now we are designing an alternative to portable school classrooms, which are meant to be temporary but often are in use for decades. They’re toxic, they offgas and cause fatigue, and studies show that the children who use them perform poorly. Schools can’t afford the existing solutions, so we’re creating a prototype that is off the grid, safe, daylit, warm, and most importantly, affordable. Finding the solution is as much about social justice as it is about design. a
The Musicians at Home Issue 2013