Green Building: an evolution

| by Heather Ferrier Laminack
Green Building: an evolution

I represent the fourth generation of my family to be involved in the construction industry. Today, our firm is known for green custom home building/remodeling, although I can’t say that was the case a couple of generations back.

Like most things on this natural earth, where I am today is a product of evolution, a constant progression of tweaking building practices over the years. My great grandfather immigrated from Scotland with the promise that land was awaiting for him in return for contributing his masonry skills on the Texas State Capitol building. 

Masonry later evolved into structural concrete in the form of bridges across the state of Texas. Bridges evolved into earth-sheltered homes in the late 70s in the midst of oil embargos and soaring gas prices. And soon those energy efficient homes’ components and aesthetics evolved into something a larger audience could relate to.

In the midst of all the changes over the years, one can still look back and see a thread of commonality. You find that the sound fundamentals of craftsmanship, durability, efficiency and resourcefulness ring just as true today as they did many generations before.

If you look back in history far before my or your family probably ever set foot in America, you find that high-performance, resource efficient, site sensitive abodes were being built all across the land. Pre-20th century, the design-build process was characterized by:

  • The design and construction was often performed by the same entity
  • An understanding of the entire design-build-lifetime process
  • Passive solar design principles
  • Simple mechanical systems to heat, cool and light
  • Site sensitive
  • Local materials
  • Had to meet needs of lifestyle

Here are three examples:

Cliff Dwellers

  Built by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples circa 1200 CE, Wikimedia Common
  • Utilized local materials
  • Offered natural protection from the elements & their enemies
  • Passive solar design: overhanging cliffs cool, sunlight heats
  • Situated near water sources

Native Americans

 1891, Source: John C.H. Grabill collection, Library of Congress, Reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsc-02515
  • Energy efficient teepees
  • Solar heated
  • Naturally ventilated
  • Transportable
  • Resource efficient


 circa 1900-19, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 17
  • Naturally ventilated
  • Constructed of local materials
  • Community involved in construction
  • Daylighting integral in design
  • Chimney effect assists in circulating air
  • Permeable floors facilitate drainage & help maintain clean interior

In the early 1900s the construction industry shifted, and soon homes were being built in conjunction with railroad lines, and the increase in means of transportation provided access to a greater range of materials. Soon our reliance on non-renewable energy started to grow and it became easier to alter our internal environments rather than adapt to the natural environment.

So here we are today in 2011. We find ourselves revisiting our ancestors’ knowledge of the natural and built environments. It is a vastly different landscape that we live in today, however we could all benefit from reconnecting to the simple, sound truths they knew to be so true. For them, their design & building process was out of necessity. Today, technology has empowered us to reach new heights, but it can often lead us astray from common sense building principles.

Perhaps the challenge today is learning to mesh these inherited truths with the new technologies available today for the continuing evolution of America’s housing.

Topics: Building Green, Going Green

Heather Ferrier Laminack
Representing the fourth generation of the Ferrier Companies, Heather Ferrier Laminack functions as the marketing manager for Texas-based green home builder Ferrier Custom Homes, utilizing her passion for sustainable building practices and her first-hand experience of green building techniques. View Heather Ferrier Laminack's profile on LinkedIn

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